Tuesday, July 8, 2008


“I do not lend books to friends. I do not want to lose
my friends, nor my books. E. W.”

Being a book lover, I understood the hand-written sign photographer Edward Weston posted on the bookshelf over his roll-top desk. I was downright curmudgeonly, too, when it came to lending books—yet I managed to lose a book and a friend along the way. The book was Zorba the Greek. My friend (yeah, that’s you, Rich) simply couldn’t comprehend that the hardback edition I’d received as a gift was anything more than just another book. I remember watching both the book and the friend drive away toward Salt Lake City and wondering if I’d ever see either one of them again.

My attitude toward book-lending was adjusted when I met a genuinely generous man named Tom McCord. I met Tom at his home on a rural acreage in the Pine Creek Valley, Halfway, Oregon. He and his wife Nancy were childhood friends of my friend, Bill Baird.

The summer before Bill died, Bill’s son Larry and I took him back to his childhood home for a visit. Larry told me these three friends were a real delight to be around. They were that and more. When they got back together, in their early 90s and in various states of health, they were still the kids they were in the 1920s. Sparkly-eyed high-schoolers.

Tom had an extensive library of World War II books. He served in the artillery and fought at the Battle of the Bulge and beyond. Brutal experiences that made me ache to think about what that fine person endured. Nancy told stories of Army wives following their husbands from base to base during their stateside training. She told of towing a thirty-foot trailer behind their Pontiac, newborn in the front seat, toddler scrambling around in the back. These women established trailer camps to avoid the price gouging opportunistic landlords inflicted on their migrant families. It was a part of the war that people don’t want to talk about, Nancy said. I promised I’d come back and write their story down.

But let’s get back to Tom’s library. Tom had a semi-formal lending system based on index cards and he said that anyone who came to visit left with a book. I couldn’t imagine going back to California with someone else’s book, so I declined as politely as possible. Before we drove away, Tom asked once again if I was sure I didn’t want to borrow a book. “That way,” he said, “I know you’ll come back to visit.” Tom and Nancy died before I had the chance to return to Halfway. How I wish I had borrowed a book and made that trip back.

For more about Halfway and that trip, see my March 2006 posting, "Remembering Halfway, Oregon & Richard Hugo."

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