Once again, I have been traveling. It wasn’t the adventurous kind of traveling that I sometimes do, jetting off to a new town, a new cottage, a new seashore, but I traveled 1,834 miles by car, nevertheless, and there’s plenty to see and to think about on a drive like that.
As the miles melted away, current events and precautions yielded to lighthearted music and interesting podcasts. One introduced me to a letter written by E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web, The Elements of Style) for a librarian who wanted to encourage young readers. His words charmed me, and I reproduce them here:
“A library is many things. It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain. It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think. But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books.
“If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases. If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had.
“And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.
“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered.
“Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”
More miles melted away, and I pondered that last thought…
“For books are people–people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”
–People like the author, Emilie Loring, whom we feel we know, still know, although she died seventy years ago. Knowing her books, we can say with confidence, “Emilie would never have said that!” or “Wouldn’t she have just loved this colorful garden?”
Plus, each book has its own world inside, complete with all of its vibrant details. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the more we read it, the more real it becomes to us, until even taking our dog-eared copy down from the shelf prepares us for an explosion of beet juice, a hold-up in a border-town bar, or a clandestine search for missing silver.
As I drove, I imagined Emilie feeling a private satisfaction in keeping people she loved alive as characters in her stories–her father as Noah Caswell, her brother as David Schuyler, her sister as Peggy Glamorgan. I imagined her replaying memories in her mind and selecting details to bring her family to life on the page–laughing, teasing, having conversations, being themselves. “Books are good company… for books are people…”
More miles rolled by, and I strained to remember more than the gist of a quotation that is displayed in the Blue Hill Public Library about books lasting for generations, still fresh and new. I failed then, but I’m home now, and here it is:
“The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.”
From the story of the Yale University Press
That’s quite a thought, isn’t it? We value people more than books in this life, but the books may last longer, and through them, so may the people. . . . I guess we’d all better get started writing!
When I finally got home, it was ninety degrees and sixty-six percent humidity inside my house. Oh my. We didn’t have that in Oregon! I opened the windows and turned on the air conditioning and ceiling fans.
I have not been in my house to actually live–as opposed to packing and scooting off again–since early December. My sister died in January, my granddaughter was born in March, and then the pandemic hit hard, tossing schedules and plans to the side like so much wheat chaff.
So guess what I saw when I walked into my study?
My books! Yes, those people-living-in-between-the-covers books, dear since childhood, something solid in this topsy-turvy world of ours, and essential to finalizing the biography manuscript.
Soon after, I checked our Emilie Loring Facebook page and read, “Just wondering if there’s going to be an Emilie themed tea party this summer?”
Our tea party! Yes, that’s what we would have been planning, had this been a normal, non-COVID summer. Traditionally, we’ve held it toward the end of June or early July. I unpacked, ordered groceries, and considered…
Of course, we should have our Emilie Loring tea this summer! Maybe this year more than most, we could use a pleasant punctuation in the sameness of at-home, distanced life. And if we keep it simple, we can still squeeze it into July.
The watchword for this rendition will be “pluck”–as in “spirited and determined.” I wasn’t here to plant anything in the garden this summer, so you won’t be seeing Emilie Loring-inspired flowers on my tea table, but I’m sure the mint survived my neglect, and I may even have hydrangeas in bloom. I have tea in the cupboard, so that’s lucky, and for treats, I’ll make something–or make do–with whatever my grocery store has in stock this time.
No fuss, just fun.
So here it is:
You are cordially invited to an Emilie-Loring-inspired tea
on Thursday, July 30th, 2020
at 4:00 p.m. in your time zone.
Enjoy your tea in any setting that you like, with any accoutrements you like, and with a nod to Emilie Loring. (That’s easy: She liked tea!)
Please take photos to share. This is not a contest; we will simply have more fun seeing how everyone makes it happen. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I will post throughout the day, and we can enjoy each other’s creativity and company!
Here are photos from past years to inspire you: