Book Serendipity, Part I
This past February, a small reclaimed furniture store was closing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Inside, all that remained were a few chairs, a dresser, some chalkboard paint, a random assortment of knobs, and the tiniest of books tucked beside a lamp.
The book was two and a half inches high, four inches wide, and eight pages long. It was covered in images of fall foliage - orange and red - along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - images faded over the four decades since their printing.
I told the shopkeeper that I was from Virginia, and she begged for me to take it. Everything had to go.
I went home, sat on my couch, and flipped through the pages of this tiny book - pages featuring picture after picture of rolling mountains colored by the seasons and a road winding through them. A road I felt I needed to drive.
Book Serendipity, Part II
A few weeks later I received an invitation to a childhood friend's wedding in Charlottesville, Virginia. Everyone was going, including my mother, so I decided I should go too, and I looked at a map. The entrance to the Skyline Drive was just thirty minutes from the wedding, and the wedding would be in June. By then, the leaves would be green, and I would do the drive.
The morning of the wedding, my mother and I wandered into a used bookstore. We explored the shelves of yellowed pages, reading the cartoons and poems and quotes that were taped to the sides of the stacks, and after an hour, we shared our finds.
She was particularly excited about one book. It was blue, and in gold, on the cover, were the words: Trinity Church, Huntington, West Virginia, Something of Its Story. She flipped it open and showed me a picture of a bishop. She told me that he'd been one of her father’s best friends and that she'd attended the church growing up. As we were checking out, she showed the shopkeeper the same picture and told him the same story. That’s incredible! he said. Book serendipity, she called it.
Did you see our Virginia section?
We hadn't, so he led us to it.
Book Serendipity, Part III
The Virginia section was about four feet wide and eight feet high, but all I could see was one book - bound in red leather, a year and two words embossed on its spine: Fir Tree 1943. I pulled it out. A gold tree was embossed on the cover, and inside, I read the name of my mother's father's high school. I knew then that I was holding his yearbook, and sure enough, when I flipped to the index, there he was on page 67, page 74, page 85, 86, 134, and 135.
I still don’t know why a high school yearbook was being sold at a used bookstore, but I know that it now lives on a shelf in my parents’ home, and that that day, I was called to find it.
I began writing this story on December 5th, which is the same day that I began researching the bishop - my grandfather's friend. I immediately noticed that his birthday was two days before mine, and that his wife Rosemary's birthday had just passed on December 4th (which coincidentally is also the birthday of one of my best friend's whose mother's name just happens to be Rosemary). I continued researching and learned that after West Virginia, the bishop and Rosemary moved to Tennessee, which is where I was considering moving when we found the books, and I learned that while in Tennessee, he fought the banning of books and advocated for the ordination of women, and I learned that after Tennessee, he moved to Charlottesville, where in time he was buried facing Rockfish Gap, the southernmost entrance to the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, which is where I headed after the wedding and where this story continues, but first, yesterday: I learned that two weeks before I began writing this story, Rosemary - who is still very much alive - moved back to Charlottesville after years of living in Boston, and I learned that my mother is planning to visit her soon, and that maybe I will too.