A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 1957

I was in third grade. The Christmas tree was set up in front of our large front room window. My mother had impeccably decorated it as always, painstakingly placing each metallic ice cycle on the branches. There was so many on each branch that by Christmas the tree drooped to the floor under the tremendous weight. I don’t even know if they make or sell ice cycles anymore. No doubt they’ve been removed from the market long ago as they probably contained lead (the weight remember) and were deemed a choking hazard to children and pets. After the big day my mother would remove all of those ice cycles, box them up in the package they came in and save them for the following year, adding a fresh box or two to replace any casualties. This Christmas though I remember more than others from my childhood.

One day I notice new additions to the presents under the tree. You couldn’t help to notice for the two boxes were huge (to me), equal in size perfect cubes. They had to set off to each side of the tree. You couldn’t squeeze them under a tree even without the several pounds of ice cycles. Naturally I had to investigate this. One box was very light as if it was empty and the other so heavy I couldn’t budge it. No names were on them but who else could they be for? I was the only one. Any kid will tell you; the bigger the better and there were two! I suffered immensely until Christmas morning.

After I got through the presents containing shirts, pants and new pajamas it was time for the main event. I don’t recall if it was my choice or they were presented to me in this order but the “empty” box I opened first. It was a globe. I’m sure the disappointment showed on my face. What was I to do with this? Okay I thought, this heavy monster is going to make up for it. I eagerly ripped off the paper and pried open the top. Books? It was a complete set of World Book Encyclopedias. My heart sank. My excitement fizzled out like a balloon full of air and Christmas was done. I resigned myself back to the toys I had opened earlier, which I could not tell you this day what they were, but I remember those encyclopedias.

Later my friend Teena and her older brother asked what was in those two big boxes and I told them. I think she already knew. Teena was my age, in my same third grade class with Mrs. Lahr. It seems that Mrs. Lahr had a job on the side peddling encyclopedias. She would call or visit the homes of all the kids in her class and try to talk the parents into buying a set of encyclopedias for little Johnny or Mary. “It will be a gift he or she will find extremely valuable in these school years ahead. And if you buy now before Christmas you will receive as an added special gift bonus, a revolving 12” globe on a pedestal.” I guess Tina’s parents couldn’t afford it but my mom did. And you know what? Mrs. Lahr was right. I used those encyclopedias all the way through high school. They were great to plagiarize from for reports and assignments. Just rearrange a few words here and there and I was done with the assignment.

But school played a small part with those books. Often I would refer to them for one reason or the other and I would invariably get side-tracked. I would start reading about something else then continue on flipping page after page reading whatever sparked my curiosity. They were great books chock full of photos, illustrations, maps and graphs. I would be entertained for hours. Fifty years later I still had those encyclopedias and when we were going to move to our new home, it was time to let them go. It was then I learned of their new value – worthless. No one wanted them and I couldn’t even give them away to the likes of Goodwill or the Salvation Army. And so it was with a small bit of sadness I placed them in the recycle bin on trash day.

But I haven’t changed any over the years. The Internet has replaced encyclopedias many times over in the sheer volume of information to be had and enjoyed. And yes, I continue to get side-tracked every time I Google a topic.

Have a nice Christmas. Hopefully you too will get a gift that you will always remember.


Sandy's witterings said...

How sad that nobody wants a set of encyclopedia - it's teach them the next time they want to know about something and the internet won't work. I look a lot up on the net but I still have a fair few volumes of reference on paper and use them often. Lets keep our fingers crossed for that endangered species, the book. Though to late for your encylopedias which are on their way to recycling and the next time you buy an egg box, it may just be a little more intelligent than the average.

Have a very good Christmas.

Scott Law said...

I remember when we got our first set of Encyclopedia's, which I learned how to spell from Jiminy Cricket. Ours were brown and we did the same thing you did for homework and for fun learning. They were wonderful in their day, but nothing compared to what we have now. Have a merry Christmas.

She Rides a Bike said...

My mom purchased an encyclopedia volumn each week at the local BiLo supermarket. Not very exciting to a 12-year-old girl but I too found myself picking them up again and again. I was interested in the world outside Greenville and each week would read about another city that I could one day move to as an adult.

What Karen Sees said...

What a wonderful Christmas story. I remember my Mom carefully putting that tinsel on our trees one strand at a time, too. I would eagerly start to help, but would soon get bored with the tedious process and start flinging them on, hand fulls at a time, much to my mother's horror! Ah, the memories. I wish you and Sinbad a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!

T. Becque said...

Great story and pictures to go with it! I had a set of National Geographic books, each set on a particular topic (space, animals, etc.); I was hooked on them and I blame them for my desire to travel. Merry Christmas!

AphotoAday said...

Well, I've got to give you top honors for this post... One of the best I've read all year out of anyone.

Oh yeah, for a kid our age Christmas was a very important event. Greedy little bastards, weren't we?

John @ Beans and I on the Loose said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Sandy - good point about the egg box. I never considered I may be pouring my milk out from my old encyclopedias.

Scott - You are absolutely correct. Every time I spell that word Jimmy is singing it to me in my head.

SRaB - And did mom buy a new plate, saucer or cup each week to add to her dinner set? Mine did. After that it was the LIFE series of nature books.

Karen - same here. Mine were all a tangled mess. I think I got frustrated and left before she shooed me away.

T.Becque - My interest in Nat. Geos were any articles about African tribes which included photos of the topless women. Hey, I was only 12 years old. I've moved on since then. Really.

Finally AphotoAday, your comment just made it for my whole experience in blogging. That meant a lot. A big thank you!

Janie said...

For a true book lover like yourself, I know this was a painful experience to "let them go". I guess the power of the internet has taken over for many of us. Back in that time period I myself would of never imagined such a powerful unit as computers.