Friday, March 30, 2012

The Most Beautiful Pages in the World

Collier's Encyclopedia was sold door-to-door in the US from 1902-1998. I wasn't home when the salesperson came to our house at 168 Cherokee Drive in Westerville, Ohio. The books just magically appeared one day.  Lined up on the shelf, they seemed to go on and on and on. I pulled Volume I from its resting place. A to Aland. I cracked open the pages for the very first time and inhaled. Oh god, the wonderful smell of an encyclopedia.  Intoxicating.

168 Cherokee Dr., Westerville, as it looks today. Exactly the same.
I read the entire set, from Volume 1 to Volume 24. I learned about aardvarks and mollusks, Rome and Manila. Cephalopods and Cromagnum man, gorillas and spores. It was as if someone had put the entire world between the covers of those beautiful red books.

But my favorite of all time was Volume 10, because in between Fiscus and Germanicus was Flower. Plate after plate of the most colorful, beautiful, magical flowers I had ever seen. Dutchman's Breeches, those little upside down trousers that dangle from a tiny green stem. Squirrel Corn with it dainty foliage. The three petaled Trillium, which turns pink as it ages. On and on they went. I had never seen wildflowers before that moment. My life was changed forever.

I opened Volume 10 daily, to smell those color plates, touch the rich deep blues, greens, yellows. Could such things really exist in the world? Well, if Collier's said they did, they did. Collier's knew everything after all, they had the whole wide world on those pages.

So you can imagine my delight when one warm spring morning my fifth grade teacher said we were going for a walk in the woods next to the school. We put on our little windbreakers and rubber boots and walked single file to the forest. We left the brightness of the sun and entered the into the shade of a spring canopy, and lo and behold, there before me, were the flowers from the color plates! Dutchman's Breeches danced in the wind. Trillium nodded hello. There were violets and ferns, lilies and sorrels. I was standing smack in the middle of Plate IV.

It is funny how the smells and colors from a page of wildflowers can stay with you for decades. I can still close my eyes and feel that heavy book in my hands, the fluttering of my heart when I first entered the forest and saw the blanket of white laid out before me. To this day whenever I see a wildflower, I whisper thanks to my young parents for giving their hard earned money to a door-to-door salesperson one 1968 day.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite part was the anatomy of the human body. Each clear page you turned took you to a different level.