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The Old Book Press
It stood tall, almost touching the ceiling, in the living room of my Grandparents house in Hooker's Bend, Tennessee. I had heard the stories about it all my life. Stories of how it had been passed down through four generations of Watsons to come into the possession of my Grandfather. The smells that emanated from it were the musty smells of age. You could look at it and tell it was old. The one story never told was how it became known as the book press, but that is what my family will always call it.
The top of the book press held old books on medicine, history, and the Methodist religion. Some of these books had been passed down through the family for as many years as the book press. There were also two family bibles that had spent their entire lives on the shelves of the book press. One bible belonged to John Watson, the first known owner of the book press. The other bible belonged to John's grandson, and my great grandfather, William Russell Watson. The pages of the bibles not only presented the word of God, they presented a partial history of the Watson family. Inside these bibles were several letters and other items that gave our family a clue to its past.
As a young girl, I would climb into a chair to open the top doors of the book press. One by one, I would remove those books to the couch, where I would sit for hours and study the pages and the scraps of papers. As fragile as the items were, my grandparents never discouraged me from looking at them. I made notes, I checked dates, I asked my Grandparents questions. Soon I had the Watson family's genealogy almost complete for six generations, quite an accomplishment for an "almost" teenager who had only family bibles for research.
In the bottom of the book press were quilts that were hand made by my Grandmother Watson. They provided the extra bedding necessary when the grandchildren came for a visit; or for extra warmth on those cold winter afternoons while pouring over the books. They bore the wonderful smell of the old musty book press.
After my Grandfather died, and my Grandmother moved out of the house, the book press still stood tall and proud, much like it was protecting the old house from vandals. The newer pieces of furniture gradually were removed to other homes, but the old book press remained. On my occasional visit to the almost empty house, the book press haunted me. I believe it wanted me as much as I wanted it.
My father did not want to separate it from the old house, for to him I am sure, it was like removing memories from his life. He finally resigned himself to the fact that it would be safer to move it into his home. There the book press remained for several years. Wear and tear began to take its toll on the old book press. Once a splendid, proud piece of furniture, it began to look shabby. Hinges loosened and doors fell off, putty fell from the panes of glass, and the once stout book press swayed from side to side.
Another old and empty house now exists in my family. My parents have moved from their home; they have shut and locked the doors, and left what they could not take with them. Items, both of sentimental and monetary value, were removed. But the old book press again remained. And as it had several years before, it beckoned me to take it. Sadness is a major feeling when you see your parents home torn apart. But, as I watched the book press being loaded onto the trailer to make the trip to its new home, I could feel a sense of happiness, too.
If the stories handed down are true, that book press has traveled from South Carolina, to Tennessee, and now to Arkansas. In need of major repairs, it hopefully will soon be brought back close to its original state by my husband. It will again stand proudly in the home of a Watson descendant. And when that time comes, I will climb into a chair to return John Watson's bible to its home. The bible of James L. Watson, John's son, which was given to me my my father's cousin, Jo, will be placed in the book press beside it.
My hope is that when old age demands that I find another home, the old book press will beckon my son to take it-to another state, another home, another generation, and some day, hopefully, another young child will climb into a chair, reach into the old book press, and find the family history, complied by their grandmother, awaiting them.
Jane Watson Ellis