What to Read in the Bathroom

It’s been several years – decades? – since I’ve gone to an outhouse. But the bathroom attached to my office provides the same services. Because of the time spent in the facility, it is useful to have at hand a ready supply of reading material. There’s nothing quite so boring as sitting and staring at a blank wall, not unlike watching paint dry. Now, thanks to Flanker Press of St. John’s, and a gentleman who goes by the moniker of Grandpa Pike, I have a brand new book to add to my stash of bathroom reading, Grandpa Pike’s Outhouse Reader.

Grandpa-Pikes-Outhouse-Reader-small-165x247Laurie Blackwood Pike grew up in Stanhope, NL, but, leaving when he was four years old, he also grew up in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Outhouses were common in the 1940s and 1950s.

“On the wall beside the hole were strips of paper cut from an old Eaton’s catalogue, or the Family Herald, nailed in place, or sometimes laid in a pile within reach of the seat. While you were waiting for nature to take its course, … you used these strips the way you would use toilet tissue today.”

The Eaton’s catalogue and Family Herald may be things of the past, but, Grandpa Pike suggests, “people everywhere still read in the bathroom.” He hopes that his book “will take your mind off the more mundane.”

He tells his stories in eight chapters, umbrellaed under the good old days, animals, sports, life, the Duke, people, sales and travel. All 70 of them are humourous, inspiring and, sometimes, thought-provoking.

“A book like this … contains short reads, and you can simply fold down the corner of the page when done.” I personally prefer to not dog ear my books. “Upon your next visit, you might even choose a story at random, the length of which you’ll determine by estimating the time required to complete the job.”

Bathroom users and book readers will have their favourite stories. Grandpa Pike’s animal stories especially resonate with me. You know, he’s a very punny guy. In “Dawn,” he writes about the time he had to give his cat away because he was moving. His ending is classic: “It is indeed a long night that has no dawn.”

Grandpa Pike’s Outhouse Reader is not the kind of book to read in one … ah … sitting, then relegate to a shelf. Keep it on your vanity and read a story or two as the need arises.

Art Love Forgery

There were approximately 19,900 new books published in Canada in 1996, the latest year for which statistics are available. Even if I were to read two a week, it would take me 200 years to read ’em all! So, I must choose carefully which books I read.

As a history aficionado, I recently read Art Love Forgery, Carolyn Morgan’s foray into published fiction based on fact.

art-love-forgery-coverIn 1880, Alexander Pindikowsky, a Polish artist working in Heart’s Content, is arrested for the crime of forgery.

Morgan has been fascinated by this story since she first heard about the Pole.

“Since I am a visual artist,” she says, “his story was all the more compelling to me.” She wanted his “quite unusual” tale to “come alive.”

As a university student writing history papers, she “always read historical fiction first to get a sense of the time period and the historical figures. Reading a novel was far less tedious for me than reading dry historical documents.”

By crafting Pindikowsky’s story as a novel, Morgan was able to entertain her readers and educate people “about a slice of Newfoundland history in the process.”

Art Love Forgery is informed by an amalgam of “stories and characters from my own family history” and an awareness of “the cultural mind-set of the time.”

Pindikowsky was sentenced to prison; part of his sentence included designing and painting ceiling frescoes that can still be seen at Government House in St. John’s.

“Very progressive was the idea of using a prisoner’s talents during his incarceration instead of having him languish in a jail cell.”

Visual artistry has been part of Morgan’s life, she explains, “starting as a young girl designing and creating hats and clothing for my dolls.”

Studying art locally and spending two art holidays in France and one in Italy, studying painting en plein air, she now sells her paintings, textile work and metal art work.

She says that her visual work is based on inspiration.

“My artistic expression is all about communicating ideas and stories. My work often reflects the struggle between the industrialized/technological world and the natural world. When I am inspired, my imagination processes images in the form of a visual story. A person, place, leaf or seedpod, a phrase in a book or a fragment of conversation, can trigger a torrent of visual images that will condense into an artwork.”

In Art Love Forgery, she writes “about an artist who is part of Newfoundland’s history – a happy combination for me.”

