Hello to a River

By Anna Mitchael

I bought the bookmarks years ago

When my oldest son was so young he had baby fat on his cheeks and the only playstation he knew was the corner of our living room, where I stationed his toddler toys then told him to go crazy.

I remember standing in the store, looking at the box of bookmarks decorated with apples and worms and thinking, “These will be great for him to use when he is reading.” Even though in a lifetime of reading I’d never used a bookmark myself. But this was when I would have said parenting was as easy as deciding what you want to pass on to your children, then having it be so.

Last week I was searching for a certain book I wanted to read, and I came across the bookmarks. While the baby fat disappeared from my boy’s cheeks, the apples and worms remained stacked together, waiting for someone to come along and use them for their stated purpose. Looking at the stack gave me a longing to go back to that store, to be a woman with just her toes in the water. The feeling was so powerful I had to turn away from it. “Why doesn’t my son use these?” I wondered instead. And as mothers can do, I turned it into a to-do list item — I would remind him soon about the apples and the worms.

The next day I was sitting with him while he read his book, one of the Rick Riordan novels about kids born with Greek gods for parents. He was so focused he hadn’t spoken in a while, but I was struggling with the opposite problem. I’d reread the same paragraph in my magazine 12 times yet still didn’t know what it said.

Instead of wondering what ruined my attention span — maybe the internet, or it could be the three pregnancies — I remembered the book I had looked for the day before. It was about the Brazos River, and the last time I read it, 13 years ago, I had no idea I would one day live in Waco or that living with that very river as a backdrop to daily life would be a great pleasure (there are many) of life here.

This time I found the book, “Goodbye to a River,” buried in my bookshelf. As I held it, the pages fell open to a photo I must have used as a bookmark way back when. It was my husband and me after we met, out in Dallas. Looking at it I remembered how he mentioned the book on one of our first dates and the next day I drove to the bookstore, bought the book, then stayed up late so I could read it. I loved that he loved Texas and that his Texas was one I barely knew. In the picture we looked like us, but younger. We were standing right there at the start of something big. Had we realized it?

My son wandered in while I was staring at the photo. He wanted to talk about something he just read and reached for a note on my desk to mark his page. This was the moment to remind him about the bookmarks, but I couldn’t. I can’t pass on the power of Zeus or the wisdom of Athena. But maybe, like they did for me, the books will follow him through his life. And in one way or another they will always hold reminders of what matters.