My Grandfather’s Last Gift To Me

From the time I was in college, I was very close to my grandfather. I went to school 5 hours away, yet I would see him on my frequent trips home. He and my grandmother had a large library that filled 12 full-sized bookshelves and took up an entire room in their house. There was a seemingly endless supply of books to read, and my grandfather would constantly be going through one or more of the books. He had a comprehensive catalog system with 4×6 note cards that he typed out on his trusty 1930’s era typewriter. He had this habit of clipping newspaper articles that related to one of his books and placing them into the book. He didn’t like writing in books, so when he wanted to mark a page, he would write a note on a notecard or flag the page with little cut strips of paper. Some books had dozens of these flags, marking passages that interested him. 

I was fortunate to get to know my grandfather when I was a young adult. I spent hours with him discussing books, politics, physics and my career in mathematics & insurance. Grandpa was an engineer and he liked that I was also in a technical field.  When he passed away in 2019, he left me his prized library. We had discussed it years before he died and he was delighted that I wanted to keep the collection alive and growing.

When I started going through the collection, and pulled out all the special books. I found books we read together and discussed at length. I found others that were over 100 year old and had been passed down from his own parents and grandparents. There’s a book my great-uncle won for being good citizen in elementary school. There’s a family bible from the late 1800’s that has a fancy marriage certificate from my Wynn ancestors in 1865.

I also started seeing all the books that Grandpa had flagged. I spent extra time going through the books with the most markings, and was amazed to see my Grandpa glaring back at me through the pages! Almost every time he flagged a page with an unmarked bookmark, I was able to skim through and find the passage or idea he was flagging.  It’s not always obvious, but the hunt became really fun.

One book, called Space Odyssey: An Anthology of Great Science Fiction Stories, he had a newspaper clipping about Kurt Vonnegut and a notecard marking Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron. The notecard was a rare one because it was prominently displayed so he could see it without opening the book. The story is about a dystopian future where the world is entirely obsessed with Equity or the Equality of Outcomes. In this world exceptional people are handicapped by the government so they do not stand out from the crowd. Beautiful people are made to wear masks. skinny dancers are weighed down with lead weights so that fat people can keep up with them, etc. This was my grandfather’s nightmare! He was terrified that progressive policy makers were deliberately handicapping entrepreneurs and over-achievers in order to make the world more “equal”. His central mythos was of a self-made man who could rise up from poverty by his own keen intellect and hard work. His own father (my great-grandfather) had done just that.  

I didn’t necessarily learn anything new about Grandpa reading through this, but I could see him in my mind, reading this book, and getting excited that someone had put into words this feeling he had in his own heart!

Another fun example I found was a book where Grandpa left a entire one-page hand written note about this book Human Destiny, by Lecomte du Nouy. His note tells this hilarious story about how he was required to participate in a seminar during his final year of engineering school. The seminar was taught by the dean of students who was an avid reader. The seminar required the students to  read a book and provide an analysis of the book. The list of books were from the dean’s private collection of books that influenced him personally.  My grandfather specifically chose Human Destiny because the dean mentioned how much he admired it. Upon reading it my grandfather drafted a scathing review of the book, pointing out that the author does nothing to back up any of his outlandish arguments about the future of humanity. Taking a giant dump on the dean of students because he vehemently disagreed with not only the premise of the book but the scholarship of it is classic Grandpa!  Grandpa held his opinions very firmly and was not afraid to engage in debate.  Fast forward 56 years, Grandpa found a copy of this book in a used bookstore, recognized it and decided to give it another read to see if his mind changed at all.  In reading the book for a second time he concluded “I would not have changed a word in my original report on the book”.

I miss my grandfather almost everyday.  My own work-from-home office is filled with books from his/our library.  I was named after him in a sense. Grandfather was the fourth male in a row named Edward. He kept the name alive by making it my father’s middle name, then my dad did the same for me, and I did the same for my son. I feel so blessed that I get to discover a little bit of grandpa as I go through his old notes, and I’ve started collecting my own notes on the books I love for my kids and maybe grandkids some day.