Friday, January 7, 2011

Books of Knowledge tucked neatly into a hand held device

I just read on Yahoo that encyclopedias will be dinosaurs in the future for all babies born this year. With hand-held computers, knowledge is a click away.

The Encyclopedia Salesman (True story!)

When I joined my soldier husband in a tiny rural Alaska town, we were young newlyweds. I had a difficult adjustment period moving from a Midwest inner city neighborhood -where nearly everyone owned a dog, and nearly everything we needed was in walking distance -to moving to a remote wilderness town.

I was used to the sights and sounds of the big city where the aromas from ethnic cooking blended on the breeze. Pork steaks sizzled on open charcoal grills, the smells of garlic, green pepper and onion meant someone in the neighborhood was having spaghetti and meatballs, but my favorite smell was bacon sizzling on someone’s stove to be served up with a fresh home grown tomato.

From the big city to a rural town where moose and buffalo traversed our unpaved road, I was lonely and I missed my dog who was back home with my parents. From a lovely little apartment to a rundown trailer. A string of eight ramshackle trailers in eight crayon colors stretched down the gravel road - I felt alienated. From a thriving five block shopping district where small shop owners and five and dime stores displayed their wares to a tiny two block town with one general store - I felt displaced. It was the bakeries sprinkled throughout our Midwest neighborhood that I missed most. I craved pastries, but the general store in town didn’t sell anything that came close to fresh chocolate long johns or cheese danish. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; we never had any extra money; none of the newlywed military families who lived off post did.

One Saturday morning, I heard a car pull into the gravel drive at the far end of the trailer court. I peeked out the window and saw a man lift a heavy satchel from the trunk. I assumed he was visiting a neighbor. A few minutes later he knocked on our door and asked if he could come in and show us his product. He was a traveling encyclopedia salesman. I nudged my husband in his ribs, knowing full well that we could not afford them, but he invited the man in anyway. He opened his case and handed us a book, gilded edged Volume A.

“What do you think of this?” he asked as he fanned the pages. Before I could speak my mind, the guy had five volumes spread on the floor. “Eight dollars a month, that’s all it will cost you folks. We can set up a payment plan and you will have this gorgeous set for your future children. I’ll even throw in a children’s set; now how does that sound for eight dollars?”

If we’d had eight extra dollars a month, I sure wouldn’t have bought encyclopedias. I was adamant and said, “We absolutely cannot afford these. They are beautiful, but not at this time.”

Then he started talking faster than an auctioneer, “Twenty-five cents a day, only twenty-five cents a day and you and your family can own this wonderful set. Twenty five cents a day and I’ll even through in a book case for you to display these treasures. What do you say, twenty five cents a day? Don't deprive your children. Twenty-five cents a day.”

My husband looked at me hopefully and said, “Babe, what do you think? It is a good deal.” He put me in an awkward position, and I wanted to scream, 'We don't have children and you hate reading!" but I simply said, “No.”

By the time the salesman had packed up his volumes A-Z, I had two men upset with me. I heard the car engine start up at the end of the trailer court, looked out and saw the salesman’s car pull away. I was relieved.

I was upset with my husband for even thinking we could afford such a luxury and I got tired of defending my position, so I went next door to complain to my best friend. I banged on her door. I rapped again. I called her name. She finally answered.

“What took you so long to answer? Sleeping in?" She stood at the open door but did not invite me in as she usually would. “I hope I’m not disturbing you. I just have to tell you this. Did you see the guy who got out of that white car down at the end of the road? He was some little weird encyclopedia salesman and I’m telling you he was a goof who had a bad comb over and bad breath and a bad sales pitch.”

She was usually as animated as I was, but she stood statue-like with the door narrowly opened and blinked nervously. She narrowed her eyes and shook her head from side to side.

“Yes, really!” I said. Her face contorted.
“Okay, I’ll hurry, I guess you want to get back to hubby, huh? Well listen to this first. The little creep sounded like an auctioneer trying to hawk these encyclopedias. ‘Twenty-five cents, twenty-five cents.’ You’re lucky he didn’t hit you up. Your husband’s like mine; he’d have signed on the dotted line just to make the guy happy. Now I’ve ticked off my husband and that goofy salesman.”

Her eyes flashed wide. She opened the door and her husband yelled, "Come on in." There sat the encyclopedia salesman with his volumes spread wall to wall.

“Hi there again." he shouted, "My partner took the car up to town. We always travel in pairs."

