Every now and then, you happen to stumble across, in the least likely place, something so deeply poignant and personally relevant that you can’t help but wonder if a bit of serendipity was involved in the discovery. Such was the case yesterday afternoon.
I was on the road for a story assignment, and as I always do when I’m traveling, I had my eyes peeled for thrift shops, junk parlors, antique malls and anywhere else I can peruse the cast-off, obsolete, and unwanted detritus of our always-new-and-improved single-serving society. Books (of the dead tree variety) are my primary targets. I like to say the three things I can’t resist are old guns, old books and new puppies. And of the three, I can consistently afford only books, so when the thrift shop sign flashed by, I wheeled around and went in for a look around.
And it was there, rummaging through a bin that reeked of mold and age, I found a copy of John Taintor Foote’s Pocono Shot, published in 1923. I was only vaguely familiar with Foote. I knew he had written for various magazines in the early part of the last century, including Field & Stream, and that he wrote fishing, hunting and dog-related stories. In fact, it was in my copy of the 1955 Field & Stream Treasury (another thrift shop find) that I had first seen his work, a story entitled “The Blighting of Jeptha.”
That was about the extent of my knowledge of John Taintor Foote. The book itself was in poor shape: the spine was cracked, page bindings were separating from the boards, the dust jacket was missing, and the brittle pages were yellowed with age. It gave off that musty but pleasant smell unique to old, long-forgotten books, the scent of story, knowledge, adventure. I opened it up, gently riffled the pages. Someone long ago had placed a pressed flower within the pages, heaven knows how long it had been stuck there.
I had no idea what the book was about, but it had an imprint of a setter on the front cover, and the book’s opening line went thusly “I wanted a certain long-barreled, full-choked twelve-gauge.” You had me at twelve-gauge. That was good enough for me. Plus, it was only fifty cents. I took the book up to the cash register, and it was there, as I was waiting in line to pay, that I finally noticed the inscription on one of the endpapers. I read it. I read it again, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t damn near tear up standing there in that thrift store line.
This is what it said:
_Dear George Jr.,
May be you won’t understand all this book just now, but you’ll understand enough for now and that is: Start in loving a dog, and understanding it, and bye and bye you’ll know how to love all the world. That’s all there is in life, and is a lot.
Now obviously I have no idea who Grandpa and little George were, where they lived or what their story was. I don’t know where this old, forgotten, cast-off book has been rattling around for the last 87 years. I don’t even know if it’s a decent book or a boring turkey. But I do know that you sometimes find the most extraordinary pieces of wisdom in the most unlikely places, and sometimes, be it fate, kismet or whatever, you find that wisdom for a reason.
“Start in loving a dog, and understanding it, and bye and bye you’ll know how to love all the world.”
There’s just not a helluva lot you can add to truth like that, is there? Wherever and whoever you were, Grandpa, I wish I’d have known you.