Celebrating a Reading Life

Three years ago today, we lost my dad to the cruelty that calls itself Lewy-Body Dementia. Each year, my Mom and I commemorate this day with a community service project.

As only a reader can understand, my Dad wanted his books donated to our local library. It took us almost two years to catalog the thousands of books in my dad’s personal library.

Today, Mom and I are honoring that request by delivering more than 400 books (only about 15 percent of the full collection) to the branch in my my folks’ neighborhood.

In tribute, I’m also republishing a post I wrote the day Dad left us.


Today my family is closing a chapter of an incredible story: my dad’s life. I know a lot – the polio, the streetcars, family life in the 1940s, growing up the oldest of 11, the Polish/German boy going to my Italian great-grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner with his “girlfriend” that first time – and now I’ll never know more.

The ugliness of Lewy-Body Dementia had been taking its toll on my father for three years, with a precipitous impact this summer. He played 9 holes of golf with my husband on July 11, 2011 … and today he was called Home.

Growing up, my dad was supposed to become a priest, because that’s what the first born did back in the day. Then he met my mom. He was supposed to go into the family business: running my grandfather’s bakery. Because THAT is what you did when you didn’t enter the church. But my dad’s destiny was to share a love of learning and books. His passion was teaching and mentoring and nurturing.

My dad was many things – educator, corporate executive, administrator, among others – but first and foremost he was a bookworm. He L-O-V-E-D history, especially European and colonial American history. He was writing a book about how to use literature and primary sources to teach history. He was rereading the novels of his youth to show how culture and beliefs affect literature and to “place” them in the context of their time.

When I took his AP European History class in high school, we listened to music and looked at art. We read original sources and correspondence. We didn’t memorize dates. We didn’t have reading logs.

After my parents moved to Charlottesville in 2006, my dad asked if he could review books for the Reading Tub. He wanted to see what kids today are reading and practice his writing. Why? Because that’s what readers do. Yes, he tired of the Harry-Potter-wannabes, but he reveled in some of the “really great stuff” he was seeing. I can’t count how many times he said “boy, I wish I would have had a book like that when I was teaching.”

Even when he could no longer review, he kept reading. He’d see an interview on News Hour and ask Mom to put the title on his list. He is my personification of Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “I cannot live without books.”

I miss him, but I know what he’s doing … strolling the stacks of Heaven’s library, looking for Great Books and people to talk with about them.

I need some time to deal with the harsh realities of not being able to talk with Dad, to see his smile, to hear him say cina-min-a-min and make Catherine laugh. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I hope you can understand.

2 responses to “Celebrating a Reading Life

  1. What a wonderful gift for your library. I imagine losing your father never gets easier, but sharing something he loved so much with people who can benefit must feel good.

    1. Hi Melissa! It is quite bittersweet … with the emphasis on the sweet. Dad had a lot of art books, and they are just too expensive for most libraries to add. To watch the librarian cradle those books like a baby was so heartwarming, especially for my mom who is NOT a reader.

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