Book Learning

by Sandra Mason

When my father bought anything out of the ordinary, besides groceries and household needs, he always announced his purchase with great fanfare and said, "A man would have to be a fool not to buy it."  This was not considered an invitation for further discussion but I now knew how he felt. Before me, and spread across two full pages in a magazine, was an offer no sane person could turn down—five books for one dollar. Unbelievable! Even I, at age eleven, could scrape together a dollar. I didn't even have to send that in until the books arrived. It took several days of careful consideration but block-by-block I filled in my name and address and mailed in my selections.

I had all but forgotten about the books when they arrived some five weeks later. I ripped open the heavy cartons and touched each book's cover with complete reverence. These were grown-up books with important information. I picked the one that promised to be the most interesting and started. Chapter One. Days later and still five pages before Chapter Two, more boxes arrived. I opened them but knew that I had not ordered these books. A note inside told me that I could look over the selection and that I had ten days to send back any I did not want. I stacked them with the others that I had placed under the telephone table. This was a reminder, however, that I had not sent in the dollar. That did bring up the problem of how to send the money, as I did not have a check. Oh well, I had ten days.

I had almost finished Chapter Two when the next books arrived. I was getting a little bit irritated as there was no room left under the telephone table. I did not open the boxes and stuffed them under the couch. I still had not figured out a way to send in the money. I plodded toward Chapter Three. I measured how much more I had to read. Almost an inch. I looked at the back of the book—292 pages to go.

A letter arrived for me. It was long and thin like a letter to Mother and Daddy, not square and fat and friendly like a birthday card. With fear I opened it. I now owed $76.37. Payment was due immediately. My heart stopped when I read, "...FURTHER LEGAL ACTION WOULD BE TAKEN..." I tore the letter into one-half inch squares and scattered the pieces into different wastebaskets throughout the house.

Now in the Andy Hardy movie version of my life I would have gone to Judge Hardy and like Andy I would have confessed. "Pops, I'm in trouble. You gotta help me Pops. I'll do anything you say." Judge Hardy would have told me that my word was my bond. He would have made things right. He would have patted me on the head as we carted the books to the post office. My mother was not Judge Hardy. "If you don't get these damn books out of the living room…" she shouted over the roar of the vacuum cleaner.

I moved the books to the back of my closet. I now had a plan. With still five pages to go in Chapter Three, I placed the book back in the box and added a sheet of paper on which I had taped two quarters and a fifty-cent piece. I added it to the top of the stack of books—more books than I could read in a lifetime. I still had to work out a plan for getting them to the post office and then there was postage and all.

I began to hate the postman. I dreaded the sound of his footsteps on the porch. I was filled with dread when I heard the squeak of the mailbox lid. But the worst was yet to come. I was playing outside when I saw a strange car pull up in front of the house. A man got out, straightened his tie and, with briefcase in hand, headed up our walkway. My mind exploded in fear. “...FURTHER LEGAL ACTION…” There was only one thing to do. I headed for the hills.

I hid in the field behind our house. I found a place in the tall weeds where I could see our back door and just the back fender of the stranger's car. My mind could only imagine the pain of my dear sweet mother. I thought of the movie, “The Yearling,” and how Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman would have sat me down and told me how I must never ever do anything to bring harm to my family. What had I done?

I watched as my sisters, Gail and Brenda, skipped in and out of the house. I watched as the car moved out of sight. Mother came to the back door. "Dinner's ready," she called just like nothing had happened. I crawled out of the weeds and slowly walked towards the house. Mother stood at the stove. Gail and Brenda were seated at the table. Why wasn’t anyone upset?  "Who was that man?" I asked Mother. "Oh, that was Mr. Kaufman from church. He has just started selling insurance and wanted to practice his speech. Why do you ask?" All of the fear and worry exploded in tears. I rubbed my eyes as tears flowed and mixed with ringlets of snot from my nose. I told Mother everything. I told her that they had threatened further legal action. I ended with one final hiccup. Mother cupped my chin in her hands and looked into my eyes. "Oh, horse feathers!" she said, as she brushed off my tears. "Go wash your face."

As I headed towards the bathroom, she added, "You can't make a contract with an eleven-year-old kid. That company should be put under the jail."  This punishment my mother reserved for only the worst offenders.

As an adult, I understand the many lessons I learned from that experience. I learned the sweet seductive luxury of procrastination. I learned that no action is a form of action but can often times result in no need for further action. I learned one other thing. I should be in Congress.

Sandra Mason graduated from UNCA in 1968. Her first play, Return of an Angel, was produced by Occasional Theatre and Asheville Community Theatre in 2007 and again in 2008 and 2009. The play is a dramatization of the consequences to Asheville surrounding the publication of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel.

About Book Learning—Since the early 1800’s my family has lived in the Asheville area. If we are moving on, we certainly do not seem to be in a hurry. Storytelling seems to be in the blood of everyone born in these beautiful mountains. It is just a struggle, sometimes, to come in off the porch and put it all down on paper.