A Room Full of Letters

This past weekend I sorted through some old boxes in storage, and found a handset poetry book that I was given when I was about 9 years old. It has a deep red cover and the inside pages are filled with poems and woodcuts. It was given to me by my Mom’s friend, who lived a short ways away from our house in Virginia.I remember how the trip to his house started, the car perched at the top of a huge hill that dipped so steeply it was enough to give you vertigo. Straight ahead at eye level, was a deeply forested blue green mountain. As we drove down, I wondered what would it feel like if the car slipped, and if we would go straight or if the car would turn round and round. This side of the mountain was always darker, in shadow, and the view of the mountain in the distance usually a little foggy. It always felt like we were entering a different world.

When we arrived, our cheerful friend greeted us, impeccably dressed in a textured vest and overcoat, his head topped with lots of white hair. He led us to the basement receiving room, which had wide windows on one side opening up to the back yard, several doll houses on the other side, a door to an adjacent room, and in the center, a perfectly placed big red chair sitting on an oriental carpet. He knew J.R. Tolkein, and, as I sat down in the red chair, he told me that was the chair Tolkein sat in when he visited.

My mom and her friend talked while I looked around at the dollhouses, and eventually we all went into the adjacent room, which was filled, side to side, floor to ceiling, with wooden brackets holding small metal letters. With this old letterpress, our friend hand-typeset books filled with his own poetry and woodcuts.

What a contrast, to be looking at small dollhouses one minute, to this space where a whole human sized room was needed to make one small book! I am glad to have such a fond memory of this friend through the gift of his book.