Durable by Design

Daddy could not trust his legs and his eyes to keep him from falling. I remembered how proud he was years ago showing me how he had securely screwed the child safety gate into the doorjamb at the top of the basement steps.  ‘See,’ he said while shaking it with his hand, ‘that’s going to hold.’

Pitching his head toward my mother’s open bedroom door a few feet away, he added in code, ‘You never know, anybody could fall.’ Mama, no doubt, knew she was the ‘anybody’ he was trying to protect.

Now that anybody was Daddy. (Before the Door Closes, pp. 6-7)

Engrained in my father was the drive to make things last. He took meticulous care of everything he owned. Keeping within his means, he bought the best he could buy and looked for ways to improve it and extend its life.

In 2003 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a Sunday magazine feature of readers’ feedback on tangibles that last forever. Poking up like mismatches among mundane stoves and refrigerators and toasters were a thirty-nine-year-old cake tester and a forty-seven-year-old egg cooker. Topping their longevity, however, is my cast iron skillet that worked its way down from the hands of my husband’s grandmother to his mother’s to mine. Facing the facts, I know my  body by design will never last as long as even the skillet’s current age of a hundred and forty years. That does not mean durability is not important to me. For one thing it’s what I look for in books.

I grew up in an era when, if you were seen in the company of a paperback, you were shelved under the category of cheap. You were what the book represented: cheap pages, cheap binding, cheap content. A throwaway after it’s been used. It would never earn the reputation of durable quality that a hardback denoted.

Recognizing that the paperback, also known as softback and softcover, has now come into its own, so to speak, my heart will forever gravitate to the hardback. (I still use that term even though “hardcover” has wormed its way into the book vocabulary.)  I like the stability I see in a hardback, and I like the strength it emits when I touch it. I like to “unbutton” its dust jacket before I read it and then cloak it again until I’m ready to take my friend out for another excursion.

Whenever I order a used book on Amazon, I buy the hardback if it’s available. And I choose the oldest edition so that I can be as close to the author as possible.

A few days ago I received my latest friend, whose copyright date is estimated at 1900 or earlier. The spine’s lettering is gold-embossed. A snug sheet of vellum still protects the frontispiece and the title page. I welcomed the previous owner’s name stamped on one of the leaves. I receive him as a kindred spirit who has shared my interests.  With Internet research I can also give Frank N. Kik a face and more.

This book, Moses: The Servant of God,by F. B. Meyer endured longer than Dr. Kik and, by the looks of it, will be abiding in my bookcase when my own earthly life is over. But I don’t believe that gives credence to the English writer William Hazlitt’s quotation, “Words are the only things that last forever.” Just this past Thursday, two seven-year-olds (one boy and one girl) told me they had never heard of a Twinkie.

The Things That Last” is a blog by Fr Bede, OSB. Part of his opening prayer says, “It is only the things which find their beginning and end in God that truly last – those things which are True, Good, Beautiful, and Holy.”


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