That’s a bit of a lie actually. I played a fair bit of Basic D&D and AD&D before the “Grey Box ” came out. I had all the boxed sets and probably most of the hardbacks before I got the FR campaign setting, but these books were really what defined D&D for me for a long long time. Dragonlance was cool and all, but it’s story had been told in the Chronicles. The Realms just felt like it belonged to us. I remember driving with my mom from Grants Pass (I think at the time anyhow) to Kirby or Cave Junction to spend the weekends with friends and just play D&D, also run around the woods and throw rocks at each other.
I remember packing the books with me back to South Carolina when I went to spend the summer and gaming with my cousins. So much of my pre-teen, post drooling childhood memory has gaming, almost exclusively D&D and the FR books at its core.
Finding these books at the local used book store makes my nerd bits all kinds of tingly. I can safely say, I probably wouldn’t be making games for a living now, or have the friends I do without these books and others like them.