Sunday, November 25, 2018

black friday, mussy ball, and the story of the bookcase and the dictionary

On Black Friday I went to the Main Street Antique Mall in Ishpeming and came home with a bookcase and a dictionary.

The bookcase was exactly what I wanted, and the dictionary was, well, as the bookcase was being used to display items, it had to be cleared off before I could take it home and David, the proprietor, who is always good for a jaw, preferred to clear it himself which I understood as there were items of glass and china, and while he did the clearing we gabbed, and there are three shelves to the bookcase, and then the top, and it is three feet long and has a separate, curved end piece making it overall about four feet long, and it is very solid, dark wood with a polish, more than three feet tall, and there are a few little details that give it a kind of classic, library-ish look. Only on the bottom shelf, the last to be cleared, were books displayed, and by the time David got to them I figured I should look them over because now, of course, I had plenty of room for books, and the first book David removed and placed on a chair in front of me was a ratty, tattered 1924 dictionary. The last thing I needed. But what a find! I snatched it up. The deep reddish cover with gold lettering was creased and warped and coming unglued. It was frayed, splayed, well-played. I began flipping through it. It was marvelously pliable and surprisingly holding together, despite a torn, loose, missing page or two, and there were all the usual and unusual words,
“ … thoroughly up-to-date … hundreds of the new technical terms, new war words, and old military expressions revived by the Great War—”.
Of course, the last thing I needed was an old raggedy dictionary with new war words circa 1924, but I checked the price, written in pencil on the frontispiece, and it was $3, so maybe, and David was still piling books on the chair, saying something about books from our childhood, something about “Dragnet,” and flipping now toward the back of the dictionary I saw “Glossary of Base Ball Terms.”
Laced the ball, batted it very hard.
Lamps, eyes of the batter.
I told David that I had to have this dictionary, there are base ball terms from 1924, and it seems to be only $3, and he looked at the frontispiece and said yes, take it.

Perusing the dictionary now, I see there are many sections including one devoted to automobile terms, one with golf terms, “Christian Names of Men and Women,” “American Casualties in the World War”; and there is a section on grammar, and one on the history of the English language (and now I get mental flashes of words as immigrants, migrants, moving, flowing, traveling, intermingling, coming together from different lands, rolling off different tongues, traversing different times to become one language that is ever-changing, growing, shrinking), and, at last, I find the Table of Contents which includes “Language of Flowers,” “Language of Gems,” “Nicknames of Famous People” (quick—who was known as “The Wasp of Twickenham”?), “Famous Characters of Fiction”—it goes on and on, all
“Profusely Illustrated with 16 Full Page Color Plates, Four Pages of Drawings and 32 Pages of Half-tones from Photographs.”

The dictionary weighs at least a couple of pounds, is a few inches thick, measures something like five by seven, and obviously is so much more than words. Once owned by Anna Karlovic and Mary Karlovic, they, or someone, circled several words in pencil including “rosy,” “ring,” “rope,” “rear,” “romp,” “pray,” and “Fahrenheit.” Both “pear” and “peat” are underlined. And amid the “S”es they, or someone, tucked a clipping of a magazine photo of a woman in a snazzy outfit.

And then there are those base ball terms. As David cleared the last books from my new bookcase (which, he told me, as we were carrying it out, once belonged to a woman who never married, had a little dog, was a corporate secretary working downstate, came home to Ishpeming when she retired, lived a good long life, died, left some of her estate to UPAWS), I shared with him a 1924 base ball term that to me seemed particularly useful, that might come in handy on certain days, those days when, you know, nothing seems to go right, everything seems to go wrong, and it’s all just a big fat mess. The term is
Mussy ball, a game which is full of blunders.
(The answer: Alexander Pope, “The Wasp of Twickenham.”)

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