Old Secrets

I am a regular visitor to my local secondhand bookshop. It really is a delightful place to visit. Wide, polished floorboards, shelves from floor to ceiling full of the most interesting, fascinating things. The books in that shop are pieces of history.

I found a book today from the 1940s about flower arranging and plants to cultivate that make your garden more attractive. I bought it mainly for the illustrations –


but there was a little gem within.

Lately I have started buying books with inscriptions:

To Susan on her birthday

Get Well Soon, Mary

that kind of thing.

I like to imagine who it was that bought the book as a present for someone they held dear; and I wonder if they ever imagined I would buy that book forty years later for as little as five dollars and that it would be as much of a gift to me as it was to the person who originally received it.

My book about flower arranging was inscribed :

To my dearest Frances Gray, on our second wedding anniversary.

My undying love, Your James.

Summer 1940.

In the middle of the book, written on a wafer thin slip of paper, in ink still legible but extremely faded were the words –

out in the dark lies my heart

as faded as the blooms of summer

due to you

due to you

F.G. 1948

I am led to assume that the F.G. of 1948 was the sam Frances Gray who received the book from James in 1940.

Had he broken her heart?

Had he been untrue?

Had something happened to him during World War Two?

Was Frances merely just a budding poet? And if she was, don’t you think she showed great promise?

I suppose I’ll never really know, but what a lovely evening I have spent poring over my sixty year old book and wondering…..

25 thoughts on “Old Secrets

  1. What an interesting find. I wish we could learn more about who F.G. was.

    Not long ago I bought Isabel a book at a used bookstore. It’s called The Kingfisher Book or Great Girl Stories, and I bought it in part because it had a dedication inside from grandparents to a child, dated four years ago at Christmas. It made me a bit sad, to see a loving gift in a bin of books going for a dollar each, and I bought it almost as a protective measure.


  2. Bittersweet that poem. Perhaps he died. Somehow, I want to think that not that he broke her heart.

    Lovely surprise. And of course a great place to start a short story or even a novel….


  3. Years ago there was a strange place in Seattle called the Antique Warehouse (or something along those lines). It was a large building crammed to the rafters with old furniture, books, knick-knacks, etc. Heaven…

    While browsing there one day, I stumbled upon a packet of letters in one of the drawers of a vanity. I took them to the proprietor and he said, “oh, give them to me, I’ll just toss them in the garbage. Unless you want them.”

    I still have them.


  4. Oh that was so lovely! I wish I would know of a used bookstore here that I would be able to go to… I think I would be there quite often, since I love books and to read… I love the little poem it makes me also wonder what happened…


  5. Well…

    if you really want to know, you could find out. At least as much as a death or a divorce. You have a date, you have a full name, and a half a name. I hear the mysteries of Genealogy calling me… People do it all the time. They find a piece of intriguing history and they can’t let it lie, so they start the research. Who knows? If you pursued it, you might meet Frances Gray herself.

    Then again, it might dispel all the romantic ideas, which make it all the more enticing. I guess it depends on the finder if the need to know is as great as the need for romantic mystery. If nothing else, it would make one heck of a story! 😀


  6. How perfectly delightful. Perhaps FG’s love was indeed lost to war, not physically – but maybe in soul – the date pulls me in that direction – but I must say the tone of the short poem suggests a different kind of loss – so amazing what can be conveyed in such a short space – thanks so much for sharing this wonderful jewel!


  7. It certainly makes you wonder doesn’t it?

    I think you should write one of your lovely poignant stories based on what secrets might be held within. Would you do that Selma? Pretty please with cherries on top.


  8. oh if books could speak,,, just imagine the stories they could tell… maybe they are in fact finding you so that you can tell is the stories…..


  9. I’ve got an old book of Burns’ poetry, inscribed to ‘Eddie Hall’, dated 1904, … the thing that struck me was the beautiful handwriting. I’ve got other books; a Baddeley giude that once belonged to one Agnes Hall, and ‘Prospero’s Cell’ to a Charles Sell or Self …

    Best of all was one my cousin showed me … a copy of ‘Biggles Flies East’ inscribed ‘To Jimmy, with best wishes … W.E.Johns’. And, we wondered whether Jimmy was a friend or relative of Capt. Johns, or whether the signature was made at a book signing or something.

