The story involves four guys and an old book. They’re all in the photo above taken this Thanksgiving while celebrating my father’s 80th birthday in New Orleans. From left to right are my brother-in-law, our family friend, the book, my brother, and my Dad.
When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans my parents were luckily out of town. Luckily, because their house was flooded with five feet of muddy water. They didn’t return to size up the situation until more than a month later after authorities began allowing residents to come back.
But just a few days after Katrina, my brother-in-law who lives fairly close to New Orleans (in Baton Rouge), snuck (because civilians weren’t permitted into to the city) into my parents’ flooded neighborhood by canoe to sort out the situation in their house. He rescued what he could from the receding muck and got out not paying any attention to a pile of wet books ruined by the flooding.
My Dad had a small collection of antique books which were unfortunately stored within five feet of the floor in their house. His favorite was printed in 1597, an over-sized, heavily illustrated medical text written in Latin.
Our family friend is Dutch and has lived in New Orleans for 50 years and has known my parents for more than 30 years. Shortly after the Hurricane and my brother-in-law’s visit, he checked in on my parents’ wrecked home while they were we still away. There, he discovered the antique book from 1597, waterlogged and spread out in the mud like a crow that had flown into the ground and exploded.
Our friend mentioned finding the book to my Dad who was overwhelmed with more pressing Katrina recovery issues and didn’t express much concern for a wrecked book. But having witnessed people’s reactions to traumatic life events as a young man in 1940’s war torn Europe, our friend retrieved the ruined book, put it in a plastic bag, and froze it in his freezer. My Dad might want to do something with it later, our friend thought. And so the book stayed in our friend’s freezer for four years!
Katrina hit in the Summer of 2005 and four years later our friend still had a rock hard, mud soaked book in his freezer when he talked to my brother about getting the book repaired. My brother who lives in New Orleans then transferred the book into his freezer.
Next my brother began researching restorers of antique books, eventually settling on an expert in Indiana. Once the book got to the restorer a year-long process of soaking, cleaning, page rebuilding, and rebinding started.
The resurrected book finally returned to my brother looking as fresher, I’d guess, than any other 400 year old book.
This year my Dad turned 80 and three generations of our family converged on New Orleans to celebrate. All of the people from Louisiana involved with the book rescue were there representing different links in a chain to the past.
At his Birthday party on Thanksgiving, my brother gave our surprised Dad the book he never expected to see again.
Happy Birthday Dad.