As one who was adopted at age five, I grew up with two family trees -1. the biological genealogy and 2. the relatives who comprised my adoptive family. Today I’m talking a look at family history from the adoptive side. This is the second installment of a tribute to my late adoptive dad. In my new home, my brother (adopted with me) and I were treated like royalty. Our father Richard read to us every night. I recall listening to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. No one had read to me before. I’d never seen a book. What luxury it was to fall asleep to my dad’s deep, rich baritone. I would have been happy if the book had gone on forever.
All his life my father read eclectically, enormously, exuberantly. An English teacher for many years, a professor of guidance and counseling for most of his career, he collected mysteries, history, poetry, biography, and the classics. My brother and I were encouraged to indulge our love of books. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, we somehow built up our own book
My mom would outlive my dad by several years, and she diligently sent me not only
his World War Two letters (collected in a volume titled FromCalcuttaWithLove), she also packed up his books and sent them from Virginia to my home in New Mexico.
I’ll never forget that last cardboard box of literary treasures. Inside were leather-bound copies of The Pickwick Papers, The Brothers Karamazov, Maupassant Short Stories, Twain Short Stories, Tom Sawyer Abroad, A Tale of Two Cities, The Trial and The Works of Poe.
Mark Twain was always one of Richard’s favorite authors. Looking through the Twain volume, I saw on the inside cover, his handwritten “7/28/32,” the date he’d acquired the book. It’s no accident that when I was earning my Masters degree in American Literature, I chose to write my thesis on Twain. Specifically, I wrote on Determinism in Puddn’head Wilson.
Turning to an underscored section in Tom Sawyer Abroad, I read the following quote by Tom:
“As near as I can make out, geniuses think they know it all, and so they won’t take people’s advice, but always go their own way, which makes everybody forsake them and despise them, and that is perfectly natural. If they was humbler, and listened and tried to learn, it would be better for them.”
Tom’s words so perfectly reflected Richard’s homespun, down-to-earth attitude toward life that I laughed through my tears. A bittersweet reminder of the wonderful man he was.
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