Collections are personal. They connect us to something in ourselves that we want to hold onto. Sometimes, those are moments. Sometimes, they are groups of things that strike our fancy or understanding in a way that we want to make our own.
Many of us collect Emilie Loring’s books because of the way we feel when we read them. We trust her to give us a story we can enter into and come out the better for it.
The experience is repeatable; the next time we read the story, we like it just as well, and it doesn’t matter that we half-remember what’s coming next, or even that we can recite the next passage word-for-word. In fact, over time, that’s part of what we love about having that row of Emilie Loring books on the shelf. Like favorite songs and favorite foods, Emilie Loring books are reliable; they give us something we like whenever we read them.
Like any well-worn and well-traveled thing, our collection develops a patina made of all that we associate with it. Connected to my collection of Emilie Loring books are memories of summers at the lake, my first attempts at romance, the apartments, homes and towns that my books have shared with me, and this present effort to write and share her biography.
For people who know the story, a person’s collection expresses a part of their personality long after they are gone. That’s why I’m happy when I see a group of Emilie Lorings that all belonged to the same owner. I don’t have to know their story to know there is one.
These books all belonged to Ida C. Mason. You can tell she cared about that, because she signed them.
All of them are first editions published by Little, Brown. I imagine Ida in the 1940s, buying each as it came out, like my sisters and I did with the paperbacks in the 1960s. While Ida read Rainbow at Dusk, Emilie was busy writing When Hearts Are Light Again. And it looks like she kept them in a sunny room.
A collection of books I found in Maine this summer told me a little more about their owner.
The copy of Stars In Your Eyes (1941) was inscribed, “Maud A Varney, 38 Academy St., Hallowell, Maine. From Vi” This was written in what I soon recognized as Maud’s own handwriting. Why did she include her address? Was she especially meticulous? Likely to be away, so that a lost book would need return directions?
Inside Beyond the Sound of Guns (1945), Maud inscribed her name and address again, this time with the date, “October 22, 1947.” Was that date significant? I wondered.
Her next inscribed book was What Then Is Love, a first edition by Little, Brown in 1956. This time, the handwriting was new: “To my sister, Maud A Varney, October 1956. Love from Viola.” Oh! So Maud and Viola were sisters. I wonder if Viola also read the books. And it was given in October again… Significant?
Look to the Stars (1957) was another first edition, inscribed in Maud’s handwriting again: “Maud A Varney, 38 Academy Street, Hallowell, Maine; From Viola, Birthday ’57”
With This Ring (1959) was similar: “Maud A Varney, 38 Academy Street, Hallowell, Maine; From Viola, Oct 5, ’59.” October keeps popping up; this time, it’s the 5th.
There’s a break in years, and then comes the next inscribed book: Spring Always Comes (1966):
Maudie A. Varney, Christmas 1965
To my dear sister, who shares with me our memories of happy childhood — and our dreams of future. Your loving sister, Viola
This inscription is so sentimental, and Vi used her sister’s childhood nickname, “Maudie.” I wonder what was going on that year? By then, Maud had been collecting Emilie Loring books at least twenty years.
I looked for the rest of the story…
Maud and Viola were the elder of four Forrester sisters. They were born in Massachusetts in 1898 and 1902, respectively, but their family moved to West Gardiner, Maine when they were in their teens. Maud married Harry Varney in 1920 and moved five miles away, to Academy Street in Hallowell, the very location she wrote in her books.
Maud was a teacher, and she and Harry had three children. Between Stars In Your Eyes and Beyond the Sound of Guns, their son served nearly four years in the Army. I wonder if that colored Maud’s image of Vance Trent, Greg Hunt, Bill Jerrold, and Rex Danton.
When Vi signed, “To my sister… Love from Viola,” their father had died just a few months before. Their mother died the next year on October 1st. How sad Maud must have been when she received Look to the Stars on her birthday, October 5th. Maybe the new Emilie Loring book was a welcome and heartening distraction. She recorded her actual birthday in With This Ring: “Oct 5, ’59.”
Maud was ninety-nine-and-five-months old when she died in 1997. She lived her entire adult life in Hallowell, Maine, five miles from her sister Vi in West Gardiner, who brought her Emilie Loring books on her birthdays.
I stop at the I-95 rest area near West Gardiner each summer when I drive up to Blue Hill. It’s the one that has the Center for Maine Craft inside. It’s both a gallery and retail store, well worth the stop. The exit to Hallowell is just north of there, before I get to the Highway 3 exit toward the coast. I’ll think about it differently the next time I go by.
For fifty years, Maud Varney’s Emilie Loring collection remained at 38 Academy Street in Hallowell. She died in 1997, seven years after Vi, and I don’t know where the books went then.
Twenty-one years later, I walked into a used book store in Searsport, less than sixty miles away, and found them together in a musty, cardboard box. There were sixteen books in the box, but I can positively identify only seven as Maud’s. The latest with her signature was No Time for Love in 1970.
Maud’s Emilie Loring books are far away in Kansas now, but the collection is still together. I think Maud and Vi would be happy about that. I sure am.