I can still remember that morning when I was nine. Mr. Richards, our local World Book Encyclopedia salesman, sat on our front porch and sold my mother this 1955 edition. I remember the smell of the samples, the colors of the different bindings, the salesman's pitch about the positive influence on my education, and mother signing on the dotted line for the installment plan. It was the summer before I was to start the fourth grade, and the beginning of the end of my childhood.
Mother told daddy after the fact that evening. I remember him being mildly annoyed about not being consulted. But if he had any real objections they did not keep the boxed volumes from arriving a few weeks later. I was so excited. I remember helping open the boxes, putting them in order, and carefully looking through each one.
I had always been a reader. In my school library in the Childhood of Famous Americans series published by Bobbs-Merrill with the orange - and sometimes blue - covers were my favorites. But this was different. This was grown up stuff.
It didn't happen all at once - the World Book initially was a bit over my head - but within a couple of years I would often pick up a volume and keep turning pages until something caught my fancy. I would read until satisfied and repeat the process. By this time my father had built an addition to our house which included the bookcase where they still reside and the window seat below where I would read for hours on end. Mother complained that I would rather read than eat.
Initially it would have been hard to credit my academic success to the World Book, for I had little. I was an indifferent student by the time I reached high school, a worse one by the time I finished. I was bright enough, my teachers said. But I did not apply myself. True. The classroom seem small to me by then; my attention was easily diverted. I was more interested in sports, cars, and that rock and roll on the AM radio. And I did not know it then, but the 60's were coming to get me.
But I had developed on that window seat with those red World Book's a love of reading, the printed word, and learning. Those loves would later form the foundation of my better-late-than-never attempts to educate myself, with - or in spite of - the assistance of institutions of higher learning.
I have often wondered what would have happened to me if my mother had not signed on those dotted lines that summer morning.