It's no small secret I'm a book whore. Step into my basement and the evidence is pretty plain to see: bookshelves lining every wall from floor to ceiling, towering overhead, threatening to topple at the merest foot-stomp. Everywhere you look: books, books, and more books--stacked, stuffed, shuffled, squeezed into every nook and more than a few crannies. Grown men have been known to go pale and trembly at the knees when they encounter what I euphemistically call my "collection."
The books come to me from a variety of sources (bookstores, on-line book swaps, library sales, and once from a certain cruise line which had a very well-stocked library for its guests and which didn't have a formal checkout system, allowing me to cram six hardcovers into my luggage and walk down the gangplank without security batting a single eyelash). Perhaps my favorite places to harvest books, however, are the yard sales, garage sales and estate sales which offer varying degrees of cornucopia each weekend. If, in your beeline for the boxes of paperbacks, you've ever elbowed aside pregnant women, children clutching stuffed bunnies and bored husbands staring vacantly into space, then you know what I'm talking about when I say a good garage sale at the home of an avid reader will make my pulse race like my nostrils were dusted with cocaine. I will pass up a $10 mint-condition snowblower for a 25-cent Dean Koontz every time, I guaran-damn-tee it.
This past weekend, I drove over the hill to Bozeman, Montana for what looked like a promising sale (the classified ad was a little hyperbolic with its claim of "THE ESTATE SALE OF THE CENTURY," but my curiosity was piqued nonetheless). Once there, I breezed through the house and found the standard number of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, Arthur Hailey novels, Harlequin bodice-rippers, battered Louis L'Amours, and two (!) copies of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. But then I went out to the barn and there, on a grease-stained dust-caked shelf, I found a children's book titled Soldier Boy. A young cadet decked out in knee-high boots, waistcoat and breeches was leaning back and blowing a horn on the once-bright orange cover. I opened the book and was immediately captivated by the color illustrations.
Soldier Boy, written by Felicite Lefevre in 1926, is a negligibly-told tale of a young lad who, wanting more from life, runs off to join the army (what? the circus wasn't in town?). Its literary influences are clearly from the Dick and Jane school of writing; but, as I said, the illustrations by Tony Sarg are what made me decide I had to have this gem of a book.
At home, a little research turned up scant information about Felicite Lefevre (also wrote Topsy Turvy and a few other children's books) and only a bit more about Tony Sarg (1882-1942, German-American puppeteer, designed and built the first helium-filled balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1928*).
I was more intrigued by the book's previous owner, one Roy Phillips Purdy, also known as "Bud." The sale was for the estate of AnnaLee Purdy, Bud's wife, who had passed away a few weeks ago. With a little more digging, I learned that AnnaLee was born in 1920, spent her entire life in Bozeman, took up "contortion" dancing as a child, spent her summers in California, and later taught ballroom dancing to Bozeman ranchers and their wives. She married Bud in 1941 and together they led quite a social life; her obituary notes that "she made entertaining look effortless." While AnnaLee showed Montana farmers how to foxtrot, Bud managed the Montana State University Fieldhouse (today known as the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse), booking concerts, rodeos, dog shows and--six years before the Houston Astrodome was built--one of the first indoor baseball games (it was Little League, but it still counts).
I'm less interested in Bud Purdy, adult, than I am in R. P. Purdy, young book owner who wrote his name in pencil on Soldier Boy's frontispiece. I picture young Bud stretched out in the grass on his belly on a summer afternoon, the book opened in front of him. Maybe the tip of his tongue pokes from his lips. This is what he would have read back in the 1920s...
(Click pages to enlarge)
When I see tangible proof of a book's ownership like that, all I can do is laugh...
*Large animal-shaped balloons, produced by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, replaced the live animals in 1927 when the Felix the Cat balloon made its debut. Felix was filled with air, but by the next year, helium was used to fill the expanding cast of balloons. At the finale of the 1928 parade, the balloons were released into the sky where they unexpectedly burst. T he following year they were redesigned with safety valves to allow them to float for a few days. Address labels were sewn into them, so that whoever found and mailed back the discarded balloon received a gift from Macy's. (Wikipedia)