120 Years After a 15th Birthday

There was an estate sale in my neighborhood last weekend, and the whole street was coated in cars. We got there about a half hour after it started and stood around with an eager crowd of folks waiting for their turn to go inside.

It felt ghoulish at first to pick over someone else's treasures in search of a good deal, but the house needed to be emptied so it could be sold. It's also hard for me to get too sensitive about that sort of thing when confronted with a shelf of cool old books at a dollar each.

One of the vintage schoolbooks I grabbed goes over ocean currents and telegraph routes and includes a disquieting map called "Races of Man." The other is dedicated to the author's wife, who he calls "my ablest and kindest critic." (Some later critic penciled in the word "faulty" next to a sweeping declaration about the governance of Caribbean countries.)

I also found an old edition of Robinson Crusoe with pretty endpapers and a copy of Sara Crewe, which is the Frances Hodgson Burnett story that she later expanded into A Little Princess. That one was originally given as a birthday gift.

I have no way of knowing if "Miss Florence" was a relative of the homeowner or if her book had passed through several other hands since 1895, the year she turned 15. But it's reassuring to know that whatever happens to us, the stories we loved are left behind for others to wonder at and enjoy.

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