That experience sent my mind ambling down a path it had not been down in years — my family’s first set of encyclopedias.
I learned to spell encyclopedia at a fairly early age. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, but I did watch Jiminy Cricket on Disney. I can still recall the little tune he sang ENCY—CLO—PEDIA.
In the early 1960’s a salesman knocked on our door in West Pratt. He was selling World Book Encyclopedias.
Not many salesmen got to the front porch, much less got a chance to sit in our living room and drink a glass of sweet tea.
But this one did. He gave his spiel, and the words he used must have resonated with my mom, because he got a chance to get to second base — actually showing us the books.
The salesman laid a cloth on our kitchen table and handled the books as if they were fine crystal. He laid a few out so we could get a better look. They were bound in red leather, and the edges of the pages were trimmed in gold.
My mother was frugal to the point of squeezing her dollars so tightly that George Washington thought he had asthma.
The kids left the kitchen so that mama could talk to the salesman about the price. I don’t remember how much they were, but even then, they were very expensive. I was 9 and my older brother and sister were in high school. I know my mom thought long and hard about what it would take to pay for the books, but all three of us were in school at the time, and education was VERY important to her.
Apparently the salesman knocked the ball out of the park because she agreed to buy the books.
She paid them off in installments with money she made washing and ironing clothes for people around Dora.
My dad had a job, but it took all the money he made to keep us fed, so mama paid for most of the extras by doing laundry.
A few days later the salesman delivered the books. I can remember sitting on the kitchen table pouring through the pages, traveling to places I had never imagined: London, Prague and Minnesota.
I also learned about other things, like aardvarks. Who knew there was an animal with such a strange name?
The pages were thin as a whisper and they smelled of knowledge.
In a way, those books were like the World Wide Web without the porn.
A few years ago when we had to sell my mom’s house, I went through looking for the World Book Encyclopedias, but I couldn’t find them.
I’m guessing she gave them to someone who had kids that might need them. I’d like to think that whoever wound up with the books got a chance to travel to places they’d never imagined.