Once upon a time, a former editor lent me a book. It was called The Young Journalist: His Work and How to Learn It.
Written by one J Henry Harris (parliamentary gallery reporter), it was published in 1902. I knew it had to be the real deal because it was published in Charing Cross Road – the road in London so literary that they wrote books about it. (The road, not the city – although apparently there were quite a few about the latter too.)
The editor had thousands of the buggers (books) so it’s perfectly possible that I did not return it. Ever. But don’t tell him. (He is the same person who gave me a roadkill recipe book – and then asked for it back – so I reckon we’re square.)
Many years later, my favourite brother-in-law – I only had one but he was the best – borrowed same book. I always thought he should have been a journalist. He wrote lovely letters, mostly all in lower case because he reckoned he was a lower-case type of character. He wasn’t, except when it came to borrowing/nicking my books.
When he died, too soon, just a few weeks ago, I wandered through his books, not looking for anything in particular, just looking. There were so many of them, ranging from the history of the Jews to the life of a ballerina. Then I remembered The Young Journalist he had stolen/borrowed. I’ll take it back again, I thought.
But the wall of books had my measure: tired and emotional. It was like they were staring at me. Challenging me to find the book, any book really, so, of course, I couldn’t.
We had a service to celebrate my brother-in-law’s life around that time. Friends, family, people we didn’t know but whom he had made a mark on during his life. They were invited to take one of his books in memory of him.
One of my sister’s friends, her best friend through high school – who became a doctor and settled in to outback Western Australia to help change the world in whichever way she could – heard about his death. She was coming to Canberra to give a lecture, I think, but decided to delay her trip to the capital so she could spend some time with my sister in Sydney, the day after the tragedy.
She was just like she used to be. Smarter, if that were possible, warm, loving, funny and with, I was reminded, a heart that was almost too big to get through the door.
We were talking books. She chose a couple to take in his memory and we laughed about The Young Journalist – both ferreting through the shelves trying to find it. I remember it for always referring to the young journalist as a “him” because there was no thinking that a girl could do the job. Unless the bloke who ran the Women’s Page got crook, but even then …
I gave up. Turns out she didn’t.
She changed all her plans to stay with my sister as long as she could. It was a blessing.
Last week, I got a parcel which just said “enjoy” on the back of it where you usually find return address etc. Inside was a parcel sent from France to New Zealand to Broome – to me. It was the book. The Young Journalist. A small, green-covered book – although I told her I was convinced it had a red cover (got to love this journalist’s powers of observation) published in Charing Cross Road by London’s Guilbert Pitman.
It’s a gem of a thing. This splendid woman who helped my sister get through a hell of a time, spent I don’t know long trying to track down, order and post me this book.
Made my year.