The Little Marks We Leave


At the time of this post, ten months have passed since my wife died – and there are still (it seems) a million and one ‘things’ of hers that need to be moved on. She liked to collect all manner of ‘things’. Whatever they were, there were (are) always too many of them to fit into our small ‘modern cottage’. Not only were the common areas of the house full-to-bursting, so was the attic too. And only towards the end of her life did she finally stop, sometimes, to ask herself: “Do I really need this?” Or, more often: “Tooty says the loft is full; do I have anywhere to put this?”

I can’t imagine how many items I have passed on to charity since then – but it’s lots. Multiple car-loads. And still it keeps coming. Most of her books are now sitting on complete stranger’s shelves; but a few – the oldest tomes – are still here. This is one of them…

It’s a slim volume that was first published in 1937. This is a later copy from 1949.  At 108 pages it’s hardly exhaustive, and wouldn’t really do as a proper reference book. But the flowers are beautifully drawn and painted, so really it’s an art book. On the inside cover this appears…

Clearly it was gift – from someone I will never meet, to someone else I will never meet (unless in the afterlife). In one of my often melancholy moods this made me feel a little sad. I wondered who these people were, and what happened to them. Then, as I turned the brittle pages – many of which are coming away from the dried-out spine – I found this…

One day, after receiving this gift, the recipient carried this book with (her?) and decided to collect specimens, which (she?) pressed between the relevant pages. Here is a sample of Chicory from rural Britain circa the early 1950s.

And here is some Corn-Cockle…

Lastly comes the Cuckoo Flower…

The absence of any more samples suggests that only one expedition was undertaken. But, perhaps for just one foray into the countryside, this book was precious to it’s owner. Precious enough for it to have survived and pass through any number of hands since that day. It certainly caught my wife’s eye and has survived her. So what do I do with it now? What we leave behind comes in many forms – not all of them with physical properties such as this book. They are little pieces of us: pieces that cannot die. For now I will keep this on my bookshelf. But it (the book) has nothing to do with my wife: she was only ever a custodian. Eventually (through charity shops or auction) I will probably pass it on to someone else that I will never meet: and they will wonder who the two names on the inside cover belonged to, and they will find the pressed flowers. And maybe they will add to them.

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