In case you are wondering, yes, the Love in the title indicates the story of a forbidden love in the capital city in the nineteenth century.

Art Love Forgery, which is published by Flanker Press, is a good read. Morgan draws the reader in through her artistic imagination. The overriding question is: How will the love affair between Alexander Pindikowsky and Ellen Dormody evolve?

The book will also “foster a curiosity about other characters and events from our rich history,” which is one of the things Morgan wants people to take from her novel.

A fire at Brigus

smith-nicholasIt was Wednesday, 25 September 1935. Seventy-five-year-old Nicholas Smith of Brigus was in the middle of writing his memoirs. The book would be released the following year by the English firm, Arthur H. Stockwell, Ltd., under the title, Fifty-Two Years at the Labrador Fishery.

Humphrey T. Walwyn (1879-1957), Governor of Newfoundland from 1936 to 1946, wrote the foreword to Smith’s book, referring to it as “a work of great inspirational value and historical interest to those who today follow in his footsteps.” The Englishman enthused that the author “gives to the reader an insight into the sterling character of the Newfoundland fisherman. Greater indeed than the industry itself are the courage and undying optimism which inspire him to carry on in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties. Greater indeed than the mere commercial value of the total catch are the character and resourcefulness which go into the production of a single quintal of codfish.”

Suddenly, as Smith was buried in his manuscript, a fire started in a house halfway down Grave Hill, which was one of Brigus’ better residential neighbourhoods. Much of the town’s businesses, including the premises belonging to J. & G. Smith, Captain Azariah Munden and Captain Nathan Norman, were located there. Both captains owned homes not unlike English castles which were, Smith recalled, “a picture to see.”

The fire spread to the adjacent building, then the cooperage where R. F. Horwood had lived as a child. From there, the flames lit another house and coal shed, then quickly ignited the Pomeroy dwelling and stores across from Smith’s home. The fire jumped the street, a mere thirty feet from where Smith was writing his autobiography.

“It greatly affected my brain and ability,” Smith admitted. He facetiously added that he had not been “over-stocked with either before the accident occurred!”

During the following week, Smith could barely write his own name, let alone continue writing what would become a 56,000-word book!

The author, who was blessed with a keen sense of humour, acknowledged, “I fancy now that I have got things down here that I should have left out, and have left out some funny incidents that I should have included.” He encouraged the reader to “take the will for the deed and forgive my shortcomings under the circumstances.”

brigus-flood-1907-photo-by-j-j-winter

A flood at Brigus in 1907. Photo courtesy J. J. Winter.

The fire was a disastrous and devastating one. Before the conflagration was brought under control, largely after the arrival of the pumper from St. John’s, sixteen structures were destroyed. Smith himself came to within a hair’s breath of losing his home and all his possessions. He and his family, he suggested, would then have “been on the street in my old days.”

As it stood, his daughter and son-in-law lost their home, which was, he wrote, “a fairly good one for a fisherman to possess.” The house boasted nine rooms and a grocery store on the ground floor; the basement stored 100 tons of coal. Fortunately, most of the furniture, as well as the items in the shop, were saved. Unfortunately, no insurance was carried. Some of the other people who had suffered loss were covered, but most were only partly insured.

Smith suspected that, if the residents of Brigus at the turn of the twentieth century could return, they would be grief-stricken to “see the once prosperous Grave Hill, now a place of fallen brick and mortar.” Smith hoped the buildings which had been destroyed by the fire would be rebuilt, but he was practical enough to realize that “time alone can tell.”

A bishop at Bay Roberts

Newfoundland’s second Anglican bishop, Edward Feild (1801-76), was consecrated in Canterbury in April 1844. Shortly after, he assumed duties commensurate with his position.

He began a private diary, in which he reflected on his challenge and detailed his voyage. He was preoccupied with church architecture and arrangement, colonial practices for church ritual, and the erection of a new cathedral. He included his personal opinions of both public figures and clergy, not shying away from passing judgment when he felt it was necessary.

Today, it is instructive to review the bishop’s experiences at Bay Roberts on 30 July 1844.

Feild found the settlement to be “very long-struggling.” To reach the church, he “proceeded along a very decent road upwards of a mile.”

