I glanced in the rearview mirror of my father’s pickup truck and watched as the city and the interstate slowly disappeared from my view. An hour and a half later, we exited the interstate and meandered our way down two-lane country roads through the East Texas countryside where cotton bolls were ripe for picking and the leafy corn stalks were ready for harvesting. I, on the other hand, was unripe and ill-prepared for the college experience that awaited me a few more miles down that country road.
After arriving on campus, my parents waited in their pickup while I checked into my dorm. Before they left, Mother hugged me, slipped me a twenty-dollar bill, handed me a package wrapped in brown paper, and said: "You'll need this. We'll see you in December."
They drove away, leaving me to fight back the tears as I calculated how many days lie ahead of me until December, and how I’d make twenty dollars last from September until December.
Later that evening, I unwrapped Mother's package, unveiling a hardbound copy of Roget's International Thesaurus. What a strange gift, I thought as I opened the title page and found Mother's handwritten inscription on the title page: “May you come to love and use the nuances in words. Know I’m with you always. Love, Mother, September 1970".
Although her sentimentality touched me, I naively believed I'd never use the thesaurus. The next day, however, I learned I'd need a thesaurus for my freshman English class. How could Mother have known I’d need a thesaurus? I choked back the tears, remembering how Mother had always been one step ahead of me, anticipating my needs. Now, though, she wasn’t with me and the reality of college and adulthood suddenly loomed large over me. How will I survive without her? But Mother’s spirit and lingering guidance remained with me throughout college and I survived in large part because of her influence over me.
The memory of those college days faded like an old photograph until the day the digital cable line to my house was cut, severing my Internet connection and eliminating access to my online thesaurus. With a manuscript deadline looming, I struggled to find the perfect word until I remembered my Roget's was tucked neatly on the shelf behind me. So, I opened its musty-smelling, dog-eared pages—lost again in the tactile adventure of turning from page to page and searching for exactly the right word.
I delighted in the deeper connection I felt with the words and their nuanced meanings, nuances ofttimes missed while rushing through an online thesaurus. I felt Mother’s spirit as turned to the title page and re-read the decade’s old inscription. I smiled, for Mother probably anticipated this day knowing I’d always need my faithful thesaurus as well as her spirit and ever-present guidance.