Proudly, the complete set of World Book Encyclopedias, circa 1974, retained their burgundy luster and flaunted their
gold lettered spines. They stood in a towering stack in a dusty corner of the ‘catchall’ room. Prior to being relegated to that oblivion, they’d held a place of honor in the book shelves of every book case in every house she’d lived in for over forty years and six moves. Today would be the proverbial end of the road for them. She slowly packed them into sturdy shopping bags, testing each for weight, before schlepping them out to the car. Sadly, they had outlived their usefulness, just as, occasionally, she thought she had done. She’d wanted to donate them, but local thrift stores and four regional libraries said no. Was it the dump or the burn barrel for them?
Why so attached, she asked herself? Back in the seventies, when a neighborhood woman came knocking at the door with her sale pitch “Hi! I’m here to tell you about the World Book Encyclopedias and how they can improve your life” she’d embraced the opportunity. An investment in her kids’ educational future, she’d impulsively rationalized, though the financial commitment loomed large.
Still, following the optimistic presentation and the honest energy the woman, Sharon, had projected that day, she’d asked the woman to come back at the end of the week.
“Oh, sure, you want to think about it?”
“No, my horoscope said not to sign any important contracts or papers today.”
“Of course.” The woman stifled her surprise and left with a smile. It was a semi-rural neighborhood where the norm does not include astrological leanings. But Sharon had duly returned on Friday to write up the contract and take the deposit.
The books, all 26 volumes plus two dictionaries, had been paid for in monthly installments for over a year. They received one volume at a time. Though still in the lower grades, her kids had bought in to the excitement, watching the collection grow on the shelf, volume by volume. The encyclopedias had come in handy in the following non-Googling years, when only libraries were available for research, and she’d been working and unable to get the kids there before closing time. She herself had particularly appreciated the “H” volume, as it had transparent overlays for the human body, showing the bones and muscle components separately. She loved the “I” volume too, for its pictures and info on Ireland, where she dreamed about visiting one day. She’d inspected foreign countries with the kids, pointed out places of interest on the maps. overseen their book reports.
After the kids were grown and the encyclopedias had outlived their usefulness, they maintained their book shelf status, but were used rarely. There was a period when she’d chosen a random volume and taken it on a road trip with her partner, quizzing him on people, places and things and reading aloud when they found something of interest.
Still, bravely and with a sense of purpose on a blustery January day, she’d offloaded five bags of her sentimental heavy gems to a used book store. The book store owner said she planned to drill holes in them, and use them in an upcoming window display on DNA. Okay then. They felt like her grown kids, it was hard letting go.