Sunday, January 8, 2012

Maps and a sense of place

Maps have been important to me for as long as I can remember.  The first map I remember making was of the patchwork of streets between our home in the first ring suburb and my elementary school.  It included street names, two or three house rectangles with the names of my friends and a dark line, as if there might be confusion, over the shortest path from our home in the southwest corner, through the playground and on to the actual school building itself in the northeast corner.
My grandfather is the one responsible for my devotion to maps.  There are many memories of him in the warm corner of my past, but a majority of them I still hold the most vividly are of times sitting next to him on his davenport, a map spread out between us, his stories making the lines and little dots on the huge pages magical.  Some of the stories were told and received so many times that I can still hear them, others I only remember highlights of.

The folded maps had state names on them, under and sometimes over the corporate names of Skelly, Phillips 66, Standard, Pure, Shell and so on.  Most were black and white and none had more than three colors; white, red and black.  Once in a great while, some blue would creep in.

Gramp had driven, ridden on two wheels, ridden underneath, on top of and inside of boxcars, hitchhiked and worked his way back and forth across the country, using a quest for work as his excuse but over the years, I've come to believe and know that a job was only part of the reason he was moving.  Growing up with the drudgery of and confinement of the family farm, his time around broken Vets returning home from Europe in WWI while stationed at French Lick, Indiana and hard times in the 20's all played a role.

Creating, collecting and reading maps have been a relished past time since then.

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