One of my earliest recollections of diving head first into reference books goes to a vacation we were about to take when I was seven. It was the summer of 1975 and I was excited about our upcoming trip through New England. We talked about the places we would go and what we would see. I remember hearing about Paul Revere’s house and the USS Constitution, Rockefeller Center and Kennebunkport. I was excited because the family was excited. I didn’t quite know why. So, at some point a few days away from piling into our Buick Skylark and hitting the road, I walked up to my mother and said “Where is New England?” I was expecting a short answer and I would be on my merry way. No, that is not what I got. My mother looked at me and said, come with me.
A moment later we were in front of a bookcase and she pulled a volume of Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf. She showed me how she chose the correct volume. (This would come in handy for years to come.) We opened it up and found the entry for New England. We began to read. More precisely, my Mom helped me understand what we were reading. In the pages we went over was a brief explanation of where it was and why it was so named. In the minutes or hours that followed, I am not really sure since I was so completely involved, I heard about the Pilgrims, the Boston Tea Party, and The American Revolution. We read about Mystic and Providence, Acadia National Park, Ethan Allen, The Berkshire Mountains and much more. It was about this time that my father arrived home from work and took over for Mom.
I need to take an aside for a moment to give you a small background on my father. He was a CPA by trade and OCD master by need. He was the most hyper organized person I have ever, or will ever meet. He had lists for everything. He knew how much we needed to pack and how much room we were each allotted in the trunk to make it all fit. He had planned out wake up calls and departure times for every day of the trip. He knew where we would be at all times and even had contingency plans for how to get back on schedule should something interfere with our plans. Spontaneity did have its place, but only at the pre-determined times. Have I inherited some of this from him? Well, yes. But despite what my wife thinks, I am nowhere near the control freak my father was.
Now where was I?
Dad came home and immediately pulled out the briefcase he had already packed with the itinerary and maps. When he unfurled the first map in front of me it was as if it glowed. I instantly became obsessed with maps. I still am to this day. We started at our house in Pennsylvania and he showed me the roads we would follow. He showed me how to read the exits on the highways. He showed me when there is a box drawn around a city, I would need to find the detail of that city in another box along the edge of the map. When I said “I don’t see any of the places Mom told me about.” Something exciting happened. Dad pulled out the next map! This one was of New Jersey. He told me we would not be here very long because we were headed to New York City. I had no idea what to expect since this was my very first trip there. I knew we would see the Empire State Building and we would stop at Rockefeller Center. I had become familiar with the latter because my sister wanted to see where the skating rink was and Dad’s corporate headquarters (or as I then knew it, Dad’s other office) was across the street. He was very careful to show me where we would be going because this was a very big place and the maps were much more detailed. After our day in New York, we then moved into what I kept hearing the trip was all about, New England.
Around this time, I was getting the hang of reading the maps and I asked Dad where we would be going next. As he gave me the destinations, I would show him how we would get there. If I strayed off course, he would explain why we were taking other roads. So up the coast we went. We would stay in Plymouth to see the Mayflower. Then it was off to Boston. Again we would pause and look at the more detailed map. The Constitution and Old North Church were in the details now. Leaving Boston, we went through Salem and headed north. The next day it was off to Maine. Lobster dinner in Kennebunkport. Then it was inland to Concord and over to Bennington. We would then re-cross the Hudson River moving west to Binghamton and Elmira and then turn south to Pennsylvania to complete our trip.
I recall that trip with so much clarity because I asked my father if I could help with the trip and he told me I would be his navigator. I held each map in my hands and watched the exit signs go by and knew exactly where we were at all times. When we reached the end of the map, I would carefully fold the current map and open the next. I also had the realization that I could take advantage of my sister when it came time for our unplanned adventures. By seven, I already had my obsession for baseball in full effect and I mapped out the routes to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Dad agreed as long as I also put us back on course afterwards.
I still have my affinity for maps. I can sit and scan Google maps just to look around. There is no more folding, no more changing to another map when you reach the edge. No more looking for the city detail on the edge or other side of the map. All you have to do is zoom in and out now. There is no edge. Technology is a wonderful thing. I pore over maps when I see a story on the news, when I hear a mention of someone’s hometown that I am not familiar with or just because. My habit still draws the occasional eye roll or head shake from my wife. That’s okay. I still know where I am.
I would love to hear your comments on how you found your passion(s). It could be when you were a child or even as an adult. I still find new ones as an adult. Oh, I also received straight A’s in Geography.