One of the lovely rituals of my life happens every spring when I return from spending six months in Georgia with my wife. When I’m back in Canada, my three younger sisters and I gather for a reunion weekend. We’ve been doing this for almost two decades, a timespan which has seen many changes for all of us. Their children have grown into young adults, careers have evolved, my husband passed away, and I now split my time between two homes, north and south. But through all the transitions and transmutations, our weekend get-away has remained a cherished constant.
Despite the deep bond between us, I occasionally feel like a cuckoo bird left in the family nest by mistake. They dress much better than I do; I live in jeans and T-shirts. My sisters barely function until they consume their morning coffee. I’ve never drunk so much as a cup, unless you count Iced Cappuccinos. They can’t stand wearing socks; I can’t stand being without. They’ll shed closed shoes for open-toed sandals while the snow still lingers on the ground. I live in my runners year round and really can’t understand the need for more than two or three pairs of flat, comfortable shoes. And, of course, there’s the whole “they’re straight and I’m not.”
One thing we do share is a familial love of reading. Our mother has so many stacks of books on her dining room table that it will never again be used for meals. If there’s nothing else on her schedule, Mom will happily spend twelve hours a day reading. At some point in our sisters’ weekend, the four of us will be in the same room, each with a nose buried in a novel, and perfectly content in the silent company of fellow bookworms.
Our reunions usually take place at a hot springs resort an hour away from the small town in which we grew up. Drinking, eating, laughing, and lounging in the hot pool are all established parts of our weekend routine, as is shopping. When we returned to the resort after our usual afternoon of shopping, we noticed a small bookstore we’d never seen before and ventured inside. We were the only ones in the shop, and after we’d browsed a bit, the proprietor, Andrew, asked if we’d be interested in seeing a rare book.
Of course we said yes, and he brought out a large metal case from behind the counter. Inside was a 390-year-old book called The Discourse On Magic. It was written by Martin Delrio, a Jesuit priest who taught at a Catholic university. Much to our amazement, Andrew allowed us to touch it, so I ran my finger lightly over the engraved cover and leafed through a couple of pages.
When Andrew told us more about the book, I was torn between awe and revulsion. On the one hand, it was an unprecedented thrill to examine a book four centuries old. It was in amazing condition, with the text clearly legible, and the names of previous owners written on the frontispiece. Most fascinating for me was an 1881 notation by the wealthy owner of a shipping line which carried thousands of immigrants from Europe to Canada during the era I portrayed in Kicker’s Journey.
The book, which has over a thousand pages in Latin and was published in Rome in 1624, was considered to be the witch hunter’s manual of the 17th century. Originally six volumes, the first four dealt with how to ferret out a witch, and the last two, how to prosecute those unfortunates who had fallen victim to mass hysteria. Its tenets were used to condemn tens of thousands, mostly European women, and were later referenced during the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials. It not only condoned, but recommended the use of torture to extract confessions, justifying the infliction of such terror on the premise that witchcraft was a form of heresy.
The book stayed on my mind long after we left the store. None of the books I enjoy reading will survive four hundred years. The books I’ve written will be long gone, too. I suspect all print books will be obsolete in 2414. But this book, bound with leather and wood, its pages speckled with ash from being read by firelight, may well still be around. Then it will be an eight hundred-year-old relic of a shameful chapter in history. As abominable as the content is, there was magic in touching something ancient, which has gone through so many hands and existed through tumultuous centuries of human history.
It was a weekend for magic—unexpected in the antique tome, and expected, as always, in our reunion. We are four sisters bound by love, by shared history, and by the joy we take in each other’s company. The book will no doubt end up in the hands of a private collector and vanish from public view, but nothing will ever make our bond disappear.
Next spring, our reunion takes place in Georgia, as my sisters fly south to visit my conjugal home for the first time. We’re already bewitched by anticipation as we conjure up the places we’ll visit and the things we’ll do. Magic, indeed.