Today, I spent about three hours sorting through some books that haven't been unboxed in more than a decade—and in some cases, in more than two decades. A few weeks ago, I purchased some new bookshelves a few weeks back, and spent the first two weeks reorganizing the shelves. One room was devoted entirely to comics-related books (which meant that I was able to get my Marvel Masterworks, DC Archives, and Showcase Presents volumes in order at last); another room was devoted to some of my favorite authors, including Stephen King, Robert A. Heinlein, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Michael Bishop, F. Paul Wilson, Frank Belknap Long, as Robert E. Bloch, as well as my Arkham House and Donald M. Grant collections. That freed up enough shelf space in the basement that I was able to unpack books that had been stored away for years due to lack of room.
Part of the fun of unpacking long-stored boxes is the excitement of the rediscovered. I found many books that I presumed I had jettisoned when I sold off the majority of my science fiction and fantasy books in the early 1990s. My John Brunner books, my Philip K. Dick collection, my Peter Saxon novels with those stunning Jeff Jones covers, my original Ace Fafhrd & Gray Mouser books from the 1960s, my Nevada Jim Westerns by Marshall McCoy with their stunning Jim Bama covers... they are all on the shelves now, and I suspect I'll spend more time revisiting some of those books in weeks to come.
I also unboxed the few hundred vinyl albums I had chosen to keep when I purged most of my vinyl collection in 2002. One of the first albums I found was the eponymous first album by Frijid Pink. If you've ever heard of the group at all, it's probably because of their powerful, hook-laden version of "House of the Rising Sun," which was their biggest single. But what I remember is that this was the first gift that Susan ever gave me, back in the spring of 1970. While I knew I had saved the album for that reason (even though I also have it on DVD), until today I had no idea where it had been stored away.
The most bittersweet discovery, though, came when I opened up a box that contained several games (Trivial Pursuit, Boggle, and Scrabble, among others). There, on the very top of all the games, was a gift tag that for some reason had been saved when all the wrapping paper was discarded. And written in a clear, bold hand in the Flair felt-tip pens that were so ubiquitous at my parents house was "Happy Birthday, Cliff--We Love You--Mom & Dad."
I have to admit I was taken aback when I first saw it. The tag, sitting there on top, was a gift in itself; I didn't realize I had saved it, but I have often regretted taking all those gift tags for granted in all those years when Mom and Dad were healthy and we were all confident that life held so many more birthday celebrations for all of us. I don't make a big deal out of birthdays, and never expect anyone to make a big deal out of mine. When Dad died back in August of 2007, less than two weeks before my birthday, I remember saying to Susan, "The only people who ever truly celebrated my birth every year that I've been alive are no longer here." It sounds selfish, I'm sure, but that's the way we are sometimes, I guess.
Since then, my birthday is always remembered by Susan, and by my Aunt Jean, who never fails to send me a card. Sometimes I hear from a few friends and family, most times I don't. It's not a big thing; life always gives us all more to do than we have time to do it in, and there's not even enough time for all of the important things. But this note moved me in a way that I can't really understand; I may not have found it exactly on my birthday, but it was as if Mom and Dad had somehow found a way to let me know one more time that they continued to celebrate my birth every year, even if they couldn't be here with me.
I stared at the note for a couple of minutes, and tried unsuccessfully to recall what gift it had accompanied. Why did I save it? Did I even intend to? It didn't matter; the note became the gift, because in the end, the only thing that any of us really want is to know that we were remembered, that we mattered, that someone thought the world was a little bit better for another year because we had been a part of it.