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James Ferragut, Published December 31 2011

Scraps of my life in books

I read books. I give my parents credit because my dad, at age 90, still reads four books a week; my mom, at 86, always has a book at her side.

Ever since college, books have been a kind of scrapbook of my life. I tuck things of interest in books. If there were newspaper articles I liked, I’d slip them into the pages of a book. If there was a restaurant I liked, I’d keep the receipt or napkin and tuck it in a book. There are concert tickets, airline stubs, notes from my kids, phone numbers and addresses scribbled on scraps of paper.

I’m reading a book, “The Illustrious Dead,” which is an account of how typhus wiped out Napoleon’s Grand Army during his invasion of Russia. As I was reading, I reviewed the things I had tucked into the book: John Lamb’s note-perfect review of Rosanne Cash’s concert at the Fargo Theatre; an invitation from Concordia for the Mary Matalin and James Carvell debate; an article from Vanity Fair about Martin Scorsese’s film on George Harrison;” an obituary of a former neighbor.

I quit reading and went to the family room where I proceeded to go through every book in the bookcases.

I was a buyer for Herbst Department Stores in the 1970s. I traveled to New York at least five times a year to shop the clothing markets. I went to the bookshelf and pulled out “The Shining,” which my wife had given me at the airport. Inside was the receipt for five nights in a flash hotel near Central Park. Thirty-nine dollars per night. Throw in long distance calls, room service and tax: $237.96. The receipt is a treasure.

There are letters from my mother, and a concert ticket and the newspaper review for a Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt concert. There is the receipt from Sears for crib, mattress and blankets for our firstborn son; the obituary and funeral card of a friend. I thought they’d been lost.

There were dozens of bits of memories in the books. Two of the most important things in my life, I was sure I had lost, were in the books: a receipt from the Arizona Music Store where with a friend’s help, I bought my now, 38-year-old Guild

D-40 acoustic guitar; a note my daughter Ashley left for me, about her mean older brother, Justin. It was taped to the mirror on my dresser. Written in her best fourth-grade cursive the note said: “Dad. Please put Justin up for adoption. Love, Ash.” I laughed till it hurt.

It’s the holiday season. Do something for yourself. Read a book. Slide important things between its pages. Then wait 20 years, find the old book and marvel at the treasures you had the foresight to save.

Ferragut, a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page, is general manager and marketing consultant at a Fargo advertising firm. Email jferragut@odney.com