National Geographic – I just can’t quit you


In a fit of spring-cleaning, I’m emptying shelves and bookcases around the house. I’m the first to toss or re-purpose anything that hasn’t been used in a few years, much to the chagrin of my husband** who still laments that his mother threw out his baseball cards when he was young.  But, I’ve had a difficult time tossing two particular items: a 2003 set of World Book Encyclopedias and 10-plus years of beautiful yellow ridged, neatly-stacked National Geographic magazines.

With one child off to college and the other powering through 10th grade, the two stalwarts of my childhood are gathering dust. It’s true that during a few years of elementary school, the arrival of the familiar yellow magazine was a cause for celebration – probably around the time when my daughter was obsessed with Jane Goodall. Watching the kids tear into the magazine was one of those perfect moments of motherhood — perhaps because the volumes reminded me of hours spent in a corner of my childhood home, rapt with the discovery of some exotic patch of the globe. Whether seeing the majestic Masai for the first time or seeing a frozen baby mammoth laid out in splendor, the photographs enthralled me. My environmentalist sister says she learns more reading National Geographic than almost any other magazine, but for me, it’s all about the photographs. I don’t know what other women imagine they’ll do when their children are grown and gone, but my fantasy is to be a photographer on assignment.

As for the World Book, my affection stems from vivid memories of a father who, when stumped at the dinner table by one of his three girls’ questions, never failed to chirp “Let’s look it up in the World Book”.  We would all scramble to the bookshelves for a clue.  Now, my kids can Google anything, anytime, anywhere. While this may have it’s advantages in the speed and satisfaction department, I wonder what will replace the unexpected discovery that happens when we page through myriad other entries in an encyclopedia.  When, if searching for Cameroon, you could have your breath taken away by a photo of Ankor Wat, nestled in the entry for Cambodia.

It cost me $40 to pack and ship the World Books off to San Francisco, where my sister’s younger kids will greet them with glee. Yet, after the shelf was cleaned up, I had a vivid dream about those encyclopedias flying away from my house .. my unconscious telling me that something important has slipped from my grasp.

So, having determined that there is absolutely no value on eBay or Craig’s List for my stacks of yellow magazines, and despite the fact that I should be hunting down a senior center that might find the amusing, I’m holding onto to these frayed old tomes. And hoping for a rainy day when I can curl up with a stack and discover anew.

** I used to empathize with my husband’s complaint about his mother throwing away his precious possessions, but now that I’m a mother I realize that OF COURSE she edited his collection to a trash bin. Every last dusty card!