My friend's husband said, “I'm about to sign the contract.”

My face was as red as my friend’s trailer as I stumbled down the stairs backwards and shouted an apology to the salesman. I could hear him and my friend's husband laughing as I ran home.

To this day, my best friend blames me for their purchase of an obsolete set of encyclopedias, circa 1969 that her husband refuses to dispose of. If I were her, I'd throw them out, or at his head!

I'm glad that nowadays knowledge is a digital click away. Times, how they change.


Terri Tiffany said...

LOL I loved this story! Funny thing, my mom called the other day as she is cleaning out the attic. She had a set of encyclopedias and asked if she should keep them. The answer I gave her was easy. No!!

Susan said...

That was funny, Linda. Talk about an embarrassing trailer park moment.

I remember once, when I was a pre-teen, a salesman knocked on the door of my parents' house. I wasn't properly dressed so I dashed into the pantry, which was quite cold. My parents invited the salesman into the kitchen where he stayed a LONG LONG time. Meanwhile, I was hunkered down and shivering in the unheated pantry.

Don't remember what my parents bought, but by the time the guy left, I stumbled out of the pantry, shivering and cold to the bone. My parents forgot I had dashed into the pantry. We sure all got a good laugh that day. ha! Your post reminded me of that incident from so many years ago. Susan

Bookie said...

Funny and well told! I could not only see Alaska, I longed to be in that spaghetti cooking neighborhood!!!!

Linda O'Connell said...

My brother tried to pawn a set of on me. I said, "No Thank you." Thanks for stopping by.

Linda O'Connell said...

I am laughing so hard at YOUR story and can only imagine you shivering in the pantry. Thanks for your comments.

Linda O'Connell said...

Ah the memories!

Pat Wahler said...

Hard to imagine that the trusty encyclopedia has become nearly extinct. It always felt good to have the volumes stacked in perfect order on a bookshelf looking so beautiful and impressive. That's one thing a computer will never be able to do.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Oh my gosh, I didn't even read this post 'cause I had to tell you that I just saw you (and Becky, too) in the Chicken Soup Communique!

How cool is that? Yay, y'all!

Um, now I'll go read your lovely post. :-)

Linda O'Connell said...

I agree, and I'm also not big on the Kindle etc. I prefer to hold the book and turn the pages. So when books become relics and I do too...

Linda O'Connell said...

Yes! Isn't it exciting? This is the second time we made their communique. Now, if I could make it into more of their books.

Stephanie Faris said...

Your friend could have at least warned you to shush!!! That's what I'd tell her when she blames you. I remember encyclopedia salesman. We had a beautiful set I'm sure one of them talked my mom or ex-stepdad into buying. I'd use them for school projects. Now I can pick up my phone and, with a couple of clicks, talk into it and Google will search for whatever I need. Ah, technology!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Very funny story, Linda. Usually I am the one who puts her size-11 foot in her mouth. It's nice to hear I'm not alone...

Linda O'Connell said...

Welcome Stephanie. Thank you for stopping by. I just signed on as a follower of your blog. Times sure have changed. Haven't they?

Linda O'Connell said...

You'd think after forty plus years, I'd have learned, but I still open mouth insert foot.

Karen Lange said...

Oh my! Had to laugh over that one. :) I still prefer real books to ebooks, especially for study purposes.
Have a great weekend,

Linda O'Connell said...

Glad I could make you smile. Thanks for dropping by.

Kim said...

My husband bought those encyclopedias in the late 70s. And when my daughter moved out at 17 to move back in with dad, they went with her.

I don't remember the sales pitch, but I wasn't impressed, either.

I loved the empty space on the bookshelf after they were gone!

Linda O'Connell said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

We had the World Book encyclopedia, with its accompanying Child Craft set. God, I loved them! They were so beautiful. Magic.

One of my only good memories of my father is around the encyclopedia: he read them straight through, and my sister Amy and I would quiz him, giving this fact or that, and seeing if he could identify the subject we had randomly pulled. He never failed us.

Thanks for helping me to remember that.

Tammy said...

Loved that story! And you made me realize still have my encyclopedias!!! It's just that they are the prettiest books I own. Recently ran across a site about things you can build with your obsolete encyclopedias, so guess I have to get out the glue.

Linda O'Connell said...

Hi Julia
Glad I could trigger good memories.

Linda O'Connell said...

Hi Tammy,
Now that's a new one. Imagine a bed of knowledge.