Remembering the Yellow Book: By Laud E. Nyampong Freeman
Last night, the goddess of sleep denied me passage to her kingdom. Reason? I carried a contraband in my bloodstream – caffeine. She would not sprinkle sleep dust over my eyes, so I decided to take a trip to the memory storehouse, praying the keeper of the gates would not also find reason to deny me passage. My prayer was answered, access granted and soon I stood in the vestibule to the inner chambers of the storehouse. The iron curtains of the forgotten past parted before me with the ease of a hot knife on a cake of Danish butter. Faster than I could say “I”, I was in Essikadu, near Sekondi – in the home where Obaapanyin Efua Badu cut the cord linking me to my mother some forty odd years ago.
I stood in front of grandfather’s shelf. He was a man who loved to drink. A deep drinker and a drinker of many things, he drank almost his entire lifetime, even in his twilight years, until his hands grew feeble and wobbly and his vision dimmed too low. But grandpa drank not from bottles – he did from books. He would read about grapevines, winepresses, breweries, liquor distilleries, wine cellars, bottles and even books from books. He was a liberal thinker who said “a man may drink if he so wished, but not to a state of drunken stupor. Intoxicate the gods with strong wine, and when they are happy, lay before them your plea. But ask not for fish. Seek that they bless you with the wisdom to fish”. Before this wise man’s knowledge fount I stood, and it still had my reverence, as though it were a shrine ad perpetuam memoriam.
Upon the third of the five-tiered mahogany bookshelf, sandwiched between archaic books with confusing titles and even more confusing Victorian contents, sat the Yellow Book. I recalled that Grandfather’s copy had a mild, ever-present, spiritually-soothing fragrance within its pages. I could not mentally reenact the fragrance. Neither could I relive its subtle sensation upon my olfactory lobes. But I recalled, to good effect, that the Yellow Book brought God real close. And God was not just close – HE spoke to children – to us. If you wanted to see HIM in living colour, and hear HIM speak in that voice reserved for HIS little dearies, you just did a random flip of the Yellow Book’s pages. Whichever page you landed on, you, without fail, were sure to find God asking smilingly “fancy a convo?”
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I spent four years studying the science and art of Publishing. Considering that the career basket held a bouquet of options, you could say that I must love the printed text to have chosen that career pathway, and you would be right. I love the printed text – It has faithfully stood as the means by which mortals immortalise the evergreen wisdom of the Saints and Sages who grace our world. I love words; I admire the wits of wordsmiths – how they nimbly weave words with artistic dexterity to make beautiful literary tapestries. An orator’s stage rant is music to my ears; the accompanying motions, a soothing sight for my weary eyes. It couldn’t be any truer – words created the world!
But how different things were in our tender years! At age five, the printed text in the Yellow Book had no value to me, and certainly not to my friends. The unwritten creed was simple – any permutation or combination of letters of the English alphabet was not our friend. Small wonder that it remained an unwritten code. Only fear of the rod impelled us to give up play time to firm our weak grip on two-letter words…s-o, so…g-o, go. To us, reading was a burden – a heavy one at that! That load was our teachers’, not ours. We would not suffer our fragile spines to bear such. Ours was to listen, focus a little and fidget a lot.
Our antipathy for the printed text however contrasted the love we had for the illustrations… or put in a more homely term, the drawings in the Yellow Book. The drawings were our joy! They meant to us what nectar means to the hummingbird. They told whole stories, not just visual snapshots of events within stories. They did not look or feel like the artistic expressions of a man’s imagination; they looked and felt like live scenes paused upon pages. You only needed press play in your head to relive them. The colours seemed true to nature; they worked our imaginations and stimulated our spirits. You felt a real affinity with the stories – a déjà vu – as though you were in the thick of things when it happened, where it happened. Upon those colourful pages in the Yellow Book, we also found heroes, heroines and villains.
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We knew some of the stories in the Yellow Book quite well, courtesy Aunty Beatrice and Aunty Millicent from Sunday school. For the stories we only knew in part, we filled in the blanks, compacted, smoothened, sandpapered and polished. When we did not know the story behind the drawing, we created our own story to fit – like a talented rap artiste who flows beautifully and harmoniously to any prefabricated beat. Even more admirably, we used our God-given power of conviction to legitimise our own stories.
The inner world of a child is Paradise unspoilt indeed! We had no doubts; we raised no red flags. No biblical exegesis was needed. We questioned not why the male Israelites in the Yellow Book wore ankle-length tunics with matching long beards; or why they dwelled in tents and drank from wells, not faucets; or why they wore leather sandals and not Adidas sneakers. We were drawn to the rich colours in the Book, yet we were colour blind – for none questioned why there was no dark-skinned, kinky-haired child on any page. We did not care to know Father Abraham’s political party, Noah’s maritime experience before the flood or the Good Samaritan’s religion. Life was not a complex maze bespeckled with isms and schisms. We were children and we simply lived and loved – and laughed – and had faith and dreamed freely. Verily, to the pure, God is all and God is in all.
Still mentally rooted to the spot in front of the old bookshelf, I now stretched forth my right hand to grab the Yellow Book. But like Moses of old and Canaanland, my mind’s eyes would only behold the Book. Alas, my reminiscence was suddenly interrupted by the crow of the digital rooster on my mobile phone. I instantly jolted back into the awareness that I was lying on an odum wood bed in Accra, not standing in front of an African mahogany bookshelf in Essikadu. It was 11:35 pm – time to pop my last set of anti- malaria pills. Mercy me! The things that would enter my bloodstream in one night! How long I had been in the inner chambers of the storehouse, I do not know. But it did feel like time well-spent, albeit with an anticlimax. The end felt like that annoying childhood experience when an exciting game was suddenly aborted because your home studies teacher arrived earlier than usual.
And so did the Yellow Book serve as our companion – our gospel – our virtual world, long before Ananse extended strands of his digital web into our airspace. Truly, we owe a part of our childhood joy to the Yellow Book. My friends and I have since grown. Some have passed on. I cannot speak for those living, but I can for myself. There are things I regret having done in adult years. There are lingering regrets I grapple with – things I should and could have done, but did not do. Oddly enough, one of them is when I found a copy of the Yellow Book on a shelf in a charity shop on Streatham High Road, SW16. An old print published in 1978, it had been well preserved and was very reasonably priced. I bought books from the shop that day. To my everlasting regret, none had a yellow-coloured hardbound cover with a glittering red title that read My Book of Bible Stories.
Laud E. Nyampong Freeman
The writer is a Communications, PR and Marketing Consultant with close to two decades of professional experience across several industries. He may be contacted on Tel: (GH) 0268811122 and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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