Grolier & Co.
safely ensconced in a Tennessee bookcase
I remember that long-ago day almost as if it was yesterday. I was six years old and we were living in Glendora, California. I particularly remember that day because when I was playing outside I had found a rusty old razor blade and accidentally cut myself with it.
While trying to stop the dripping blood, my mind was racing with dire warnings about sharp, rusty things. You'll get blood poisoning and die. You'll get lockjaw.
The thought of having to have my mouth pried open with a crowbar in order to ingest a hamburger was a fate worse than death. Eventually I forgot about the cut and the razor blade. It's probably unnecessary to mention that I survived.
That was also the day when the traveling salesman came to our door. He was selling books - specifically the Grolier Encyclopedia and Book of Knowledge. To say that my father was staunchly opposed to salesmen is a gross understatement. He was extremely hostile at first, then merely argumentative. If my mother hadn't stepped in as an impartial mediator, the door would have been promptly slammed in the salesman's face.
Book of Knowledge
My father was one helluva tough nut to crack and in time I think the salesman was actually sweating blood, but in the end - miraculously - dear ol' Dad acquiesced and the contract was signed.
Popular Science and Lands and Peoples
My father reinforced my fear by constantly warning me not to "ruin" the new books, and even more constantly reminding me that they cost $200. An enormous investment for books back then.
As a child I was a voracious reader. I'd read unabridged editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when I was eight. By the time I was ten I was reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
My father was always quick to rain on my reading parade. "You're always hiding inside the house reading," he'd snap. "Why the hell don't you go out and play like the other kids?"
His attitude suddenly changed after we got the Grolier books. "Why the hell aren't you ever reading the new books?" he'd bark. "I paid $200 for them and they're going to waste."
I loved the new books - - but I wasn't about to ingest a total of fifty volumes in one sitting. Good things take time. Over the years they provided an immense amount of information and reading pleasure.
My father - perpetually convinced that I wasn't reading them enough - never failed to remind me of the books. Even when I was a teenager I'd hear the same mantra: "I paid $200 for those damn books. When the hell are you gonna read them?"
His attitude didn't change when I was in my 20's. And 30's.
"I paid $200 for those goddamn books and you never even opened them!"
He was completely oblivious of how often I did read the books and how much I enjoyed them. No amount of persuasion could convince him otherwise.
In my 40's I was almost finding humor in the mantra that I knew so well. The books were in a bookcase at my parent's house. A mere glimpse of them would cue my father to grumble.
"I wasted $200 on those goddamn books and all they did was sit on the shelf gathering dust."
The books came into my possession after my parents died. Acute sentimentality has inspired me to keep them.
When I was in the frenzied process of moving from Texas to Tennessee, I hastily (and carelessly) tied the books together with twine and tape (which seriously marred the binding).
When the movers rudely informed me that they wouldn't take anything that wasn't secured in a box, I quickly began jamming every one of the Grolier books into boxes.
And I grumbled to myself:
My father paid $200 for these books, and I'll be damned if I'm going to leave them in Texas!