In 1957, the summer between first and second grade, I sat in the back of my folks’ Plymouth station wagon and read the Classics Illustrated comic of ‘The Red Badge of Courage.’ We were on our way to New Orleans for a gymnastics meet in which my sisters were competing.
It was the only time I’ve ever been to New Orleans – or that far west – but I remember it quite vividly. Especially the ducks in the pond across from our motel! What would be more likely to make an impression on a seven-year-old, after all?
That was sort of my introduction to great literature and I was soon reading the ‘real’ books, not that a number of other Classics Illustrated titles didn’t pass through our home. Clues to go look for the books, at times, or to avoid them!
When I was twelve, one of their ‘special issues’ came out. These were titles that were not adapted from fiction but covered some historic or scientific topic. I picked up ‘Prehistoric World’ and it changed my life. Really.
Like any kid, I was interested in prehistoric animals, dinosaurs, etc. There was more to this comic, though. The greater part of it was dedicated to the ancestry of man. I met Australopithecus and Pithecanthropus (now Homo erectus) and those Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons and all the rest and I was hooked. Visits to the library meant bringing home books on anthropology and I plowed through a lot of thick volumes for a couple years there — when we moved from Columbus Ohio to Florida when I was fourteen, I didn’t have as much access to good libraries.
And, of course, I had a beach that required my occasional attention.
I’ll note that ‘Prehistoric World’ had a quite good explanation of genetics and evolution, as well. Good enough that I could figure out what they were talking about, anyway! It was completely new stuff to me.
I very much intended to go into anthropology all through high school. That sort of slipped into the whole history/art history thing when I got to college and decided I didn’t really want be the scientist that much. And by the time I finished college, I decided I’d rather create and went off to paint pictures.
But I’m still fascinated by ‘cave men’ and the story of the human race. Knowing whence we came connects us to each other, to the world and to the universe. The same stars have shone on our ‘family’ for billions of years and, at some point, we looked up and reached for them.
Ah, to have been there at that moment!