DictionaryOne afternoon I opened the glass doors of the antique bookcase which stands in the living room of our home to dust and rearrange some of the treasures we’d collected over the years. As I was about to close the case and lock it securely, I decided to take a few moments to scan the many beautiful items: bronzed baby shoes, a lovely hand-made quilt my mother-in-law Ada made as a young woman, my father-in-law’s razor, the metronome my husband had used when learning to play the piano, a beautiful gold bracelet my father had given me years before, a hand-painted dessert plate passed on to me from my grandmother’s collection.

At the back of one shelf I noticed a worn volume, held together by a fading blue binding.  I recognized it immediately as the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary my grandfather had given me for my 11th birthday. I pulled it out, my hands shaking as I held it close. I sniffed the aging paper and was transported immediately to a time over half a century ago when I opened it for the first time and shouted, “Grandpa, thank you. This is just what I wanted.”

His blue Irish eyes smiled back in delight. I’m sure the book cost part of his small pension check that week, but I’m also sure he didn’t mind.  He was devoted to me, his first grandchild, and wanted the best for me in every way.

A puddle formed in my eyes and I blinked it back as I opened the crumbling volume and saw again his lovely handwriting, still clear and bold. A shiver of joy slid down my spine as I caressed the page that held his inscription.

Dear Karen:

Many happy returns on this your 11th birthday. With the good start you have already attained in the expression of meaningful words, I am confident that with the help of this book, you will soon become a walking dictionary.

Love, Grandpa

I smiled, and then chuckled out loud.  So like Grandpa, I thought.  I could almost hear the lilt of his voice in the words he wrote.  Grandpa knew who I was and what I was meant to do long before I was certain of these things myself. He was right. Here I am more than 60 years later writing, speaking, and mentoring aspiring writers. Words are what my life is about. Words spoken in prayer. Words on a page within the covers of a book. Words of correction and encouragement on a student’s manuscript. Words of apology. Words of blessing. Words of praise. Words of complaint. Words of inspiration from a platform. Words of gratitude in my journal. Words of joy each morning as I wake up to a new day.

It would be easier sometimes to march down the hallway of life without so much as a glance to the right or to the left, to what’s ahead or to what lays behind. I could shut off my mind to the pain and the sin, the embarrassments and the disappointments. But if I do that I also close off the possibilities and the opportunities to transform my life by renewing (and exercising) my mind. And so I continue on––savoring, sharing, and saluting life with words.

“You were right, Grandpa. I am a walking dictionary.”

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” (Habakkuk 2:2 the Bible)




Walking Dictionary — 18 Comments

  1. What a lovely post, Karen. I’m so glad I was one of those you “went on” to mentor. I’m very grateful. I, too, have some precious mementos I can’t part with.

    You have been a fortunate lady, my dear.

    • Thanks, Marie. Some of these precious mementos keep our loved ones close to us even after they’ve gone on.

  2. Thanks, Karen! I too have precious books and other ‘things’ that are real treasures. I have the Bible that Dad and Mom gave me on my 16th birthday ( 76 years ago !) I have many of my Dad’s Daily Diaries that I love to read. Dad was a “barber” in the family and in one diary he placed a curl of Mom’s hair that he had just cut and wrote such beautiful words describing her hair !! Like your dictionary, these things are priceless !

    Thank you for reminding me of these special memories.

    Blessings with love to you. Margaret

    • Margaret, thanks for letting me know you have some lovely mementos too. The anecdote about your dad and a curl from your mom’s hair is so sweet. You had wonderful parents.

  3. Your grandfather could see that you were going to be a great writer,
    Wordy. I can relate to precious memories such as you wrote about, very sweet.

    • Thanks for your sweet comment, Roz. I appreciate your reading my blog and taking time to write back. I hope to see you on the trail some time this summer. So far this year has been BUSY!

  4. What a wonderful treasure to still have in your possession. It’s those moments in life that impart who God made us to be. A wise man, your grandfather, and I’m sure he was dearly loved.

    • Thanks, Laura. Yes, Grandpa was a wise and loving man with a great sense of humor.

    • Thanks, Mary. I get misty when I think of him and his sweet Irish brogue and kind spirit of encouragement.

  5. What a lovely story. Age 11 was a turning point for me as well, the year I decided I wanted to be a writer. And I’m pretty sure it’s my Irish blood that carries my love of words. 🙂

    • Katherine, what fun for me to know that we have Irish heritage in common and that you and I were about the same age when we caught the writing bug. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. We don’t call you “wordy” for nothing! That’s a great story and a tender memory. The dictionary is such a relic of the past, now, too, with all these online aids. It’s nice to have something with his inscription and your own memories of it so that it’s all your own.

    • Thanks, Julie. I love knowing you read this since Grandpa’s encouragement has seeped into your life too. Love you, dear daughter.

  7. This was a great blog. It brought back memories for myself, as my mom and dad gave me a collegiate dictionary 27 years ago. The inscription read, “To Jim on his 44th birthday. Love from two proud parents. Mom and dad.” So you made me think of that book. It is one of my most prized possessions. Thanks. GB

    • Jim, thanks for sharing this anecdote about the dictionary your parents gave you. What fun it is to know we share the love of a treasured gift such as this.

  8. Thank you, Karen, for another textbook-perfect post. I love your writing style, painting pictures with simple words of precision, yet sending messages in philosophical depth and commanding connections from me as your reader.

    Like your loving grandpa, my grandpa was also very loving in my life. He instilled in me most needed self-confidence and precious sense of my self-worth in the midst of my rough grandmother’s yelling that I was a no-good, stubborn wild spirit just like my bad-omen mother, her daughter-in-law.

    I also wished my grandpa, May the Lord bless his soul, who toiled in the cornfields all his life, could help me in the intellectual depth as your loving grandpa did for you.

    At age 11, I had no school to go to due to the Cultural Revolution but cooked and cleaned and babysat my two brothers, and lived in fear everyday of my father’s beating for doing my chores not to his liking and my mother cold silent stare out of the corner of her eyes, her unspoken anger I didn’t understand till decades later.

    By God’s amazing grace, Jesus found me and saved me. I am so grateful. And thank you for nominating for the True Grit Award at the Mt. Hermon. I’ll always remember you.

    • Thank you, Jing. I’m happy to hear that you, too, had a supportive and loving grandfather.

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