I was so surprised that we could afford them — these golden books. I was only five, but I knew that gold was expensive. The display was just past the shopping carts at Olson’s Supermarket. I stood motionless in front of the golden choices. It was safe in those days to leave a five year old in the book section. My mom reminded me to breathe, and went off to gather the groceries. I knew the routine. When I saw her get in the cash line, I had to make my final decision and come. I held the book in my hand. I wasn’t about to place it on the counter with all that produce. When everything had been priced into the register, I reached the book to the cashier without letting go. She smiled and punched in the 99 cents. The man bagging the groceries said, “You’re gonna wanna carry that yourself.” Yes, I nodded. We all knew the value.
Yesterday we went to Fountaine de Vaucluse, a small village about an hour away. The village of Fontaine de Vaucluse is squeezed into the sharp end of a narrow valley and takes its name from the beautiful and mysterious spring feeding the river Sorgue. This spring comes from deep underground – nobody knows how deep. In the 50s, Jacques Yves Cousteau came with a submersible to explore the depths but did not find the bottom. A paper mill still operates from the rushing water. The paper is beautiful. Each sheet contains this history. The touch of hands. The flow of the water. The strength of the trees.
I stood at the counter to buy, not surprisingly, a small collection of this paper, covered in leather — the color of gold. There was only one of these books. The man searched for the price. Opened one ledger. Then another. There were no scanners. I smiled and traveled back in time. He searched for the price. Dominique checked his watch, keeping track of the parking meter. He eventually found the price. Punched it into the register. Then wrapped the golden book safely.
It’s funny, they say they don’t know how deep this water flows, but I do. Carrying my golden treasure to the car, I am assured, it travels to the very depths of my soul.
May we all know the value of that.