Cyclopedia: (n) an encyclopedia

 By the time I arrived, my mother was already serving him a piece of the blueberry pie she had made from the berries my dad recently brought back from his trip to Canada. I’m not sure if I had ever seen my mother so excited.

The gentleman sitting on the couch across from her was probably no more than twenty years of age. (Of course, I was thirteen at the time, so he looked prehistoric.) He, too, seemed very uplifted and called me by my name when I walked through the door, which was a trifle unnerving since I had never laid eyes on the gent before.

He was from the Grolier Company.

This will mean nothing to anyone under the age of fifty.

It was one of the largest publishers of cyclopedias in the world. It sent out people to sell the volumes door-to-door, offering handsomely bound examples to lure the hearts and eyes of housewives all over America.

The entire sales pitch was simple.

1.“Don’t you want your son or daughter to have knowledge at his or her fingertips, simply by walking across the room and acquiring it by looking up the needed data in the family cyclopedias?”

2. “It is statistically proven that families who have an entire set of Grolier from A to Z in their living rooms experience 63% less crime perpetrated by their youngsters.”

3. “And of course, your neighbors will judge you by how important you think education is to your upstarts. So when they walk through the door, don’t you want them to see a Grolier?”

My mother was sold.

And when the stranger showed me one of the books, I must admit it was beautifully illustrated, easy to read and the outside cover felt like it had just come off the back of a Wisconsin cow.

He warned us that it would take about three months for delivery. He was right.

Four months later, our Grolier’s arrived, and we frantically searched for a bookcase that would accommodate such presence and heft.

But the one set of cyclopedias was not enough.

A year later, the local grocery store offered Funk and Wagnall’s—a competitor to Grolier—for twenty-five cents per letter if you bought thirty dollars’ worth of groceries.

So nearly sixteen months later, we had a set of Funk and Wagnall’s just beneath our Grolier’s (the Funk and Wagnall’s being more compact and easier to place).

All through my growing up years, I opened these volumes, looking for information.

I garnered two things from the experience:

First and foremost, I learned alphabetical order, since that’s how everything was listed within the pages.

Secondly, I learned that knowledge was growing so quickly in our world that soon both the Grolier’s and the Funk and Wagnall’s were outdated.

Today we have the Internet.

But we don’t have the beautiful books, the great illustrations or conversations about knowledge over blueberry pie.

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

One comment on “Cyclopedia

  1. Anna | Yes, Little Hummingbird? says:

    My parents taught me to pull out the encyclopedia and dictionary when I didn’t know something- and how to cross reference the information in them with up to date information from the internet, depending on the encyclopedia’s publication date in relation to the current date. I still have that encyclopedia set (a Grolier as well, with the added two volume dictionary) that I grew up reading- and I fully plan on getting an updated set as soon as we’re in our forever home.

    I very much disagree that we have the internet “But we don’t have the beautiful books, the great illustrations or conversations about knowledge over blueberry pie”… They may no longer be commonplace because of practicality- and may have changed form slightly due to technological advancement… But they do very much still exist, and people do very much still use them. I’ve always found it ridiculous to say the opposite.

    Though even if they didn’t exist anymore… No one’s exactly lamenting the fact we’re no longer using clay tablets to record everything. Everything changes form. nothing stays the same. But it doesn’t mean the changes are bad.


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