Treasures from a bookcase

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David Epps

We bought the bookcase from an antiques retailer specializing in English antique furniture. It is hand-crafted and is a desk of sorts — a writing desk, I think it used to be called.

The writing surface folds up and can be locked. There are cubbyholes for important papers and a drawer, which can also be locked, in the center of the piece. On either side, there are bookshelves that have leaded glass doors, framed by wood, which may also be locked. It is made from a wood called “tiger oak.”

It is a beautiful item which I’m certain we could not afford but with which my wife fell in love. So, we bought it and brought it home. That was nearly 30 years ago.

I stocked the shelves with some old and newer books I had at the time and we placed it in our living room. At some point in time we mislaid the key. Until recently, it had been locked for some 25 years.

We tried every old key we had on hand. Whenever we went into an antique shop, or even a hardware store, if I saw a key that even remotely resembled the missing key, I bought it. None of them worked. I hired a locksmith to come to the house to open its drawers and doors. He failed to do so.

When we recently downsized and moved, the bookcase had to be moved with it still full of books. I can only imagine how much it weighed!

We were out of town when my grandson-in-law, Joshua Buth, an engineering major at Georgia Tech who will graduate in December, had a look at it.

Exposing a heretofore unknown (at least to me) talent, he picked the locks and, when we returned, the bookcase gave up what it had been hoarding for nearly three decades.

It was, in a sense, like opening a treasure chest for I had totally forgotten what might be behind those doors. So, this was the week I looked.

The first item was a small Book of Common Prayer, smaller than a pocket-sized New Testament. The words are so small that I must read it with a magnifying glass.

It was given as a gift to one Nancy Pooler on the occasion of her wedding to Mr. T. Jones on the 14th of October 1891. It was presented by the members of her adult Bible class.

There was a small book entitled “Thirty Studies about Jesus” published in 1917. A small hardback book “Questions on the Book of Genesis” was printed in 1849 and given as a gift to a girl by her teacher, whose name I could not decipher, in 1852.

There was a book, “Sermons by Phillips Brooks,” that was dedicated to the three parishes he had served. There was no copyright date, but it was at least as old as the others. There was also a King James Holy Bible printed in 1826 and another Bible printed in London in 1845.

I found another old book called, “Points,” which, although I could find a date was written by Thomas De Witt Talmage, D. D. (January 7, 1832 – April 12, 1902) who was a “preacher, clergyman and divine in the United States who held pastorates in the Reformed Church in America and Presbyterian Church”, according to my Google source.

The oldest book was “The Divine Legation of Moses Demonstrated in Nine Books,” by William, Lord Bishop, of Gloucester, printed in London in 1765, before there was even a United States to vex the Mother Country.

There were a few books not quite so old but then there were the books I had purchased early in my marriage 48 years ago. I bought them but I never read them.

There was “The Old Curiosity Shop,” by Charles Dickens, “The Call of the Wild,” by Jack London, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, who wasn’t totally unknown to me thanks to high school English literature classes.

There was also “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” by Lewis Carroll, which I assume is in much greater detail than the Walt Disney cartoon feature.

And there! A book by Aristotle, another by Marcus Aurelius, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” by Homer. Which of those two by Homer came first? I didn’t know. There was a book by Plato, another by Thomas More, a volume of pomes, essays, and addresses by Ralph Waldo Emerson. All neglected for all these many years.

I think I bought these in the hopes of deceiving people into thinking I was smarter than I really am. After all, in high school when the class had to read, “Moby Dick,” I read the Classics Illustrated edition — a comic book.

I had not the time, patience, or inclination to see what lay within the pages of these works, considered masterpieces by many and essential education by others. I do not know if I have the patience or even the time but I do feel an inclination to see what I’ve been missing all these years.

I have set aside three of these books to begin to consider. The first, I think, will be “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau. I read an excerpt years ago and it did speak to me. Why not the whole thing?

Next, a Christian classic which we talked about in class, but which I never read, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” by John Bunyan. And then — politics! John Locke’s “On Politics and Education.”

Can an old dog learn new tricks? Or can a person who has ignored masterful literature all his life learn to appreciate that which was written long before computers, cell phones, social media, iPads, Google, and Amazon were ever even imagined?

I hope so. We shall see. The opening up of the old bookcase has opened possibilities. But that’s what can happen when one opens a treasure chest.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]