Nearing the church, he spied the parson who, apparently, “had been expecting us in the morning and had designed that his people should receive the Sacrament at my hands.”

feild

Bishop Edward Feild

The Anglican minister at Bay Roberts in 1844 was Robert Traill Spence Lowell (1816-91). He is remembered as the author of New Priest in Conception Bay, the first novel ever to be based on firsthand experience of Newfoundland life.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Lowell trained for ministry in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1842, he was admitted for ordination.

That fall, Lowell met Aubrey George Spencer (1785-1872), Newfoundland’s first Church of England Bishop, later following him to Bermuda.

Lowell was deaconed in December and priested in March 1843. He served as domestic chaplain to Bishop Spencer and school inspector.

Lowell requested to be transferred to Bay Roberts. Arriving in Newfoundland in May 1843, he became the third resident minister of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.

Except for a three-month stint in the States in 1845, when he married Mary Ann (known as Marianna) Duane of Duanesburg, New York, Lowell lived in Newfoundland until July 1847. The couple had three daughters and four sons. Their first child was born in Bay Roberts in 1847.

Lowell took Feild to the schoolroom, where the American bragged about the Sunday school children who, in his opinion, were “well instructed in the church Catechism.” Feild begged to differ.

Lowell also boasted of the numbers he had enlisted in Sunday school. He had established a daily afternoon church service. He had also obtained and fenced ground for a cemetery. He had “great influence” with people.

Feild committed his caustic feelings about Lowell to his diary: “He is a genuine American – a young and unfortunately a single man, [who] fancies himself a decided Churchman.” His ways were “truly American.”

For example, Lowell had a dog by the name of Chrysostom. “The dog was introduced to me as a son of the Church,” Feild noted humourlessly.

Chrysostom accompanied his master and the bishop to the church, evidently “a common practice.” Field was not amused.

Feild was also unimpressed with the way Lowell “said the prayers,” making “such pauses between the sentences of the Confession that it was quite painful to hear him.” Feild thought Lowell had simply put on a performance.

Not only that, but “people kept coming in during the whole service, and the children were moving about, coming and going out in a degree that was almost intolerable.”

Feild mounted the pulpit to preach. Suddenly, “John Chrysostom marched deliberately up the church, as it might be supposed to inquire who was got into his, or his master’s, place, but as it turned out to join his master at the altar!”

Decidedly upset, Feild stopped preaching and insisted that the dog be “thrown out, which his master, in great confusion, was obliged to perform.”

The bishop noted in his diary: “I greatly fear that Mr. Lowell has another American gift, viz. that of lying,” as Lowell had assured the bishop that the canine would not venture “beyond the vestry.”

Following the service, Feild accompanied Lowell to his lodgings, which consisted of two small rooms. The American endeavoured to make the Englishman “feel more comfortable and at ease by expatiating on the house he shortly intends to build,” a stone structure on a site he had already obtained.

Lowell served his guest plenty of tea, bread and butter, along with “some very nice scrods – which is the young cod – and was the first variety of the fish I have liked.” Feild sarcastically noted, “The fishermen cook it better than professed artists.”

Lowell then “informed us of his powers and perfections, among other things equally wonderful that he was regularly descended from Mahnus Troil,” a character in a novel written by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

Bishop Feild then took his leave of Bay Roberts and moved on to neighbouring Port de Grave.

Skipper Jim Powell’s dream

Jim Powell of Bonavista was not a particularly religious fellow. This is an important observation to keep in mind, as it plays a key part in this story. He attended his church whenever the doors were open and he supported his clergyman anyway he could. Still, religion was largely a perfunctory affair for him; he was what is termed a “nominal” Christian.

One night, Jim dreamed a dream. Nothing unusual there. But the content of his dream was unusual and would stay with him until his dying day. He related the details of his dream to all and sundry.

In his dream, he died, thankfully ending up in heaven.

“My son,” he would say to family and friends, “you should’ve seen it!” He would then launch into an eloquent and colourful description of heaven’s splendours.

“I was met at the gate by St. Peter himself!” he exclaimed. “I walked up the golden staircase and entered this very wonderful and beautiful place.

