Terse e-mails from former classmates. Entries in the funeral home's electronic guestbook. I didn't really cry until I read his obituary today. I suppose if I were still the good little Catholic girl who sat in his classroom 22 years ago, I would have spent last night at a church, lighting candles and saying a couple decades of the rosary for the repose of his eternal soul. But I figure if a merit-based heaven does exist, he doesn't need my help to sail to the front of the line.
I wandered around a few bookstores instead, remembering how he introduced me to the amazing world of used books, how he gave everyone in his class a card from The Haunted Bookshop with his signature on the back guaranteeing the bearer a 10% discount. I still have the card, someplace, and I still have all the books I bought there in my junior year, the big Collected Works of Emerson, the Thoreau, the Hawthorne. So last night I stood in Bookman's feeling stupid to have tears in my eyes when I reached out to touch the titles--some of them the same editions--I'd written papers from back then.
I housesat for him and his wife for a week the summer after I graduated. One of the rooms downstairs in their little house was his library, all its walls covered with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with great literature. I made it a point to write down every author on those shelves so that someday I could have the same library. Last night I bought a few more volumes toward that end, Cooper, Chekhov, Stein. It seemed the most fitting tribute I could make, at least of the quiet, personal variety.