OK, let me make this clear right off the bat.
Notwithstanding the title of this blog post, I don't believe my mother exists as an ethereal presence in my books -- even though she also was a huge book lover, so if she had a choice of an afterlife, this notion would have appealed to her.
My mother has been dead and gone since 1985. However, in a very real sense she does indeed live on in the back of my books. I'll explain.
Carolyn Lewis Hines
My mother was fond of writing notes in the back of books. After she died, most of her books were donated to the Three Rivers, California library. (She lived in Three Rivers for the last thirty years of her life, loving the view of the Sierra Nevada mountains from the large picture windows in our house.)
This is a photo of the back page from one of the few books of hers that I kept for myself, P.D. Ouspensky's "The Fourth Way." My mother didn't believe in God, but she was a spiritual seeker of sorts, at least in the sense of pursuing self-development.
She wrote the notes in pencil, a charming reflection of a simpler time. Her name and "1957" is written in the front of the book, so that must have been when she bought it.
For a long time I used small post-it notes to mark noteworthy pages in non-fiction books, after post-it notes were invented, naturally. I'd also use a pen to underline significant passages.
When highlighters came along, I switched to those and dumped the pen. It wasn't until I was in my forties, and maybe even older, that I started writing notes in the back of my books.
Strangely, it didn't dawn on me right away that this was something my mother had done. The idea just popped into my head one day to pen in a page number and the topic on that page that I viewed as particularly interesting.
If other pages discussed the same topic, I'd add in those page numbers also. Basically I was fashioning my own personal index as I made my way through a book.
Here's an example from a book I've read several times, "Why Buddhism is True" by Robert Wright. (Great book, by the way.) I now use a highlighter to further emphasize back-of-the- book entries I've penned in, along with arrows, underlining, and circles.
What I'm getting at on this Mother's Day 2021 is how our parents live on within us even when we're not consciously thinking about them.
I don't feel like I need to think about my mother today -- though I am, right now -- because she is such an intimate part of me, there's never any real separation between us.
Carolyn Hines is one half of my genetic heritage. My father, the man she divorced when I was a young child, is the other half.
But since I grew up with my mother, not my jerk of a father who I only saw in person for one hour in my entire life, her influence on me extends beyond the 50% or so of personality traits that is generally viewed as being inherited, or genetically determined.
Of course, I didn't inherit a specific inclination to write notes in the back of books. We humans don't have a whole lot of instincts. Compared to other animals most of of our behavior is learned, culturally determined.
So the part of me that is my mother often isn't easy to identify. I don't knock on wood like she did so frequently. I've never stuttered like she did.
It's more like many of my natural tendencies are hers.
Love of reading. Intellectualism. Admiration of science. Compulsion to write. Political junkie (albeit on the opposite side of the conservative spectrum she favored).
There's something beautiful about realizing that even though my mother is no longer physically alive, she lives on as me in a very real sense. I don't share her specific thoughts and emotions, but to a large extent I share her personality and interests.
Same goes for my father, though to a lesser degree, since his contribution to my psyche is almost entirely genetic, not experiential.
I look back at that one hour I spent with him in a Boston hotel room and wonder how that time could have been spent much more intimately than by me thumbing through General Electric manuals. Regret rises up within me when I think, "I blew that one hour with my father."
However, when I see how I've naturally taken up my mother's habit of making notes in the back of books, I realize that there's countless other things I do and am that flow from my mother, and yes, father, in a way that is inseparable from my very being.
I am them. They are me. We are still together. There's no way we can ever be apart.