When I raised the garage door and exposed the unlit interior of the packed garage there was an overwhelming array of materials before me. Nearly everything had the pallor of the gun-metal gray WWII era. Strewn about were tools, wood, broken cast-offs kept for future repurposing and hazardous material in unmarked jars and containers with worn out labels. I took a step in but didn’t touch anything. My tetanus shot was up to date but I didn’t want anything that might be alive in the shadows to come out biting.
Glancing up I spied a cardboard box without a lid perched on the rafters. Retrieving a step ladder from the house I climbed up and pulled the box down. In the darkness of the garage I could tell the contents were books and it was a clumsy, heavy climb down the ladder. On the lawn outside I set it down and my mind said “Bingo”.
The split second of happiness faded as I realized the books were soaking wet. The beautiful covers trimmed with gilded lettering were mushy to the touch. I lifted the volumes carefully separating them from each other, my outrage simmering. The books had been catching summer rain and winter thaws from the leaky roof for many years. The water stains were both old and new and black mold blossomed in unchecked strength.
Dumbfounded I opened the tiniest volume, a pocket sized book titled “Lady of the Lake” and slowly separated the remaining corner of the inside page. There in brown ink was the fragment signature of “B. Beals” and I sighed. This had belonged to Barden Beals in the mid-1800’s, the husband of Eveline Parker Beals and grandfather to Edith Vail Ross. I had found something I was searching for only to find it had been vandalized by neglect and weather. How many years had I stood on the gravel just outside the garage while this small book lay exposed on the other side?
Assuming that Barden Beals bought the volume in the year that it was published, he was a young man of 24 years when he sat down to read the six canto poem. In Barden’s time the work was popular and well known to American and European audiences alike. The time he had though for pleasure reading was very small. His mother Lydia had died when he was just a toddler and he had been raised primarily by his father David Beals and his maternal grandmother Mary Crapo Barden, but even they had passed away while he was a teenager. He was in 1843 very much on his own and busy with small business ventures and small scale farming in Wells and Poultney, Vermont, just two years away from his marriage to Eveline C Parker of Wells.
There isn’t much to do with a book as soiled as this one. But being the lover of books that I am, and in Barden’s honor, I bought myself a copy of Lady of the Lake from 1900 bound in perfect condition red leather and without a speck of mold in sight. I keep it safe in a lovely bookshelf far from leaky roofs.