I can still see my seven or eight year old self sprawled on the floor gingerly studying the map. I would scoot along around the borders, never able to quite reach the center, my long wirey hair falling between me and the world. Though it was a sturdy paper, I was always careful to not let my sweaty limbs stick to it for fear of ripping the oceans apart. Hardwood floors were best, or even linoleum, but carpet was no good. Too risky. I always marveled at how heavy duty the paper was, not like the road maps stuffed into my stepdads glove box, but something magical and resilient. I would spend countless hours, it seemed, tracing the mountains on the rough side before turning it over and randomly dropping my finger on some random country. This was my favorite part, heaving the large atlas open and thumbing through the foreign names and odd pictures until I found my destination. The pages were sweet smelling and almost as sturdy as the map. Flags. Flowers. Languages. People. The images rushed from the pages, making my head spin with wonder that there were so many things to know, to see, to experience. How was it possible to capture it all in this book, even this weighty book that took both of my two scrawny arms to heft from the shelf? Did snakes really grow that long? Did people really put rings through their noses? How do you even get to Uganda?
And the colors! Way more exciting than anything in my social studies book. And probably the source of at least one or two homework assignments. I may have even braved a show and tell in Mrs. Cohen’s class. This was a coveted prize, this hardbound peek at the world. I have vague recollections of allowing my younger cousin to look at the map, but threatened him within inches of his life if he dared to touch it. And thumbing the pages was out of the question!
I recently rediscovered the map in a box of random things in a closet at my mom’s house. The excitement of my younger self rushing back as I unfolded the magical paper revealing a 1979 world. The yellowed masking tape holding the arctic together at its seam, the map was still just as huge as I remembered. I immediately wondered what became of the book itself. So rarely were the two separated. The red lining of the atlas had a diagonal pocket to cradle the map in the back cover. A niggling memory tells me I at one time thought the book old and outdated, but the map still relevant. Perhaps I tossed it? Thankfully, through the magic of modern commerce, and a small publisher’s note on the map, I will pick up a replacement atlas at the post office tomorrow. I wonder about the person selling it. That they held on to it for this long and chose now to list it on eBay. Their loss, my gain.