My oldest brother, Jonathan, recently posted this picture of himself, taken in 1972. To my knowledge, I had not seen this particular photograph before, but it has captured my attention. I keep thinking about it and browsing back to look at it, again. Since when does an old photograph so move me and why this one in particular?
First and foremost, the picture is so genuinely Jonathan. Perched on a narrow plank, elbows resting on knees, he is contentedly at ease so long as he has a good book in hand. And the expression on his face…both relaxed and alert…attentive and absorbed…the look of a man who is reading the words on a page while seeing the pictures described by the words…a man completely immersed in his book! That was Jonathan in 1972 and that is Jonathan today. His love of books and joy of reading has not lessened with time.
That same pose, though, would also be typical of Jonathan’s son, Samuel. In fact, one could easily mistake one for the other. As we say here in the south, Sam is the spi’t’n image (spirit and image) of his father. Then I think how often I’ve seen my own son, Timothy, in similar pose, book in hand. I’ve not thought of Tim and Sam looking that similar, but with book in hand the body language is the same. And where do you suppose Tim gets it? Yep! In this aspect at least, my son is the spi’t’n image of his father.
The posture would, in fact, be typical of most men in my family.
Those hands, though…those hands are so uniquely Jonathan! Those are my brother’s hands. Much larger than mine and longer of finger…nobody else has hands quite like Jonathan’s. In 1972, Jonathan was 19 years old and I was 9…still young enough to think of my big brother as quite a hero. I remember those hands as being strong enough to split an oak log in a single axe stroke…agile enough to palm a basketball in mid-dribble…yet delicate enough to create wondrously detailed sketches.
Look how gently he holds the book in his large hand…such a loose grip…almost a loving caress. I don’t recall anyone else holding a book quite the way Jonathan does.
But wait…something tugging at the corner of my memory…of course…my father! Papa’s hands were smaller…more like mine…but the way he held a book was similar to Jonathan’s…as though each book were a fragile treasure to be handled with delicate care.
How many times have I seen Papa’s hands gently cradle a book? How many books did he read to us children in the evenings? …First a chapter from the Bible then a chapter from another favorite book. Through Papa’s voice I was introduced to Dickens, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Longfellow, Tolkien, Lewis, and so many more beloved authors and poets.
I recall how Papa opened a new box of books recently arrived in the mail. Cautiously he would run a knife beneath the tape, careful not to penetrate but a fraction of an inch for fear of harming the books. Gently, he would lift the first book as the tantalizing odor of fresh new books wafted from the box. Placing the book upright, spine resting on the table, he would carefully fold each cover flat on the table. First from the front of the book, then from the back, Papa would gently fold down a few pages at a time, carefully running his fingers along the binding to press the pages down. The process continued until the book lay open to the middle. Then he would close the book, place it aside, and lift the next book from the box. Papa explained he did this to “break the book in well” so as to minimize stresses on the binding, helping it last longer.
Yes, to Papa, a book was a treasure to be lovingly cared for.
A few years ago, when Google was first becoming popular as a search engine, I ‘googled’ my own name just to see what would happen. Since I had no social media presence at the time, I didn’t show up on the first listing page…but my name did. Apparently, I share my name with a distant ancestor, a book binder who lived in Eton, England (1704-1787) and is known as a pioneer in bundling collections of books into a single volume so as to make them more affordable.
It seems the Pote Family has a long history of loving books. It’s part of who we are…a family of bibliophiles.