I’m packing boxes, lots of them for this move so we’re ready to leave when it happens. I look at those encyclopedias. What to do with them? Do they go or stay? Rick and I boxed them up and he persuaded me to say good-bye. Good-bye to the World Book Encyclopedia and good-bye to the Funk and Wagnalls.
As I take a break from packing, I sit on the porch swing next to the blooming bush, and I watch the bees, wasps and flies feast on the tiny white flowers. It occurs to me that asking the question in my title is like asking these winged insects, “How many blooms are you going to light on?”
How many blooms will he visit?
Busy little guy.
He was all over the bush.
I remember the saleswoman came to our house selling the World Book Encyclopedia.
“If you choose the blue set, it stains,” she informed us.
I looked at the lovely white and red sets that didn’t stain and thought they looked quite handsome. But I knew it was my parents’ decision and not mine.
Of course, my parents chose the blue set. I don’t recall protesting, although it was a mystery to me, why they did choose the cloth bound, prone- to-staining set. At age ten I could see the red or white set just looked nicer. Only when I became a parent and investigated purchasing a set, I realized the blue set was
cheaper less expensive. That was an ah-ha moment. As much as I thought everyone had an encyclopedia and should have one in their home, it occurred to me having one was a luxury.
Still you can’t put a price on knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge. Whether you had the Encyclopedia Britannica (maroon), Americana (navy blue), or the World Book (blue that stains, or handsome red or white), the World Book opened a “world” to me.
When Mother downsized, she passed the blue volumes on to us (unstained) and the World Book white annuals that updated years of worldly progress. (What? They didn’t come in blue to match our set? Another mystery to me that I had to get over.) Still, I was happy to receive such a family treasure and show our girls in a tangible way the pursuit of knowledge and nurturing curiosity would be encouraged in our home. I made it a game. What volume did you last pull off the shelf? Which volume is the largest? Which ones are the smallest? What is our state flower? You can look it up.
I spent many a “boring” summer afternoon in my dad’s study where the World Book encyclopedia beckoned to me. I chose volume “A”, a hefty volume and a”C, S” were other hefty volumes whose pages I turned forward and backward, or from the middle. Then, I became curious about “I-J”, two volumes in one. “What did they hold?” “J” revealed to me jewels and jewelry complete with photos. “A” taught me more about Alaska where my mother’s mother was living. “S” saved me when I remembered I had a major science project due the next day over a natural element. As far as I had gotten, due to my mother’s diligence, was to write to a company in Texas City about their sulfur plant and they sent me a gen-u-ine piece of sulfur. That was cool! Kudos to me (and my mother) for having written that company, and they had sent me a rock and information. So one day before the project was due, I knew sulfur was the topic of my science report. I survived the ordeal that ended past midnight for a fifth grader because of Volume “S” of our World Book.
Recently, I have written about Lady Bird’s china. The World Book imparted a curiosity in me about all things presidential, the presidents and the first ladies. I gave a cursory glance at the portraits of our presidents, but it was the first lady sections I devoured. I remember reading about Dolly Madison and finding the University of Madrid after James Madison’s entry. “Uncle Tony, Aunt J and cousins live in Madrid,” I distinctly remember thinking. French names like Rodin and Ronsard came before both Roosevelts, FDR and Theodore. The African country Batswana appeared on the left page and another Frenchman, Baudelaire on the right. Such quirky juxtapositions, and to this day I remember the oddest things. Years later French became my minor. I learned Teddy Roosevelt suffered from asthma as did my brother and I worried less about him knowing our former president as a young man survived quite admirably. The World Book explained to me what a rosary was. Read about Lupe here. The connections were endless.
The World Book held the promise of learning everything. It was there A-Z, 36 inches + on our bookshelf, all the world’s knowledge complete in our young view. It’s cousin, The Encyclopedia Britannica, was labeled the “book of knowledge.” I wonder if my siblings, parents, my husband and children combined read or touched every page. But today this whole wikipedia thing and millions of websites have thrown me off balance. How does one measure that? There are no pages before and after, but yes, there are footnotes and links to get lost in. Librarian after librarian at the institutions where I have taught warn that it is not a valid resource, whereas the World Book, other encyclopedias, newspapers, periodicals and reference books are. Search engines and the websites they send us to may be credible, yet we have to decide and discern whether to believe or not the millions available.
When my generation grew up, our only sources of knowledge were books, teachers, parents and friends. The encyclopedia was an item of luxury. We faced big limits in what we could learn, where we could be and who we could reach. –Vivek Wadhwa, October 2013, The Wall Street Journal
Blessed is the bee who knows what true nectar is and finds it in abundance.