Here’s one for the books

By Dr. William H. Baker

Contributing Writer

Although the expression probably originated in the sports world, “One for the books” has become more widely used to point to an outstanding or unusual achievement or event.

For me, it relates to books. Specifically, to the first book I remember from early childhood. Growing up on a farm during the years of the Great Depression, there was not much money for books or gifts.

But about the time I was five, and having learned the ABC’s and to begin reading some things in the newspaper, I received the gift of a book from an aunt in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The gift was entitled “The Book of Knowledge.”

Receiving such a gift from a relative far removed from rural Claiborne County was truly an unusual occasion, and its contents interested me for years. My memory is that the book was aimed at children and was published by one of the larger encyclopedia publishers.

I started to school in late summer, first grade, shortly after the book arrived. It was too heavy to carry to school, but I had lots of opportunities to talk with the teacher and with other students about the book. There was no public kindergarten in those years, but apparently no questions asked about a five-year-old starting to school in the first grade.

The book was a prized possession, and it served as an anchor for those early years. I could locate references to things I heard about in a one-room school. With only one teacher, and a few students in grades through eight, I had spare time to listen, dream and sometime engage in activities that were above my head.

Although I have forgotten most of the stories, pictures, and other contents, I do remember one non-sensical rhyme attributed to Gellet Burgess. He wrote “I never saw a Purple Cow, I never hope to see one; But I can tell you, anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.”

Those lines by Mr. Burgess were brought back to mind when I recently re-discovered another Book of Knowledge published in 1985 by an advertising company in Nashville and featuring the comedian Ernest Worrell.

Not much similarity in the two books except perhaps in some of the humorous expressions. Among numerous questions asked by Worrell: “Who was the first Pro football player to say ‘Hi, Mom’ on national TV?’ and “Did the man who thought of putting the candy and gum next to the grocery check-out line have any children of his own?”

Both were titled books of knowledge. Interpreted seriously, and considering my memory of the Purple Cow, I continue to believe that the gift to a five-year-old 50 years before the Worrell book remains more of an educational tool and the second is in second place and a good place for a few laughs.

William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email wbaker@limestone.edu