Initially posted this on August 13th, 2012. See the update at the end of the story!
I’m not sure if it is because I’m a preacher or because I’m a novelist. Do I love the historical ties to my faith or is it a thirst for the story? Old bibles have always been a treasure trove to me.
This gem I discovered in a dusty old used–ah hem–antique bookstore in Searsport, Maine. It’s antique, alright. It was on a shelf right next to a stack of plastic-wrapped Playboy Magazines from the 1950s. I’ll spare you the storekeeper’s response when I commented on the odd layout of his inventory.
This bible was given to Ruth Lillian Reaviel on July 4th, 1927 by Daddy and Mama. I made some quick observations: First and middle name coupled with the affectionate forms Daddy and Mama–this bible was likely given to a child. How old? I wondered. Teen? Pre-teen? Thumbing thru the book’s pages I came across a torn newspaper clip announcing the engagement of Ruth L. Reaviel to George Barr. The masthead of the paper was not intact, but I found a date on the back–1943. More clues. I’m guessing that sixteen years between the bible’s dedication page and the engagement, Ruth was pre-teen when she got it. Finally in the back of the book I found two handwritten pages of family history notes–names, places and dates. The dates span the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, so someone was actively writing in this bible some thirty years after it was first inscribed.
When I got back to my computer I hit pay dirt with my first search. Ruth L. (Reaviel) Barr just passed away a couple years ago. The obituary declared her birthdate July 4th, 1917–her parents gave her the bible on her tenth birthday. The article also declared that her beloved husband George had preceded her in death only a couple years earlier. They both lived into their nineties, their marriage lasted more than sixty years. Finally, the paper listed some living relatives. I’ve begun searching for them in hopes to return this bible to family. How did it wind up in the antique bookstore in the first place? Estate sale, perhaps. Perhaps no one wanted it–in which case it will become part of my growing collection.
Is it the historical faith tie? Is it that Daddy and Mama wanted their little girl to have the word in her hands at such a young age? Is it that Ruth appears to have cherished the word through many of the important seasons of her life? Honestly, how many things that you got when you were ten could you still put your hands on eighty years later? Or is it that story element that draws me? Who were these people? What did that ninety years of life and love look like? What stories could this bible tell for all its years of being present in this family? Perhaps I’ll learn more if I discover a living relative who would appreciate having this treasure. Until then I’ll be content to be a very small part of the story–for I am the one who uncovered this family heirloom… right next to the antique porn.
UPDATE 7/21/14: At the end of last week I received an email from a member of Ruth’s family! I’ve replied. I’m hoping to make the connection to get this bible back into family hands … and learn more of the story, as I do. How cool is that?