This week’s featured guest column in The Review is written by Léonard Lafleur, author of the book ‘Foundry Street – A Place in Time’
I still remember… I was nine or 10 at the time. Dad bought dictionaries; not any dictionaries, mind you! He bought the full set of ‘Dictionnaires Encyclopédiques Quillet Flammarion’, edition 1955 – six volumes, 5,930 pages of words, statistics, photos and drawings.
They changed my life. I could pick up volume L to O, or P to S, each of them holding 1,000 pages or more. I would simply drop that heavy sucker on the living room carpet, open it to any page, and read. Each book weighed around 10 pounds and contained a megaton of information on subjects I knew nothing about.
Heck. Most of the time I didn’t even understand the complex French words. But I kept at it. Why, take the A to C volume, that’s where I first saw a full color page of a female body; and get this: with no clothes on, and no skin on!
Talk about an addiction, I had been snared by the sneakiest one of all: a passion for books! I guess that’s where I started moving away from Sergeant Rock comic books to Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas (Ah! en garde, D’Artagnan!), Frank Herbert (Dune). These authors and hundreds of others became my faithful companions in both languages, over the decades.
You see, when Dad died in March 1961, I was 14. Books became my refuge from the irrational anger of an adolescent boy at fate’s cruelty. Not enough to stop the hurt, but sufficient to deflect the pain behind my army of books. The pain slowly faded into the tapestry of my life, gradually becoming fainter and fainter…
…To be finally banished in 1993 when I purchased the 36-volume Britannica Encyclopedias, accompanied by the 26-volume Compton’s Encyclopedias (an amateur version of the Britannica), also the 16 Young Children’s Encyclopedia (Junior, 12-year-old version!) and finally, the 12 copies of the Britannica Discovery Library – a pre-school, read-it-at-bedtime version of same, with lots of drawings. Over the ensuing 14 years, until 2003, I continued receiving the annual updates to the Britannica.
My purpose? For the same reason my dad had purchased the semi-retired Quillet Flammarion dictionaries that still dish out knowledge from my home office space. For me, for Monique, the love of my life, for daughter Sarah, born in 1983, for Alexandre, 1989. Eventually for the miracle of a December 2021 granddaughter, Florence, in far off Australia, shining on the Autumn of my years. Ah! The pure pleasure of opening their minds to words, concepts, science, the accumulated knowledge of humanity.
Which brings me, finally, to my reason for (partially) baring my soul to you. If you’re still reading this and little red lights blink on and off in the nether reaches of your brain, then you, sir or madam, may be carrying a heavy load from times long past, just as I had.
I won’t ask you to drop on your knees to confess and repent. Whatever shaped your past defined your present self. All I ask is that you look back on the twists and turns that led you here and make peace with… yourself.
It is a New Year. Be the best you can.