The first book that my mother made by hand was a book of poems.
My Mom’s work room was in the basement of our house. The stairs down to the basement divided the space in equal parts. On the left was a card table that my mother used to do all her work; on the right by the furnace was where my father had a darkroom set up. The rest of the basement was for drying laundry and storing the usual tools and things.
My mother was very patient with me. I used to go down and hang around her while she did whatever she was doing. And when she was doing calligraphy I must have really tried her patience… one distraction and an entire page could be ruined – and I am sure I was enough of a distraction to destroy many pages…
… moving the table as she worked, leaning in to see what she was doing (my nose under her nose), playing around with her linoleum tools and calligraphy pens.
She never yelled at me, but would patiently ask me to leave if I was too much. More often she’d give me something to do along side her or in my room so that I would be engaged and quiet(er). She even let me use the super sharp cutting tools to make my own linoleum cuts on small scraps.
Mom used our Betsy McCall Designer light table to do her calligraphy (it was meant for designing paper doll clothes). She’d tape a darkly lined paper onto the area that lit up, and then place her good paper over top so that she could see the lines through it and make her words and sentences straight.
She made three copies of the book all by hand: one for my grandmother, one for my sister and one for me. That meant she had to copy out three exact pages for each poem. (3 times the difficulty of doing it when I was around – no doubt she worked most of the time when I was at school.)
She illustrated every poem with a unique lino cut. I had my favorite pictures when I was a kid, and obviously my favorite poems.
I was less inclined to like the poems about death and sadness – but the book wasn’t meant to be a child’s book – it was meant to be cherished throughout my life.
And I do cherish it.