So Pressed For Time

dictionary

Six years after her death, I’m slowly sorting through my mother’s packed up possessions stored in one of our farm outbuildings. Some boxes I am still not ready to open, such as the 30 months of letters written by my newlywed father and mother while he fought in several bloody island battles as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. Other boxes contain items from too distant an era to be practical in my kitchen, such as the ones labeled “decorative teacups” or “assorted tupperware bowls”.

But I do open the boxes of books. My mother was a high school speech teacher during those war years, and she had a good sense of a classic book, so there are always treasures in those boxes.

Recently I rediscovered the 1956 Webster’s New Dictionary of the Twentieth Century that I grew up with. This book was massive, easily weighing 10 pounds, and served as a booster seat for haircuts, a step stool for trying to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen cupboard, and of course, for looking up any obscure word that ever existed in all of history. Or so it seemed.

An amazing tome. And as I flipped through the pages, I found some old familiar friends that were neither black nor white nor read all over.

Wildflowers had been carefully pressed between the pages–over two dozen specimens paper thin themselves, their existence squeezed into two dimensions–still showing faint pink or blue, or purple color, almost exuding a long ago fragrance from a summer over fifty years ago. As a child I regularly wandered out to our fields and woods to gather crimson clover blossoms, buttercup, dandelions, daisies, wild violets, wild ginger, and (shame on me!) trillium and calypso lady slippers for bouquets for my mother, and she would select the most perfect to slide between the pages of the dictionary. Occasionally she would pull out one to gently paste on a hand written card she sent to a friend.

Here were my once perfect flowers, preserved and pressed for time, just waiting for the middle-aged me to rediscover them lying between wonderful words that I love to roll in my mouth and type on a page. They are too fragile to paste to a greeting card, or even to handle due to their brittleness. They need to stay right where they are, for another generation or two or three to discover.

I too am so pressed for time, becoming more fragile, perhaps more brittle than I care to admit. My mother and father are now blown away like the puff ball seeds of the dandelion, on to other horizons, but the sturdy old dictionary is going nowhere. It will be passed down, its delicate passengers preserved inside, a long ago far away summer afternoon of flower gathering to be shared as a great grandchild opens the book to look up a favorite word sometime in the not so far off future.dictionary2

 

 

3 thoughts on “So Pressed For Time

  1. We had a Webster’s 3rd Unabridged which our family always used for Scrabble. As I moved many times, I finally found it another home. Yes, it weighed at least ten pounds!
    Thanks for this wonderful memory.
    Amrita

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  2. Memories – no matter the age nor the time spent in hibernation – seem always to be ‘there’ whether we remember them or not. The bittersweet ones that crinkle the heart strings and sometimes sting the eyes with unspent tears are the most precious. They are the ones that need to be re-visited now and then to help us to know and remember from whence we came and how we dealt with this sometimes confusing, painful thing called ‘life.’

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  3. Emily, I loved this piece and your last one too. It seems we’ve both been thinking about books and their meaning, getting older, and the relationship of the present to the past. Thank you for your beautiful writing, as always.

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