“Then,” he continued, excitement showing in his voice, “I was taken to a long hall, where there were rows of pegs. On each peg there was a robe and a crown.”

Emotion creased his countenance. But he wasn’t yet finished describing what he had experienced.

“As we were walking down the hall,” he continued, “St. Peter stopped and pointed to a certain peg. He said to me, ‘This robe and crown are yours, and in three years I am coming for you.’ ”

By now, shivers would be running up and down the backs of Jim’s listeners, who had heard this story time and again.

Earlier, we said that Jim Powell was not a particularly religious fellow. Well, that was before his dream. After his dream, he did an about-face. So impressed upon his mind was his dream that he became a devoted Christian. Indeed, his lifestyle was completely altered.

One fall day in 1890, three years to the day from Jim’s dream, his schooner was tied up at Baine Johnston’s wharf in St. John’s. His brother-in-law’s schooner was there, too. They had sailed to the capital city with a load of dried codfish. In return, they would take back to Bonavista the full complement of supplies they needed for the winter.

Jim’s brother-in-law had been up on Water Street. On his way back to his schooner, he saw Jim Powell walking up the wharf. He was drenched and water was streaming off his clothing. His brother-in-law spoke to him, but there was no response…for Jim was no longer there!

That afternoon, the two schooners left for Bonavista. The larger one was skippered by Tom Burge; the smaller, by Jim Powell.

Because there was no wind, they put out their rowboats and rowed until they reached the outer part of the Narrows. The schooners were so close to each other that the men engaged in a bit of fun by throwing birch junks at each other.

Separating from Captain Powell, Captain Burge proceeded to Bonavista, arriving almost three days later. But Powell’s schooner was nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, Jim had reached Sugarloaf.

At that moment, a steamer, the Falcon, steered directly for the schooner. A Mr. Carroll, who was manning the wheel, later testified, “I tried by every means in my power to steer clear of the steamer, but I was unable to do so.

“They had lights up,” he explained. “There was no reason whatsoever for the steamer to run into our vessel, unless there was nobody on the bridge. The steamer came along so fast that I didn’t have a chance to see if there was any lookout. But I distinctly remember there was nobody on the bridge.”

The schooner was sliced in half.

Miraculously, Mr. Carroll grabbed a piece of rope which was hanging from the steamer and pulled himself aboard. Jim Powell, who had the reputation of being “a dog in the water,” was lost. His body was never found.

Jim Powell died three years to the day of his dream of heaven.

My champion catch

There hangs on my wall a picture of an ice-fishing scene. I often look at it, as it holds great personal significance. It was a gift from my parishioners at a farewell party held for me when I left my pastorate in Labrador some years ago.

My friend, Jamie, whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, invited our family to join him and his family down at the lake for an overnight ice-fishing expedition. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I was determined to impress my family and friends with the biggest catch ever.

Out on the ice, a considerable distance from the cabin, Jamie and I made two holes. I stood over the hole I had made, my line dangling in the water, and patiently waited for a bite. What seemed like hours passed without a nibble. I felt discouraged.

Jamie walked over to me and helpfully suggested, “Leave the line in place and come back to the cabin for a mug-up.” Never one to ignore good advice and not thinking for a moment that his kind invitation had an ulterior motive, I jumped on his snowmobile with him and left my spot.

Throughout the meal, I said things like “I wonder if I got one yet. What if he’s so big that he breaks my line? What if he pulls it out of the hole and swims away?”

Unnoticed by me, Jamie left the cabin. Shortly after, I heard him shouting in the distance, “Tell Pastor Janes he caught a big one!”

christopher-burton-fish-lab-city

On this trip, my son Christopher and I did catch a fish. Here’s the evidence.

I jumped up from the table and dashed from the cabin. Tearing across the ice to my fish hole, I yelled, “How big is he?”

“He’s some big, Pastor, b’y!”

When I reached my fishing hole, Jamie passed me the line, saying, “Be careful. He’s a big one. Don’t let him get away. Tug gently on the line.”

I tugged on the line – it was taut. This had to be my champion fish.

