Do you have these? (Or something similar?)
Good, old-fashioned, hardcover encyclopedia books?
I love the smell of the pages. I love the slippery feel of the high gloss paper. Back in the 1990s when I was about to embark on homeschooling, I’d have done just about anything to obtain a set, which was out of reach financially for us. Here’s what happened:
I had five children, ages 7 and under, and we were about to embark on homeschooling. This was the time before internet and web sites and instant information, and I desperately wanted a World Book Encyclopedia set for my children. We had had a Collier’s encyclopedia set in our living room when I was growing up, and not only was it a good resource for reports, but Mom would send us to it often in response to childhood questions. “What kind of dog is that?” one of us might ask, as we saw a new canine running through the neighborhood. “Let’s look it up,” she’d reply and point us towards the proud set of books standing in the corner. Sometimes I’d just grab a volume and curl up on the sofa, turning page after page, reading whatever was of interest to me. “D”. “Diving”. “M”. “Minstrel” This opened up a new world of learning to us kids. Why, we even learned to spell ‘encyclopedia’ by the time we were eight or so. Yes, I wanted encyclopedias for my children, especially now that we’d be homeschooling.
When I checked out the prices on a new set I was flabbergasted. The regular edition (maroon cover) exceeded $600. The deluxe hunter green with gold binding was more than $800. That was at least eight weeks worth of groceries. There was no way we could afford that!
Shortly afterwards, I was at a dinner party with some colleagues of my husband and their wives. I began chatting with Norma, a school teacher. I was lamenting the cost of the reference books and she gave me an idea.
“You know, I earned a set way back when,” she shared. “I don’t know if World Book still does it that way, but if you sold a certain number of sets you used to be able to earn one for yourself. I might still have the phone number somewhere of a district representative.”
That’s all I needed to hear. The next day Norma provided me with the number and I found out that yes indeed the program was still in place. My mother volunteered to watch my little ones while I signed on to go door to door.
I got a selling kit, and familiarized myself with the product. Back then, the CD Rom was a big invention and seller for World Book. I learned to extol its praises but personally liked the hardcover version best. Although I hated cold-calling and never envisioned myself as a salesperson, I followed protocol and went through the neighborhoods, starting with people I knew, asking if they’d like an encyclopedia for their family. Of course I believed in the product. I wanted one so badly myself that I was willing to trudge through house by house and ask for a moment of their time.
I came up with a note card system to keep track of people I contacted, new leads and potential buyers. I looked through our church and neighborhood directories for names. I asked people for ideas. I padded out in the morning, waving goodbye to my little ones, which I hated to do. I forced myself to leave them playing with Grandma, telling myself it was hopefully just for a few weeks in the summer and reminding myself that this time with Grandma was quality time. My mom was a great encouragement, telling me how wonderful it was that I was doing this for our family and keeping the children busy with games and books. She even asked me for details about my day when I came back, collapsing on the sofa and lunging for the baby.
I simply wanted my encyclopedias and to be done with the deal. Therefore, I poured myself into this project and hyper-focused on it in order to finish. I went through the leads every night. I targeted potential buyers and followed up with every opportunity. I was World Books’ top sales person in my district for July. I earned the hunter green, gold bound set of encyclopedias, a little cash bonus and a halogen light as a prize. Did I want to continue selling for them, the district manager asked me. “You would have a great career doing this,” she said.
“No thank you,” I answered, probably too enthusiastically, and couldn’t turn in my sales material fast enough. I just wanted those books for my kids and to go home. I was so proud when the encyclopedias were delivered to our home. The kids and I tore open the box and sat on the sofa right then and there, smelling the pages and looking things up.
You might think this is a story about perseverance, of putting one’s mind to something and going out and getting it. Well, it is, sort of. Homeschooling moms will do things they don’t particularly like to do if it means their kids will benefit. But this story is also about more than that. If you look back carefully you will see the words above, “Mom would send us off to it”, “mom volunteered”, “she encouraged”… It’s almost like a little afterthought to acknowledge and notice her involvement. Take a closer peek, though. She was the adhesive for the whole encyclopedia-selling project. Like the stitching on a dress, her help was critical although not immediately noticed. Without her participation, this simply would not have happened. Mom knew that I would never have left my kids with a babysitter on a regular basis to pursue this encyclopedia selling. As the mother of 13 kids herself, she was certainly not sitting around looking for something to occupy her time, yet she made me feel like there was nothing that she’d rather do than come over and play with her grandbabies while I did this, and accomplished something for them.
So, while lesson number one is to stick to a task if you really want something, lesson number two is to remember those who help to make it possible. I’m resolved to pass on more than just the love of education– and encyclopedias– that my mom cultivated in us. I’m also determined to pass along her genuine selflessness in helping others make things happen. Hopefully my kids will be too.
Do you like this story? There are more like it in Stories for the Homeschool Heart. Order today on Amazon by clicking HERE.