Cartography

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 world map

In the town I grew up in, at one corner of a four-way intersection, stands an odd-shaped structure reminiscent of the all-purpose buildings that existed in colonial days. In the 1700’s, it served as a general store/pharmacy/post office. But in the 21st century, that building is filled with glass counters that display beaded jewelry and stone arrowheads and old-fashioned scales and other treasures made open to the public in the spring and summer seasons.

The interior is wide open with a second-story loft-like space that might have been an office in its previous incarnation, and now was a library of sorts. Manuscripts and cloth-bound books line the wooden shelves nailed to two of the three walls. A makeshift bench waits beneath the one multi-paned window.

My mother knew if I went missing, she could locate me in that confined space, surrounded by ancient elementary primers and almanacs and town history and holy books. Some days I could crack the window open to let in a delicate breeze, but most times the air was stagnant with mildew and dust and something sweet.

I spent hours sitting beneath that window carefully turning the pages of a town atlas and studying the outlines to plots of land or the path of forgotten railroad tracks or neighborhoods now covered by sand. The maps captured my imagination.

Across town on the former Main Street, the town hall and public library stand adjacent to one another. These structures aren’t as old as the museum and look completely different. They resemble miniature castles.

As a child, I thought the library was enormous…. and haunted. The main reading room boasts a grand stone fireplace and a spiral wrought-iron staircase leading to a whimsical attic filled with town depravities. Or so I thought.

While researching the war for independence for a social studies report, I’d imagine the day-to-day activities of a family who might have resided in the library when it was a mansion. I’d picture an entire meal – complete with dinner menu and topics of conversation – before reluctantly returning to the present.

You can’t imagine my disappointment when I finally learned that the stone building, complete with my beloved turrets, had been constructed to house the library and was never used for anything else.

So the size of the library diminished in proportion to my age, and by the time I was a senior in high school, I had graduated to the marble branch in the small city nearby.

This hushed haven suited me. One afternoon, while I strolled beneath soaring arches and explored many rooms, I wandered into a utopia. Low bookcases lined the small room, with framed maps covering the wood panel walls. At the center was a small wooden table surrounded by four green leather chairs.

My last year of high school, I’d study in this room surrounded by maps. It was my heaven.

And although I was often alone in this room, I never thought of stealing any of the maps. Then again, if I’d found any worth $700,000 I might have considered it.

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