    I have one or two modern books, too, inscribed to me by the author … I wonder if they’ll fetch anything on eBay in 50 years’ time? 😀


  10. Hi Selma, linked to you from Paisley. That was a lovely story. Remember the sign out slips in library books, tucked into their little pockets? Obsolete in the cyber-age. some libraries kept the same card in the book until it was filled. I’d spend hours contemplating the initials of the folks who had checked the books out, running through the history of the dates, feeling sad for the books if there were large gaps in the check-out dates, and creating little fantasies about the people who could have been my friends, based on our checking out the same book. Thanks for prompting that memory. I’m about to enter a revery about our old Carnegie endowed library…


  11. This is certainly one of those things that gets the creative mind to wondering. At one time, back when my creative juices flowed more freely, I would have taken pen to a notebook and written a short story about it. The other thing I find wonderful and inspiring are old apartment buildings. I like to look up at the windows at night and imagine what is going on in each apartment, what the lives are like which dwell there, what are the stories that each apartment contains. What unites them in this building? How is everyone different? Fun to think about….


  12. VIC – the things you find in bookshops….

    INGRID – awww, that is so sad. I am so glad you bought it. I wouldn’t have been able to resist.

    JASON – it is mesmerising, isn’t it? I just love things like this!

    LAURI – I have already partly written a story around it. How could I not? It’s a gift. I also prefer to think he didn’t break her heart!

    LISSA – you really have to do it. I would love to read one of your stories inspired by a book you found. I am excited just thinking about it!

    KAREN – don’t tease me like that. What did the letters say???? You have to do a post about this. What an incredible find!!!

    TBALL- you would love this store. There are books about absolutely everything. I am addicted to going there.

    JONAS – it really is an intriguing story. I’m glad I could share it with you!

    NAT – I love stories like that too. It’s so much fun to imagine what might have happened!

    ANTHONY – very fitting, indeed!

    TEXASBLU – it would be great to find out something more, although it would take away all my romantic notions probably. I’ll see what I can find out….

    GERALDINE – it is a great story. It’s my pleasure to share it with you!!!

    KAYT – there is a suggestion of love gone wrong, isn’t there? Of course, I would also like to think that because of the date that something happened due to the war, but I do wonder…..

    ROMANY – I’m going to do that very thing just for you. I should have it finished over the next few days. I just can’t help myself, it’s such an intriguing story!!

    PAISLEY – what an honour that would be – bringing the old stories back to life. Oh, I would love that!

    GROOVY – I was teary myself. Something about that poem really got to me. You’re right – real life IS the story!!!

    TRAVELRAT – some of the handwriting is gorgeous. People just don’t have that kind of penmanship anymore. That is intriguing about the Biggles book. I’d love to know… I have no doubt those books will be worth something on EBay one day. You’re going to be rich!!

    RICHARD – thanks so much for stopping by. I do remember those old sign-out slips. I used to love seeing who had read a book before me. Once our library sold off a lot of its old books and I had a ball going through the old slips. I still have them. Like you, I felt sorry for books that had only been borrowed once. Thank you so much for reminding me of this. That was a very happy time for me!!

    SAINTPAULGRRL- I also love old apartment buildings. When I lived in Bondi I lived in an apartment and it was lovely to sit on the balcony with a cup of tea and ponder. So many stories….


  13. >>That is intriguing about the Biggles book. I’d love to know… <<

    We thought that the signature was probably given at a book signing. If ‘Jimmy’ had been a relative or friend, he would have styled himself ‘Uncle Bill’ or something like that.


  14. Second-hand bookstores are great fun. Unfortunately, I’ve watched as they’ve closed down one by one around town over the last several years. It’s been the end of an era.


  15. TRAVELRAT – I love hearing the history behind old books. Yours is one to treasure.

    RICHARD – it’s sad, isn’t it? I feel bad for the shopkeepers. It’s their livelihood. My cousin emailed me from London this morning saying how sad she felt that all (or many of) the Woolworths stores were closing down. It is indeed the end of an era.


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