Here’s something I wrote, inspired by the challenge “look up.” It’s not meant to be profound — just a light bit of memoir.
The Look It Up Club
Beside the Rock River, downstream from Rock Falls and upstream from Rock Island, nestles the small farm town of Lyndon, Illinois. Perhaps not so much nestles as puzzles, wondering what happened. When first founded, Lyndon was designated as the capitol of Whiteside County, but shortly after, the county seat was moved to the bustling town of Morrison. Lyndon, meanwhile, nestled and swelled to a population of 600, given a generous rounding up by the census bureau.
When my family shifted residence from the booming blue-collar town of Rock Falls to a small farm outside of Lyndon, there was another shift in the wind. The Top-Ten radio stations that featured Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie, and a fresh young balladeer, Pat Boone, were being infiltrated by a new sound, from artists like Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the Big Bopper. Changes were afoot. Who’d have thought you could have a Number One hit with a song about a hound dog?
Changes were coming to the classroom too. In my schoolroom where the combined grades five and six were ably juggled by the legendary Mrs. Emmonds, who had taught most of my classmates’ parents, a mystery man appeared one day. Lyndon School had purchased the World Book Encyclopedia, a new publication aimed at elementary students. The mystery man was evidently part of the deal. He stayed on from Monday to Friday, with one period a day devoted to the gleaming white workbooks distributed to each of us. We were suddenly pledges in the World Book-sponsored Look It Up Club. By looking up and answering all the questions in the workbook, we became official members, each of us receiving a piece of paper with Look It Up Club at the top and our name on it, gracefully penned in by Mrs. Emmonds.
When your top entertainment includes throwing rocks at snapping turtles at Walker’s Slough, sipping coke and listening to the hound dog song on the jukebox in the Sip’n’Bite Cafe, and watching the high school basketball team lose another game, the World Book came on like fireworks. It was full of dazzling color: maps, photos, diagrams. It told you where things were, like Rhodesia and Ceylon. It had diagrams of how things worked, like electric toasters and automotive gear shafts. It was amazing, and understandable. It was the World Wide Web in a set of volumes with pebbly covers that made you want to pick them up. The only thing more exciting was the annual summer week at scout camp.
That was a long time ago, 1955 or 56 — a different era. Yet the population of Lyndon has remained constant to this day. Given that most of us left after our school years, the constancy is a bit of a mystery. I sometimes surmise there’s a kind of psychic warp where the river bends in Lyndon, compelling newcomers to settle there, maintaining the balance. That means new kids to educate. Kids sprouting ear buds, carry iPods to school. Kids who never heard of Rhodesia or Ceylon, but who occasionally listen to a “classic oldie” about a hound dog.
Kids more aware of things, who would never find the World Book a match for the World Wide Web, and who would likely think the Look It Up Club hokey. As Heraclitus stated: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”