The other day, Patti and I were touring the three blocks of our new hometown, Buda, Texas. We like small towns. Even when we were in Dallas, we were in a small town suburb of Dallas. Here in Buda, there are a couple of restaurants in these three blocks, but there are loads of antique shops. There is one building on the corner of one of the three blocks that is hardly ever open, and it looks like a warehouse/storage facility from around the early 1900s. Very formidable, strong-looking doors and no information about what is contained inside.

On this particular Saturday, the doors were open and Patti and I strolled through this intimidating building. No sooner than we got inside than we saw an entire wall of campaign buttons. I think I saw a Wendell Wilkie button. I have a Goldwater button from way back, as a gift from my in-laws, Andy and Virginia. We strolled among the various items: very old garden tools that just vaguely resemble any tool you would use these days to work in the garden; old cameras (that actually had real film); books from various obscure and known authors (very cheap); antique dishes, desks, lamps and other old furnishings.

Thousands of pages of history, exciting places to visit, great archeology and wonderful photographyAs we were walking through, I came to a sudden stop inside the store before this one wall. For a moment there, I felt a little moist around the eyes and thought I saw my grandmother and my aunts, Ileene and Thelma, standing there smiling, It was a massive shelf containing very old issues of National Geographic. The discolored yellow color of the spines and covers let you know they were old issues. And every spine showed all the stories that were inside.

When I was a kid, and HAD TO go visit relatives, it wasn’t long after we got there that the adults sat around the kitchen table or the easy chairs out on the porch and caught up with each other. That was no fun to a young’un, so if my cousin was not there to go hiking or hunting with, I would quickly find the shelves of Nat Geos. For some reason, my family did not subscribe, so my lasting memory of visiting family members was spending time with their Nat Geos. I would grab several issues, crawl up on grandma’s feather bed and start reading and kept reading until I had finished all the issues or fallen asleep.

It was just great to go to their shelves and read the spines. Each spine was squared off, so the table of contents could be printed on the spine. Back then — really cool. Why, you ask? Because back then, NOONE got rid of their Nat Geos — they saved every issue. Particularly families with children. You just never knew when a back issue could provide one of the kids with a science fair idea, topic for a history lesson or fulfill some other need.

Consequently, each month, you could read the spine of the magazine if it were stored on a shelf and see what was inside the issue. Whether it was archeology (finding Herod’s tomb) or history (what Gettysburg looked like during the battle and then today) science (all sorts of biology and flowers), geography (they always managed to show you some obscure country that you had not even heard of until you read THAT issue that took you to that country), among other features.

The magazine was known for having the most spectacular photography in the world. Just flipping through the pages, the average reader wondered “How in the world did they get that picture?” Many years later, as an adult, when we lived in the D.C. suburbs I discovered that the photographers for the magazine held such a lofty perch at the magazine, rarely was there any turnover. “If you’re working for the best, why leave?”

Also, every issue seemed to have a map of whatever topic was the main feature of that magazine. These weren’t just plain maps, like you would see in Mapquest or Google Earth, but exacting detailed documents that were overwhelming in their detail.

All the relatives are gone now, and I assume the storehouses of Nat Geos that family members had are gone, too.

And, with iPads and computers and other technology, folks can get Nat Geos in so many formats that can be tailored to the needs of your family. But for me, a very good memory of childhood is as simple as a shelf of very old Nat Geos that are just waiting to release their secrets and stories whenever I could pick up a copy.