Stooping down, I peered into the hole. All I could see was the unmistakable colour of a fish, responding only grudgingly to my tugging on the line. Of course, I was screaming and gesticulating by now, to let everybody back at the cabin know I had hooked a monster of a fish.

When I figured I finally had the champion beat out, I slowly began to rein him in. But what resistance I encountered! Then the object came abreast of the hole, but would come up no further. This encouraged me to shout even louder. “Jamie,” I called in panic, “I can’t get the fish up through the hole. Help me, b’y.”

As quick as a flash, he grabbed the line and began tugging at it with determination. Moments later, though, he exclaimed, “Pastor, b’y, the brick is too big to come up through the hole!”

The brick?

I stared at him in disbelief. When I turned toward the shore, there were all my family and friends, standing at the cabin window, laughing that Jamie had gotten me, but good.

Chewing on the pastor’s sermon

I have most of my teeth, and, at sixty years of age, I am mighty thankful for the molars I still possess. I know enough about teeth to suspect that those I no longer have are wisdom teeth or those at the back of my mouth which proved immune to periodic stints of confectionary consumption early in life.

Whenever I brush my teeth, I am reminded of a story which has circulated in pastoral ministry circles for some years.

A pastor had chosen for the text of his sermon a passage from the Gospel of Luke referring to hell. Approaching the end of his message, he wanted to make an appeal to his listeners to, in his words, “prepare for heaven and escape hell.” He exclaimed, “For the Bible says that in hell ‘there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

A minister is seldom interrupted by a parishioner in the midst of a sermon, but this time proved to be the exception.

“Pasteur!” a male voice suddenly called.

The pastor placed his hand to his glasses and focused on an elderly gentleman sitting at the back of the sanctuary. Rather than stifle the speaker and perhaps create hard feelings, the pastor said, “Yes, Sir, what’s on your mind?”

“Well, Pasteur, you was talkin’ ’bout ’ell h’as a place wid weepin’ an’ gnashin’ o’teet, right?”

“Yes. That’s what the Bible says.”

“Well, Pasteur, dat cain’t work fer h’all o’we.”

“I beg your pardon.”

man-with-few-teeth“Well, wha’ ’bout we poor ol’ people h’ain’t got nar toot h’in h’our ’eads?”

I’ve never heard that one before, the pastor thought, straining to keep a straight face, while his congregation erupted in raucous laughter. How to respond? In one version of the story, he replied, “I’m sure teeth will be provided for such people.”

He struggled unsuccessfully to recapture his congregation’s attention. Eventually, he brought his sermon to a close.

Incidentally, none of his parishioners responded to his appeal to “prepare for heaven and escape hell.”

Selling the professor’s library

In A Brief Autobiography, the Bay Roberts native, Samuel A. B. Mercer (1879-1969), stated that his most interesting article, written for a popular audience, had been “Joseph Smith as Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian,” published in The Utah Survey in 1913. By attacking the ability of Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-44), the founder of Mormonism, to translate Egyptian, Mercer unleashed a storm of controversy within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As late as 1958, the so-called “1912 Controversy” was a cause celebre for Mercer and, as late as 1970, an irritant for the Church.

The Episcopal Bishop of Utah, Franklin Spencer Spalding (1865-1914), was, according to his biographer, “the first missionary among the Mormons to make a serious effort to understand Mormonism.” Even Mormons regarded him “as eminently fair and true.” In his pamphlet, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, published in 1912, Spalding attempted “to show by the only original texts that can be tested that Joseph Smith wasn’t a reliable translator of ancient language.”

Spalding consulted a professor at Chicago’s Western Theological Seminary, Samuel Mercer, in his capacity as an Egyptologist. The latter suggested they send to some “of the world’s best Egyptian philologists” the three facsimiles of the original Egyptian text from the Book of Abraham, along with Smith’s partial translation, to test mercers-libraryindependently his ability as a translator. The jury members represented an impressive body of scholarship: Archibald Sayce (1845-1933), Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), James Henry Breasted (1865-1935), Arthur C. Mace (1874-1928), John Peters, Eduard Meyer (1855-1930) and Friedrich Wilhelm von Bissing (1873-1956). All of them were in practically uniform agreement that the meaning of the facsimiles’ hieroglyphics was completely different from Smith’s translation.

