Friday, June 29, 2012


I was curious about something today so I whipped out my iPhone, touched the Wikipedia icon and had the answer within a matter of seconds.
That experience sent my mind ambling down a path it had not visited 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. (Video below).
In the early 1960's a salesman knocked on our door in West Pratt. He was selling World Book Encyclopedias.
Not a lot of 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 speil 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 handled the books as if it were fine crystal.  He laid a cloth on our kitchen table, and placed the book on it with care 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.
We 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 nine 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 in 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 flipping through the pages; traveling to places I had never imagined. London, Prague, and Minnesota.
I also learned about other things too. 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.
A few years ago when we had to sell my mom's house, and 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.


  1. I remember in the 4th grade I began longing and wishing for our very own set of World Book. When I was in the sixth grade my parents were able to get a set. My brother was in the 11th grade and I my little brother and sister were in the lower elementary grades. My best friend read the entire set of World Book Encyclopedias the summer before our ninth grade year. I never met anyone else who had done that until I met my wife who told me she had done the same thing!

  2. We got our big Webster dictionary by section with pink stamps from the store and a set of encyclopedias as well from the grocery store, one volume at a time.
    I think good things are worth waiting for and it gave you a chance to really read the book.

  3. We must have been rich. We had World Book and some other brand of encyclopedia, too. I don't remember what it was called, but the books each had a different pattern on the back. We would lay out those books and build houses with blocks on them. The pattern on the book was the floor of the house. Oh, we used them for homework, too.


  4. I used to love looking through my grandmother's encyclopedias. Now a days, my kids don't even know what they are. :(

  5. I remember those salesmen. I don't even know what happened to our set but I loved to just get them out and read, read, read. I think kids miss out on things without having the tactile feeling of a book like that.


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