By Norris Chambers

           The word “encyclopedia” is what we old timers called a “jaw-breaker”. We were well acquainted with the long row of books on the library shelves of the school and in some homes. We knew that the answer to most questions could be found somewhere in that long row of books. Sometimes the answers were rather brief and didn’t answer your question completely but the important aspects of the question were well covered.  

            In later years Ella and I considered the base of knowledge important enough to purchase a set along with the yearly supplements. We made frequent trips to the book of knowledge shelf when we needed an answer that wasn’t readily available.

            One topic that was not explained in the encyclopedia was “internet”. No such thing existed in the days when the long line of books was the base of knowledge. The modern internet search engine finds 133,000,000 entries in response to “encyclopedia”! Several good encyclopedias are available for use on the internet.

            As more families are now enjoying computers and the operation and use is being taught at a younger age the internet has replaced the printed encyclopedia. The empty book shelf is now available for new material – perhaps books about the care and operation of computers!

            My first acquaintance with encyclopedias happened the first year I attended school. I suppose the school must have purchased a new set because they had thrown many of the big books into the “burn barrel”. Since there was no garbage service at the school all flammable material that was discarded was placed in a metal barrel and when it was about full it was ignited and allowed to burn. The ashes were taken by the school janitor and strewn along the edge of the school yard boundary. The next rain moved it away, down the hill and a portion of it into the dirt tank that supplied water for the school and many households of the little town. A tank on the other side of the hill on which the town was build furnished water for others and some had cisterns that provided enough water. No well water was within digging depth in this little town.

            The big red books must have appealed to the students because they were pulling the books out of the barrel, sorting through them and taking the ones that they wanted. Since that seemed the thing to do I grabbed three of the heavy books and carried them away. There were many pictures in them and I knew I would like to look at them.

            Those three big encyclopedias were the extent of our knowledge library. We did have a large dictionary that was pretty thorough in explaining the meaning, pronunciation and origin of words. It was also well illustrated with pictures of many of the items described. There were a few medical books used by my father in his medical schooling and many years as a country physician. Clifton and I looked at the pictures in these books and were a little surprised at all of the procedures they presented.

            One of the big books had a picture that we noticed and were curious enough to read about it. The article called it a box kite. We were familiar with regular kites and had built a few. Some worked well and some were failures, but we always had fun with them. This odd contraption was on the end of a string and a kid was holding the line and flying it like a regular kite. In the picture it looked like two boxes, one above the other floating peacefully at the end of the string he was holding. The device did not have a balancing tail like a regular kite. The accompanying article explained the kite and included instructions for building and flying one.

            The boxes were about 18 inches in diameter and about the same distance apart. They were constructed of a very light wooden stick framework and covered with paper. The control string was attached to a corner of the top box. For two expert craftsmen like Clifton and me it was a simple matter to construct a picture-perfect box kite.

            The morning we prepared for our first flight was a little windy, but between gusts there was a nice kite flying breeze. Clifton walked into the clearing west of the barn and held the kite above his head. I stood a few feet in front and yelled, “Let her go!” He turned the kite loose and it quickly started its skyward journey! Clifton headed back toward my position and I prepared to unwind string and let the boxes fly.

            Just at that moment a strong gust of wind hit the kite and it suddenly began some wild maneuvering, jerking the string from my hands and diving straight for Clifton’s back. Before I could warn him the bottom box of the kite crashed heavily over his head and broke up on his shoulders leaving the top box on his head in a jaunty hat position!

            I tried to tell Clifton that he looked well wearing the box but he didn’t see the humorous side of it. If I could have quit laughing he might have been a little calmer. He didn’t think it was funny when I told him that we should have built a pin-hole camera first so we could get his picture!