Mercer, in his article, “Joseph Smith as Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian,” formed his “judgment from the opinion of competent experts.” He blasted the Mormons for believing something that “required only a glance to find out that the interpretation and translation were absolutely wrong in every detail.”

In what can only be described as an ironic twist, in 1956, Mercer, despite his devastating attack on key Mormon documents more than four decades earlier, sold his personal Egyptian library to Brigham Young University!

Harvard University’s librarian, S. Lyman Tyler, knew BYU would respect and utilize Mercer’s Egyptology collection. Informed of the interest, the Newfoundlander decided that BYU would be a suitable home for his material. He seemed determined to permit nobody but the Mormons to have it.

The Mormons agreed to Mercer’s price, which was a mere fraction of what other institutions, including Harvard, had been anxious to pay. The collection was shipped to BYU.

The surprisingly large collection consists almost entirely of books, including a wealth of bound periodicals. Many of the items are now exceedingly rare and valuable. This put BYU in possession of nearly all the Egyptian sources Mercer had used in writing his many books.

Mercer’s library was not kept together as a unit. Fortunately, shelf lists were made as the books were being catalogued, and a label, identifying its provenance, was placed in each volume. This list was microfilmed in 1957. By late 1991, the Mercer collection was located in a single building, and was in the process of being re-catalogued and redistributed under headings such as History, Religion, Philology and Geography. Plans were underway to bring the entire collection together in one room.

BYU professor, Hugh Nibley (1910-2005), subsequently spent hundreds of hours among Mercer’s books. There are no personal papers, but Nibley felt the human touch was nevertheless present in comments Mercer had made on his books. His countless penciled annotations are a good indication of what he was doing and thinking. Nibley acknowledged in 1990 that he felt inclined to take it easy on Mercer, in view of the great favour he had done for the Mormons. In his personal dealings with Mercer, Nibley found him to be kind and unfailingly courteous. Dealing with him was a pleasure. In 1968, a year before Mercer died, Nibley wished him well.

An unusual song request

Soon after Dad graduated from Bible school in Toronto in 1947, he assumed the pastorate of a church in Ontario. As his first charge, it was an ideal opportunity for him to put into practice the things he had learned. At the same time, he would learn many lessons he had not been taught. One such lesson revolved around a parishioner’s unusual song request.

One Sunday morning, Dad asked his congregation, “Does anyone have a favourite hymn or chorus you’d like for us to sing?” Such requests were not unusual in public meetings. Congregants would respond with various titles. The choices were limitless, and Dad thought he was ready for almost any selection. It might be “Amazing Grace,” an all-time favourite, or “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “Faith of Our Fathers,” “Near the Cross,” Just As I Am,” or any number of others.

A lady timidly raised her hand.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Dad said, looking in her direction. “What is your selection?”

“Pastor,” she began, “can we sing that wonderful little chorus, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’?” Dad was taken aback. “It’s been going over in my mind all week,” she continued, “and I’d like for the congregation to sing it. It would really bless me.”

Thinking he had misheard her, Dad said, “Pardon?”

She repeated her request, “‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ pastor, if you don’t mind. That’s what I’d like for us to sing.”

mary-lambDad had spent four years in Bible school preparing for this? Appealing to his congregation for favourite hymns or choruses, he had been thinking in terms of selections chosen from the hymnal, not nursery rhymes! Not that he didn’t know “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” for he recalled it very well from his childhood. But as for being a parishioner’s choice of a chorus to be sung in a church service, well, it just didn’t seem appropriate. A litany of questions flashed into his mind, Where’s the spiritual content? How does it relate to God, to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit, to the Church, to heaven? No, he decided, it doesn’t fit the bill. But how to handle the sincere woman’s unusual request?

Ever the suave one, Dad responded politely, “Thank you for your selection, Ma’am. But I don’t think it would be appropriate right now.”

Dad eventually left Ontario for his Newfoundland home, married, had four children, and spent his entire professional life pastoring in the province. He often told this story to his children, to their keen delight.

