Senior downsizing: Mom’s Books

Senior Downsizing: Mom’s Books

By Senior Dating Columnist Tom Blake

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter

March 31, 2023

In 2017, there was a young family living across the street from Greta and me in Dana Point. The mom, Victoria (pictured above), told us her son was named Cash (age five), and her daughter was named Waylan Jane (age two).

“Why those names?” I asked.

Victoria said, “We love Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and country music.”

Victoria was surprised when I told her I had worked with Johnny in 1975-1976 and had been friends with him. When Greta and I mentioned we were going to Nashville to visit the Johnny Cash Museum, Victoria asked if we could do her a favor.

She said, “My son is a huge Johnny Cash fan. He has written a letter to Johnny. He would be thrilled if you could give it to Johnny. Of course, young Cash didn’t comprehend that Johnny and his wife June had passed away in 2003.

The letter read, “Mr. Cash. I love you. I like the song ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ it’s funny. I’m named Cash too.” (See picture below of Tom handing the letter to Johnny).

I told Victoria I’d somehow get the letter to Johnny. At the museum, I had a picture taken of me handing it to a staged picture of Johnny. I brought the picture home and gave it to Cash.

A year later, the family moved to San Clemente. I kept in touch with them via an occasional email.

A month ago, Victoria asked to meet me at Coffee Importers in Dana Point Harbor. After our visit, as we were leaving, she stopped at a used book display sponsored by the Friends of the Dana Point Library. Victoria purchased two books for two dollars each. She said, “I love books and the people who volunteer at the library are incredible.”

Lately—as many seniors do–I’ve been trying to downsize at home. One of my top priorities has been to donate the 250+ books that are gathering dust on shelves. Most of the books were my mom’s. She was an avid book collector and reader.

At age 93, Mom moved to a larger home because she wanted more space to store her books. Often, she inserted small hand-written notes, postcards, newspaper book reviews, and other miscellaneous items inside the pages.

After Mom passed, nearly all her books came to my house. I hadn’t opened many of them.

I kept thinking about Victoria and her love of books. When she texted me in mid-March, I popped a question: “I’m going to donate all my books. Would you like to check them out first and take home books that you’d like to keep?”

“Love to,” Victoria said.

On Saturday, March 18, she arrived at 9:45 a.m. I figured she’d be at the house for a half hour.

She sat on the living room floor where I had placed the books and took two hours to go through them. She meticulously opened every book and carefully removed 130 of Mom’s items, reading them, and commenting on them.

I was astounded. Mom had inserted notes she had written, including her philosophies on religion, postcards and Christmas cards from her children, and newspaper articles from the San Francisco Chronicle from as early as 1973. There were clippings from Saturday Review, and The New Yorker—so many items that revealed Mom’s incredible thirst for knowledge.

Victoria said, “Your Mom was an amazing woman. I am honored to have these books coming to my home, where they will be loved and appreciated.” One item that Victoria found was a copy of the Emily Dickinson poem,

After great pain, a formal feeling comes”

that Mom had written the words to on a small piece of paper. Moments before, Victoria had received a text on her phone from a friend of hers that mentioned Emily Dickinson. How serendipitous was that? By the way, the final words to that poem are “…then the letting go.”

If Victoria hadn’t leafed through the books, those personal items would have been gone forever. Instead, I put them in large envelopes for my sisters to go through. Victoria had virtually recovered the Blake history that would have disappeared forever.

And then Victoria said, “If you want, we can take the books I won’t be taking home to the Dana Point Library this morning.” I was dumbfounded. The thought of this daunting downsizing task being over thrilled me. She phoned her friends who volunteer there and informed them that we’d be bringing a few cases of books to the library.

One book I kept was an American Red Cross First Aid Text-Book, dated June 1937, with my brother Bill’s signature inside the front cover. Inserted in the pages were two Johnson & Johnson unopened sterile gauze pads. I’m keeping the book and pads in his memory (picture below).

Within a half hour, the books being donated were inside the library where Victoria introduced me to the three women “Friends of the Library” who were volunteering that day. I was so impressed with their dedication and enthusiasm. 

When bidding goodbye to Victoria, she said, “I didn’t expect this to be such an emotional day.”

When I got home, I got a little teary-eyed. Mom’s books had found a new home where a person loved books as much as Mom did. They will be treasured for years. If Victoria hadn’t surfaced when she did, Mom’s books and those precious inserts would have been gone forever. My sisters Pam and Chris and I would not have known if Mom’s books were being appreciated like they are going to be now.

It gives me and my sisters peace of mind knowing Mom’s books are in the possession of an incredible and loving person. I know Mom is beaming from above.

And thank you, Victoria for being an absolute angel. And for helping me with my downsizing project. 

Link to “A Boy Named Sue” from Johnny Cash’s Live At San Quentin album (1969). Notice how much the prisoners loved this song. The guitar player on the right who smiles when Johnny refers to “a bottle of booze” is Carl Perkins, who wrote Blue Suede Shoes and made it popular.