Sunday, April 8, 2012
some of my favourite books - 4
this beautiful set of Collier's Encyclopedia, printed 1978, has many stories to tell (please don't anyone notice the dust or dirt on the floor. the string you see is one of our cats many entertainments - he likes to play with string and elastic bands!!!).
i was 11, soon to be 12, and had already owned my own library card for 6 and a bit years (when i was 3, 4 and 5 my mother let me take out books on her card). anyway, one fun day when my dad was working afternoon-shift in the pit (coalmine), a man knocked on our front door (always a sign that it is a stranger AND an out-of-towner as everyone in small towns in cape breton ALWAYS use the back door and NEVER knock!). the man turned out to be an encyclopedia salesman from the mainland. he was dressed in a fancy suit and tie and had this shiny, black case on wheels!!! THIS to me was so exciting as i often went to the library to use their encyclopedias to do schoolwork - i don't think it ever occurred to me that you could own your own set?!?!?!
the man opened up the shiny, black case and i was instantly in love! my mother nervously listened to his presentation, while i soaked in every word. he let me touch those beautiful encyclopedias and let me look up all kinds of things. the thing that fascinated me the most was that at the start of every new letter - you were given the equivalent letter from several other languages! once i owned these babies, i copied out every letter, and their corresponding equivalents and started teaching myself Semitic, Latin, Russian, Greek and German. these were the days when i first realized i had such an interest in linguistics!
anyway, my mother knew of my serious and deep interest - she was the one who taught me to read at age 3 and i was reading her Stephen King books and Harlequin Romances by the age of 7!!! she also knew the price of the set - $1,000 - or in back-then terms - waaaay too freakin expensive for a coalminer with a wife and 4 kids to feed. the nice salesman left after leaving his card with my mother (something else i had never seen before - imagine? people carrying around business cards?!?!!?
my father came home that night at 10:30. i was allowed to stay up to tell him about the encyclopedias. he rolled his eyes the whole time listening and eating his supper - he and all of the other coalminers always looked like Jared Leto with the permanent ring of black around their eyes! but he did listen. and asked my mother what she thought. she thought that i needed them as i was a very good student and would get much use out of the encyclopedias. my father then struck a bargain with me. i could have the encyclopedias - but i would have to pay for them. i had just started babysitting for a variety of neighbours and on a good week - i could earn $20!!! my father said that i would have to pay him $5 every week. he had already taught me about holding on to some money so that i would have money during dry weeks - but now he made me promise that i would always have $15 set aside in order to pay him every week. i promised.
the next day he called the Credit Union to see if he could get a loan - something he had only ever done 2 times before - both times he got a $500 loan because the pit was on strike. because he cashed his checque there every week for years, and had already established that he would pay back on loans, they gave him the loan pronto. they gave him a very low rate of return as well as a low monthly payment - my father put every extra cent that he made towards that loan and paid it off in just over a year. about a week later, the salesman returned with my encyclopedia set. the set came with a junky pressboard shelf stand that my father put together and my mother set up in the back wall of the living room - i wish i had a picture to show you!
i spent the next several years paying my father $5 a week - i never missed a single payment! that really taught me about having bills and debts and i will always thank him for that. needless to say, i also spent the next several years reading every single entry in all 25 books. i also poured through the index looking for interesting things to re-read. the books were printed in 1978 and already 3 years old when i got them - but none of that has ever mattered to me - i still love them! when i finished basic training in the military and was stationed in Kingston, ON for trades training - i saved up the money to have the encyclopedias shipped to me by train. i have carted those books around my whole adult life!
most people already think jambaloney and i are a little "strange" - but this next bit will surely prove it! we like reading together and we like reading to each other. we would sit out in the hottub at our place in the city and read the Bible to each other! but one of our favourite things to do on a sunny, beautiful summer day - is to lay out in the grass or down at the river each loaded up with a few encyclopedias, skimming through them until we find an interesting entry and then read it to each other. sometimes the entries are so outdated that we scream with laughter. sometimes the entries are just dead wrong. and sometimes the entries make us think. our favourite entries are the ones that get us laughing. like the one below - i must say that it is one of our all-time favourites!
last but not least, when i was doing my first tour of Alert, my friend Bella used to do a weekly "funnies tree". basically she would cut the funnies out of newspapers, photocopy them, colour them and then re-write the "funny" to be about someone in Alert. she would post the "funnies tree" in our common room and everyone would wait every friday for her to post it - we all loved the funnies tree. i saved a bunch of the funnies in a photo album as they still delight me to this day. here is my personal favourite:
bahahahahahaha! and yes - i took the encyclopedias to Alert!