I often asked him what the woman in his first church must have been thinking when she had made such an unusual request. Dad didn’t have a definitive answer, but over time we concocted a reasonable scenario.

The nursery rhyme makes repeated reference to a “Mary.” Well, wasn’t the mother of Jesus also named Mary? A not insignificant detail. The rhyme also makes equal reference to a “lamb.” Ah-ah, we thought upon reflection. The New Testament refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” Suddenly, it made sense in a reverse sort of way. “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” A clear reference to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and his mother, Mary! How else could she have understood the nursery rhyme?

How often Sherry and I regaled our young children with this nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb, / Little lamb, little lamb. / Mary had a little lamb, / Its fleece was white as snow.”

At one point, I even added my own stanza, “Mary had a little lamb, / Its feet were black as tar. / It followed her to school d’day, / Gonna do it agin d’mar!” Apparently I wasn’t concerned about grammar at the time.

For some reason, my original stanza was never incorporated into the original composition.

Meanwhile, we as a family never cease to laugh whenever anyone mentions this unforgettable nursery rhyme.

Bibliomania

I’m afflicted with a condition known as bibliomania.

A syndicated book columnist, Nicholas A. Basbanes, describes a person who suffers from this curious malady as being “mad about books.”

Guilty as charged. Books are the bane of my existence. My home office, not to mention our house, both upstairs and downstairs, is awash in books. Those volumes that have been unable to find a resting place in shelves take up residence in almost every available nook and cranny.

My late father before me, himself a connoisseur of good books, left me his. I put his tomes on my bottom shelves. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the water in our basement rose six inches, most of his books were damaged beyond repair. However, I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdidn’t break the news to him. He died in ignorance of the fate of his cherished books.

Others before my father and I have suffered from the same affliction, some worse than others.

Winston S. Churchill understood well the intimate attachment individuals have to books.

He suggests that, if you’re unable to read your books, “at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another.

“Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are.

“If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintance. If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.”

My condition is less severe than Churchill’s.

Some books hold greater personal significance than others. High on the list are author-signed books, usually more valuable than unsigned copies.

Few of the books in my library hold author signatures.

However, I have a signed, first edition of I Chose Canada, the memories of Joey Smallwood. I also have a signed and numbered (#31) edition of 100 copies of a pre-publication press run of Harold Horwood’s Joey: The Life and Political Times of Joey Smallwood.

While I’m proud of those volumes, my greatest pride is reserved for inscription volumes. The author takes his time to inscribe his book to someone. In the wild and wacky world of used and rare books, such books are usually valuable.

One of the books my father gave me is Ten-Minute Talks on All Sorts of Topics, written by Elihu Burritt in 1874.

An American philanthropist and social activist, he was born in New Britain, Connecticut, in 1810. He died there 69 years later.

My copy of Burritt’s book holds a distinctive and intriguing inscription: “To Thomas Hardy Esq. A slight remembrance from America.”

Perhaps the English novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), is better known than Burritt. Who can forget Hardy’s masterful Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the d’Urbervilles?

I desperately want to believe the inscription is directed at this Thomas Hardy, but I cannot be sure at this late remove.

There is in Great Britain a society devoted to Thomas Hardy. Its aim is to promote his works for both education and enjoyment. It even has its own scholarly publications, The Hardy Society Journal and The Thomas Hardy Journal.

I emailed the secretary, Mike Nixon, about any known connection between Burritt and Hardy.

To my disappointment, he responded, “Having consulted a number of colleagues, we all feel there was no connection between the author Thomas Hardy and Elihu Burritt.”

I then emailed Nixon a scan of the inscription. After showing it around to his Hardy Council colleagues, he responded again: “Sadly we are still of the same opinion. It does not relate to our Hardy.”

I suspect that only a bibliomaniac can enter into the feeling of disappointment such a response brings.

Today I discovered there’s actually a medical condition known as bibliomania. Treatment for this form of obsessive compulsive disorder includes, among other things, psychotherapy, meditation and relaxation, hypnotherapy, cingulotomy and deep brain stimulation.

Yikes!

Note to wife: In case you’re wondering about what to get me as a gift, why not buy me a book or two? There are still a few spots in our house devoid of books.