The Look It Up Club

Here’s something I wrote, inspired by the challenge “look up.” It’s not meant to be profound — just a light bit of memoir.

The Look It Up Club

Beside the Rock River, downstream from Rock Falls and upstream from Rock Island, nestles the small farm town of Lyndon, Illinois. Perhaps not so much nestles as puzzles, wondering what happened. When first founded, Lyndon was designated as the capitol of Whiteside County, but shortly after, the county seat was moved to the bustling town of Morrison. Lyndon, meanwhile, nestled and swelled to a population of 600, given a generous rounding up by the census bureau.

When my family shifted residence from the booming blue-collar town of Rock Falls to a small farm outside of Lyndon, there was another shift in the wind. The Top-Ten radio stations that featured Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie, and a fresh young balladeer, Pat Boone, were being infiltrated by a new sound, from artists like Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the Big Bopper. Changes were afoot. Who’d have thought you could have a Number One hit with a song about a hound dog?

Changes were coming to the classroom too. In my schoolroom where the combined grades five and six were ably juggled by the legendary Mrs. Emmonds, who had taught most of my classmates’ parents, a mystery man appeared one day. Lyndon School had purchased the World Book Encyclopedia, a new publication aimed at elementary students. The mystery man was evidently part of the deal. He stayed on from Monday to Friday, with one period a day devoted to the gleaming white workbooks distributed to each of us. We were suddenly pledges in the World Book-sponsored Look It Up Club. By looking up and answering all the questions in the workbook, we became official members, each of us receiving a piece of paper with Look It Up Club at the top and our name on it, gracefully penned in by Mrs. Emmonds.

When your top entertainment includes throwing rocks at snapping turtles at Walker’s Slough, sipping coke and listening to the hound dog song on the jukebox in the Sip’n’Bite Cafe, and watching the high school basketball team lose another game, the World Book came on like fireworks. It was full of dazzling color: maps, photos, diagrams. It told you where things were, like Rhodesia and Ceylon. It had diagrams of how things worked, like electric toasters and automotive gear shafts. It was amazing, and understandable. It was the World Wide Web in a set of volumes with pebbly covers that made you want to pick them up. The only thing more exciting was the annual summer week at scout camp.

That was a long time ago, 1955 or 56 — a different era. Yet the population of Lyndon has remained constant to this day. Given that most of us left after our school years, the constancy is a bit of a mystery. I sometimes surmise there’s a kind of psychic warp where the river bends in Lyndon, compelling newcomers to settle there, maintaining the balance. That means new kids to educate. Kids sprouting ear buds, carry iPods to school. Kids who never heard of Rhodesia or Ceylon, but who occasionally listen to a “classic oldie” about a hound dog.

Kids more aware of things, who would never find the World Book a match for the World Wide Web, and who would likely think the Look It Up Club hokey. As Heraclitus stated: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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13 Responses to The Look It Up Club

  1. I have my Look-It-Up Club certificate (diploma?) squirreled away somewhere in my parents’ attic, from the early 60s in NE Arkansas.

  2. Thank you! I’m in a memoirs class, and I mentioned my own We-never-guess-we-look-it-up club memories, in class a week ago. I still have my pin from grade school in the 1940s.

  3. Gene Wilburn says:

    Alice, thanks so much for dropping by to read this. You’re a couple years ahead of me on the Look It Up Club. By the mid-50’s all we got was a piece of paper with our name on it :-)

    Gene

  4. Cissy Killgo says:

    I, too, still have my look it up club certificate. I’ve been threatening to frame it and place it in my office to prove that I am a bona-fide member (does your membership ever expire?)

  5. I know I still have my pin from the “We never guess we look it up” club from 5th grade in 1963. I was looking for it this morning but couldn’t find it.
    What a great memory!

  6. Gene Wilburn says:

    Cissy, Patti, thanks for dropping by. I’m delighted to hear your stories about the Look It Up Club! Ah, the world before Google.

    Gene

  7. Dennis says:

    I would love to have a copy of the certificate. I lost mine.
    E-mail one to judydennis2@verizon.net. What memories. I still look every word that i don’t know.

  8. Joe Clarke says:

    PoppaJoe says–I remember well the “we never guess, we look it up club” from the late 40s and early 50s. I mentioned it to my son and he looked it up on the net and was surprised it existed. The “Grit” newspsper was a money maker back then for a lot of young boys.

  9. Ruben Watson says:

    My mother just found my certificate which I got while in St. Columba in Hopewell Junction, NY in 1969, I believe. I actually have 2 of them because my name was mis-spelled on the first one. Gotta keep it so it goes into archives with my birth certificate.

  10. Pam says:

    I remember doing this in third grade, which would have been 1962-63. I’ve mentioned this from time to time to friends and family, and no one else remembers it. I remember being proud of my buttons and certificates. Encyclopedias fascinated me.

  11. Catherine says:

    Hi everyone! What neat memories! Today I bought some things in a small auction, there was a small round basked of sewing buttons and the tiny pin “We never guess, we look it up” on it. In the center is an open book outlined in blue with a red pencil laying across it and the letters “F” and “E” on the pages. Does this ring a bell to anyone? Could it be the initials of a specific group, or did they stand for something more general? Curious, just trying to give a roundabout date to it. Very cool! I also found a small American Junior Red Cross fold over tab pin/button. Love these mysteries! Thanks for any help!

    Catherine in AZ

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