"I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven."
green stuff woven."
The summer between ninth and tenth grade I found a little brown hardcover copy of Leaves of Grass, what I now realize was a facsimile of the slender 1855 first edition, in the greeting cards section of Yerington's now-defunct Sprouse Reitz store among those little hardcover gift books of sentiments and hopeful glurge that you might bring to an invalid you didn't know very well but were forced to visit. It had the frontispiece of young Walt, "one of the roughs," an old fashioned clear font, and was priced well within my baby-sitting income, which I usually squandered on fancy, useless pens and colored nail polish. I think I sort of knew who Whitman was by reputation, certainly had had to read "O Captain! My Captain!" in middle school, and may have been vaguely hoping for something a tad racy, a bit like the wedding chapter from The Godfather, which had been making the rounds at school, or Fear of Flying, which the couple I babysat for had tucked away behind the TV and which I was reading on Friday nights after their kids were in bed. So I bought it. And read it in the back seat of the Newport when the Schaechterles made our biennial drive to see the relatives in Colorado and Kansas. It was nothing like I had imagined--which was probably what Whitman's contemporaries thought, come to think of it--and more than I expected, although I could not have understood it all then. In Kansas I talked about it briefly with my older sister, who had studied English at university. On the way back to Nevada I read it again. Bits of "Song of Myself" burble up into consciousness unbidden, and I always teach it when I can (the delights of being an Americanist). That particular volume, though, is long gone, victim of too many moves and too many purges of literary overstock. But I want to take a moment today to thank that corporate buyer, who must have picked up a gross of facsimile editions for some unaccountable reason and distributed them to the greeting cards sections of Sprouse Reitz stores across the west--a gift for social and emotional invalids you didn't know very well, like me.