A long time ago, I think it was 1961….yes I’m pretty sure that was it. 1961. It wasn’t the greatest year for my Dad. The mill where he worked was on short time. You see, for quite some time…ever since World War II, the cotton mill had been working on government contracts.
They’d made thousands of yards of twill for uniforms. Uniforms for the army, navy, and marines. Maybe for the Air Force too. I’m not sure. All I remember is that the contracts ran out, and my Dad was on three and four day weeks. We’d already been forced to move from the house that my Dad had built on Simmons street back in 1954. He couldn’t make the 112 dollar a month payments. So we moved to ninth street into a lower priced home with 55 dollar a month payments.
But, things were still hard. Money was in short supply. Beans and taters with cornbread was a staple, along with salmon patties made with canned salmon….the kind out of the red can.
My Dad was a determined man. He couldn’t stand not being able to pay his bills. A man came around the house one day selling World Book encyclopedias. The book of knowledge. My Dad told this man, who was the “district manager” that he couldn’t afford to buy a set of those books, although he’d have liked to in order to help my brother and me in school. But….did the district manager need a salesman. “I’ve got experience in sales” said my Dad who’d never sold anything to anybody in his life. As a matter of fact, said the district manager, they were looking for somebody. “When can you start training”? said the manager. “How about right now”? said my Dad.
So began my Daddy’s career as an encyclopedia salesman. A career that ended up lasting a couple of years, and keeping a struggling family afloat. I believe he made 50 dollars commission off of every set he sold, and he sold a lot of them in two years in Chattooga and Walker counties.
He received a “salesman’s” copy of the World Books, to take along as demos to potential customers. That set had all kinds of special “stuff” with it There were extra “ pullouts” with tons of colorful illustrations. There were extra graphs, and lots of those cool pages with the acetate layovers, like the “human body” which had a base photo of a skeleton, with each subsequent clear acetate page that laid on top, being composed of the rest of the body. Lay the first page down, and there’s the muscles, then the circulatory system, then the internal organs, and so on…until the last page you laid on top was the skin, and the body was complete. Those things were so neat!
After a couple of years, the work at the mill picked back up. It was running 5 and 6 days a week and kept on running…wide open to the 7 day weeks of the denim years.
We got to keep that set of World Books, and being as how I couldn’t buy enough new Marvel comics to read constantly, I started using those encyclopedias as my reading material. I was a voracious reader, and started with the A volume and worked my way forward. I read in those books for the next 6 years, until I went to college. They were one of the most helpful and educational “teachers” I ever had.
My Dad kept that set of encyclopedias around until they moved out in 2009 to the assisted living place. I kept them after that for several years. Daddy always told me “don’t get rid of these, there’s a lot of good information in here” I knew there was, but I don’t think he ever cracked a volume open at all. He actually hated selling encyclopedias, and was glad when he could stop. Selling just wasn’t in his blood like it is in mine. He just did it because he needed the money, and wanted a free set of encyclopedias for his boys
After the onslaught of the internet, and years of hauling that set of books around, I ended up giving them to a family with a little girl who liked to read. I felt a tear running down my eye as they drove away with them. Part of my childhood went with them, part of my Dad’s hard work and love. I thought he mighta’ been pissed that I gave them away, but then I thought he would probably would have told me that I’d gotten all the good out of them I was gonna get. He would have understood.