The Ends of the Earth by Jim Moeller
When I was young, I read to the dog. He was a gentle and loving St Bernard despite being huge with a piercing bark that frightened most visitors. He was a good watchdog and, more than once, scared dubious characters away.
When I read to him, he sat patiently with his tail thumping the ground and an expression on his face which signalled patient happiness. We varied slightly in our reading. He preferred the Bobbsey twins. I liked the Hardy boys. Between us, we read many stories.
There was no television in those days. I had to wait nine years for my first glimpse of it. The main excitement in my youth was the weekly visit to the nearest town which was more than ten miles away on the prairies. My mother would shop for the things we couldn’t grow or make on our farm while I would visit the little bookshop which was my main treat. I could lose myself completely in the stacks of books which made it more like maze than a shop.
There was only one counter. Behind it curious looking albums were stashed. One day I asked about them.
“It’s a little side line,” one of the spinster sisters who ran the bookshop said. “It’s to do with stamp collecting. Do you collect stamps?”
“What stamps do you mean?”
She sensed a convert. She pulled out a stamp collector’s starter pack which included a small album, a packet of hinges to put the stamps in the album, a pair of tweezers, a magnifying glass and a packet of stamps which had “Worldwide selection” printed on the bag.
The lady in the shop opened the packet of stamps and shook a few onto the counter. She explained that I mustn’t handle them with my hands as I might transfer oils and dirt, even if I had washed my hands before approaching the stamps. She picked up a stamp with the tweezers and examined it carefully.
“This one’s from Azerbaijan. It’s a country in the middle-east noted for its oil reserves.”
I looked at the stamp. It was a picture of an oil derrick and had funny writing on it. I had never thought about stamps as something one might collect. We had few letters delivered with stamps on them. Now I felt I should save them.
“We don’t get many stamps,” I said.
“And the ones that you do will be definitive stamps of little value. If you’re interested, this starter pack would get you going for very little outlay. I don’t want to interfere with your reading, which is important, but a little relaxation might encourage it. You can find out all sorts of things from stamps, such as the country of Azerbaijan. Have you heard of it?”
“Are these valuable?”
The sister drew in her breath as if she were about to impart something confidential. “Some countries print stamps that never get used. They are intended to be part of stamp collections. You’ll soon learn the ones which aren’t…genuine…shall we say. If you put all the stamps in that collection into the album, it will keep you occupied for many hours. You’ll learn a great deal about the world. Do you have a World Book at home?”
“Look up the countries you’ve never heard of. Some of the names will seem strange. Helvetica, for example, is Switzerland. Do you think your mother will let you purchase this stamp collector’s starter pack?”
“It’s less than the price of one book. She might let me purchase the collector’s kit and a book.”
“That would be nice for you.”
The lady smiled the satisfied smile of someone who had made a convert.
When my mother arrived to pick me up, she was surprised to see only one book on the counter. I showed her the stamp collecting items.
“I hope you’ll keep up your reading,” my mother said. “It’s important. You mustn’t neglect it.”
“I can learn a lot about the world from stamps,” I said.
I kept very still while my mother concentrated. It was no good interrupting her when she was thinking about something. She opened her handbag, took out her purse and handed over the money for both items. I added stamp collecting to my reading. It was another interest to relieve living on the plains.
My stamp collecting took me on many travels. From Azerbaijan to Zanzibar, you might say.
Even the dog appreciated my new hobby. He snuffled up a few stamps, but otherwise listened attentively to my speeches about each new country as I added them to my collection. Together we travelled to the ends of the earth without moving from our seat.