Bequest

book of coal

My great great aunt Mary, stern unmarried schoolteacher from the hard-coal country of eastern Pennsylvania where all my mother’s people hail from, gave each of us boys when we were small a figurine carved from anthracite. Mine was a book, closed up like a sandwich and unmarred by any words, either on the cover or the spine. One of the others was a three-inch mug; I forget the third. Our parents put them away in the china closet, saying they were fragile and we could have them when we grew up. They therefore took on all the characteristics of a bequest.

Despite these precautions, at some point the book of coal got dropped, I forget by whom, and one of the corners sheared off — a clean break. Dad glued it back together with epoxy. I keep it now in a little shrine I made from an antique cabinet television. It keeps company with a bowl of plastic fruit, an empty syringe, the skeleton of a mouse, and a pitcher full of spent bullet casings. I might like it better for being cracked, and for fitting so perfectly in the palm of my hand. I rap on it now and then for good luck. It was wood once.

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13 Comments


  1. Before I read the text, I thought the image was of a small leather covered book with a crease across the bottom right corner. How unusual that it’s coal, and previously wood, something I knew but forgot in the moment! I can understand the many reasons why you would treasure it.

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  2. marja-leena – Well, coal isn’t entirely derived from wood, of course, but some of it is.

    Peter – Excellent point. (And thanks for linking.)

    I have a question for grammar experts. Should that be a “neither” in the second sentence, or should I change it to “either”?

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    1. It should be a “neither” followed about four words later by a “nor” (instead of “or”).

      Reply

  3. I thought it was a real book at first. And if you come to think paper was wood too.

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  4. I suspect either/or, but I’m no expert. (My only thought was to put “by any words” at the end of the sentence to hear how each choice sounded.)

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  5. Perfect Poe gift for you…..a blank book; keep writing the words.

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  6. Either, I think, too. You already have the negative in ‘unmarred’ (not marred), so you don’t need another one.

    What a beautiful, unusual object – full of resonance and specificity.

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  7. O.K., I have a high school English teacher and a professional editor and translator both telling me either/or — that’s good enough for me. So edited. Thanks, Jean and Peter.

    Annamari – Yeah, good point. Thanks for stopping by.

    CGP – I think most of my possessions have abundant charater, than!

    Jo – A blank book that won’t open, so one never has to feel guilty about not writing in it. But you’re right about the shades of Poe, too.

    Jean – Thanks. I’m glad to hear the photo and text communicated that.

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  8. I like this story – bequests do not have to have monetary value to be precious. Somehow the crack across the corner make this item all the more special.

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  9. This is something wonderful to share, this anthracite book. I like seeing you holding it in your hand, so small and intimate. Anthracite is one of my favorite words.

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