I grew up with two family trees -1. biological 2. adoptive.
Years after being adopted, I met my birthparents, and that was helpful if not completely rewarding. I was fortunate to end up with my adoptive parents (family tree #2), and in that vein I’m talking a look at family history from the adoptive side.
My father died on a May morning in Virginia, the state where I grew up and he had lived for 40 years. Richard Leonard Beard was my hero, my role model and — after I moved from Virginia to New Mexico in the 1960s — my favorite pen pal. Before the cruel dementia that ravaged his mind and memory, he was a brilliant and much-loved college professor first at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and then at the University of Virginia (UVa). Of the many gifts my father imparted to me, I cherish most his love of books.
Since that sad, raw Tuesday when Richard gave up his battle for life, I’ve savored memories of this wonderful man. None have been more heartwarming than those provided as I go through his books, which my mother sent me, carton by carton, over a period of three months.
My father was a lover of the written word, a true bibliophile. The oldest of four
children growing out in rural northern Ohio, he was the only one who went to college. The family moved from a farm in Hancock County to Findlay, Ohio, and there for the first time he had access of a library. He started reading voraciously and never stopped. In high school, young Richard was president of 38 clubs, including the book club, the drama team, and the debating club. Ultimately, my father became professor of guidance and counseling, before which he was a high school English teacher. His love of books was conveyed to a multitude of fortunate students, and later, to me.
Times were tough for my biological mother, and-never mind books- she had enough trouble housing and feeding me and my brother. In fact, she couldn’t, and that’s when my new Mom and Dad came into the picture. I can’t recall seeing a book before my “rescue” from grim foster homes and what I considered an orphan’s life.
In the wonderful new home where my brother and I were treated like royalty rather than unwanted burdens, I recall our father reading to us every night. There must have been other bedtime stories, but my most vivid memory is of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Night after night, I would fall asleep to my father’s rich baritones, with visions of the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Jabberwock. He instilled in me a passion for reading and transformed what had been a bleak, booklets childhood. I grew up rich in words, finding through books fantasy, adventure, edification and a world apart that seemed to make up for the first five years of my life.
During the mid-1950s, In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Richard established an
educational TV program in conjunction with the University of North Carolina, based on books and reading. He was the host and I was a frequent guest. In the meantime, his personal book collection was growing. In thirty years, it would reach over 5,000 volumes. (To be Continued)
Next Week: “Books and My Father Richard,” Part II. Join Elaine on Mondays for reflections on adoption, adapting, and life.