This is not my precious thing. By that, I mean it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to my son and I am its trusted guardian. Sometimes I wish I were not; it's extremely fragile and is, in fact, falling apart. I'm afraid to touch it. I have it tucked away and I hardly ever take it out. It's a family heirloom, passed through six generations so far, a tiny leather-bound copy of the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
The binding is torn and is attached by only a small strip of very fragile leather. The leather is faded, cracked and dry but the gilt imprint shines. The leather was once supple and smooth, a handsome little book for a young boy. It was purchased, and gifted, in Ohio in 1887. The giver, my husband's great-great-grandmother, and the recipient, her three-year-old son, were Presbyterians. They were devout followers of their Scottish ancestors' faith. What were 19th-century Presbyterians like? I'm picturing austerity, simplicity, refinement. I'm picturing dark clothing, long Sunday meetings, a large but plain meal afterward. A devotion to hard work, good manners, studiousness. A comfortable life but not a fancy one. In my mind, 19th-century American Protestantism looks like this book.
The flyleaf has been inscribed. The first child to receive this book, CBH, was my husband's great-grandfather. He gave it to his eldest grandchild, my husband's uncle, CWH. He is my father-in-law's elder brother. CWH never had any children of his own. My husband's elder brother died at age seventeen. It must have seemed unlikely that my husband would be the one to produce the first grandchild but here we are. The book was given to my son when he was about three years old. This has not been inscribed in the book. We've all been afraid of damaging it. I may try, though. I think it would be nice. The facing page, which I think is called the colophon, has pencil scribbles from some long-ago child. I don't normally condone writing in books but I'm glad for it this time.
Inside is the only bit of color, a green grosgrain-ribbon bookmark decorated with an illustration of Christ. It's pasted onto the ribbon and is peeling at the top edge. I'm told by past keepers of the book that the ribbon has always been in it, at least as far back as 1950, when its last living recipient got it. I suppose it could be original, from 1887. I hope so. I'm careful with it. The edges are curled and faded and a bit frayed. The part that stays inside the book is darker, and smoother. The sticker is hardly faded at all, Christ's robes wine-colored, a crisp white stole around His shoulders. The sheep flanking Him are finely detailed, their fleeces snowy. He stands amid detailed rocks and plants with a clear sky behind Him. He is color and light in a drab little book with miniscule print and tissue-thin pages.
Now this precious little book belongs to my son. He has not been raised in a church-going family, though we do read Bible stories and we celebrate Christian holidays as well as some Jewish ones, in a nod to my own mixed-faith heritage. He has seen this book a few times and he thinks it's interesting. It stays with me for safekeeping, wrapped in old cotton Anne Klein scarf, tucked into the back corner of my underwear drawer with other treasures: letters written to me by my husband, my son's baby teeth in individual, marked envelopes (my daughter's soon to join them), my newborns' hospital hats and bracelets. I don't know who will receive this little book next, or when, but I plan to let my children handle that when the time comes. For now, I'm proud to keep it safe for them, a slice of family history and, hopefully, their own future.
Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below:
Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Gillian at Tales from a happy house.
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.