Guest blogger Art Shiver: A Big Book for Christmas

One year there was an especially heavy box colorfully wrapped with a wide green and red ribbon and placed under the tree among the other Christmas presents from my parents.

I was nine years old and assumed anything so heavy must be a grand gift. Shaking it gave no indication what the box contained. The agony of wondering what it could be increased in the days leading up to Christmas Eve, the night my family traditionally shared presents.

Rather than opening the much-anticipated hefty box first, I put it aside quite certain it would be the most exciting gift I had ever received. As everyone watched, I tore away the shiny holiday wrappings and revealed the prize. A book! A book? My parents gave me a book for Christmas? Not just any book, a huge, book! “You’ll never be at a loss for words,” my dad joked. I held back my emotions as I feigned delight.

My parents had given me Webster’s New International Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Edition, 5” thick, 12” X 9”, printed on India paper, published by G&C Merriam Company. It had thumb tabs, plates, and full-color illustrations. It did not even need batteries.

While I was not initially excited, over the years I learned the value of that big book. It was my homework companion all through junior high school and high school. It was the first book packed when I headed off to college. My big book claimed a special place on my desk when I took a job as a journalist. Eventually, my newsroom colleagues discovered it and, despite its weight, passed it daily from cubicle to cubicle, as deadlines loomed.
Now, more than half a century later, up-to-date, online dictionaries have made obsolete my old, worn tome of many words. Nevertheless, Mr. Webster continues in service as a doorstop, faithfully holding open my office door. When I see the tattered, vintage dictionary, I recall the Christmas when I was nine years old and the gift that became one of the most important books in my life.

Art Shiver
Charlotte, N.C.
November 13, 2012