I'd been looking at the book for months. On a shelf with countless other old, used volumes, there was something about the title and the cover that intrigued me. For no particular reason, I passed it by each and every time.
A light gray hardback, its cover was stamped with a red and green illustration of a sleigh slipping away on an avenue lines with snowy trees. The title, "Journey Into Christmas", gave me a warm buzz as most references to my favorite holiday did. Finally, I broke down and paid the $1.98. What did I have to lose?
This has been my experience with more than a few old books. I love scanning the "Vintage Books" section of my local thrift store, hoping that I'll find a title that captures me. Something that will give me that warm, secure feeling that comes from the somewhat simple stories that speak to my love of domestic life from the early and middle of the 20th century. After a lot of research I've come to recognize some specific author's names but, more often than not, it's been the previously unknown writers who've given me just what I've been looking for.
"Journey Into Christmas" is the perfect example. Written by Bess Streeter Aldrich, a long forgotten Nebraska author who was writing from the 1920's through the 1940's, it's comprised of several short stories from different points in her career. Aldrich originally turned to writing following the early death of her husband. Her stories expertly capture the highs and lows of ordinary American domestic life which, as ordinary people know, can be quite extraordinary indeed! Free from grand drama but full of homespun wisdom, her stories have enough humor to keep them from being saccharin. They also highlight the kinds of challenges that many of us experience. A recurring theme throughout the book is loneliness. The kind of loneliness that parents feel at the absence of grown children or when considering the seemingly simpler days of the past. Aldrich doesn't let us linger too long, though, reminding us that there is plenty in the present to appreciate.
That $1.98 was a good investment. I've read the book each December for the past five years, and have even given away several copies.
Another book that was discovered in just this way has also given me hours of enjoyment. "Mama's Bank Account" by Kathryn Forbes was the inspiration for the marvelous Irene Dunne movie, "I Remember Mama". It's impossible not to imagine Ms. Dunne as one reads through the charming and endearingly funny stories of early 20th century life among Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco. Dealing with financial ruin, health disasters and long-standing family rivalries, "Mama's Bank Account" transports one to another time where the problems were just as challenging as those we face today. Happily, in this book, the responses to those trouble are tempered with understanding and humor.
I love books that challenge and educate. I love books that surprise and shock! But, there are times, when I want a book that will simply entertain and uplift me - a book that will inspire gentle laughter and nods of understanding. In fact, these are the kinds of stories that I love to write.
So, next time you are digging through old, used volumes that might look a little dull, take a moment and take a chance... You might discover a hidden treasure!