In a lonely place,
I encountered a sage
Who sat, all still,
Regarding a newspaper.
He accosted me:
“Sir, what is this?”
Then I saw that I was greater,
Aye, greater than this sage.
I answered him at once,
“Old, old man, it is the wisdom of the age.”
The sage looked upon me with admiration.
Stephen Crane, Black Riders
In the top of the trunk, carefully folded, later enshrouded in the fancy zippered plastic bags that sheets and such come in, were old newspapers. My mom had saved them because they were “history.” There was something with headlines from “V-Day” which meant nothing to me and something from “VE-Day” also meant nothing to me.
“I bet you don’t even know what that is,” she said.
I didn’t. I was seven.
The sweet ephemera of poorly made paper topped with the passion of ink. A newspaper.
The old trunk now has a few bits of ephemera from my life — the Chinese equivalent of Life magazine from the 1980s, a few earlier, during the Cultural Revolution. No little girl is going to look at those treasures, not at all, not even unimpressed.
There were old farm and bunkhouses around where I lived as a kid. They sat teetering and crooked on land that has been plotted and built by now. Exploring in those old houses my brother and I sometimes found heavy paper sheets that were used under the big printing wheels. The sheets had been used as insulation in the little old frontier houses. Old newspapers were glued to the walls, too, the wisdom of some age used wisely by the people of the age. The pages were stained and torn. Sometimes a fashionable woman from the 1920s advertised something — hats, hosiery, shoes. We looked around wondering about the people, looking for artifacts, missing the wisdom of the age, but somehow getting the message.