A New Kind of a Thanksgiving

George Eliot's Romola

Thanksgiving Eve

Happy families are all alike…

In some valley between crescendos and crashes, I come home to dark and cold. But that is offset by three happy panting warm dogs.

Wednesday evening and an uncertain tomorrow and more uncertain future.

It rained all day on Tuesday. Inches of rain. Cold. Bitter. Biting.

“It is not the cold; it is the dampness.”

But the fog it left in the valley this morning is awesome.

Valley Fog

This is the most unusual week of the year. Always a Thursday. Always everything stops.

Except me. I rebel against this holy day, this family day, this day of forced unification, this feast day, this remnant of medieval times, this last remnant of when the calendar ruled life.

I met my last old best friend, changed by time and circumstance, and perhaps by plague and the injected cure that cured nothing but seems to have changed… everyone.

We chatted at the old bar. So familiar. So alien.

Then home. Up the mountain. I forget the trip.

It was so cold and wet yesterday. Today it is cold, and the brown dead carpet of leaves—plush, thick—is damp.

It is dark by five now.

I am tired. Exhaustion enhanced by dark, cold, sadness, the sense of loss, the certainty that there is no hope for the warmth I used to experience continually.

I stoke the fire—less than a minute, and it comes alive. Warm, bright, dancing, comforting. I step to bed and crawl into the big fluffy nest I have built against the world and coldness.

Three dogs leaped up and settled next to me.

I hate this holy day. I once worshipped this feast of family and year’s end.

Millions are happy. Families.

My family is happy but for me. I do not belong. A rebel. A vestige. An outcast. A loner seeking solace and finding it among fluffy coverlets and piled pillows and happy animals that know no better that they are alone. Alone. Doomed but for me, their sad but dutiful patriarch.

In bed. The comfort that always takes you in. Early evening—black, cold, empty, alone.

Thanksgiving would begin with Mom making me breakfast. Eggs, bacon, toast. An apron cinched round her broad beam. I remember my mom best from the back in the kitchen. Then I would be shooed away to the “music room.” I would splay on the carpeted floor, a cushion to prop supine upon. The Courier Express, newsprint with thousands of words spread before me. The comics first.

The TV a few feet away.

“Don’t sit so close. You’ll ruin your eyes.”

Black and white, no, it was more of a gray blue light.

Television—”to see things that are very far away.” Living things in the box a few feet from my face.

The Macy’s Parade.

Would I ever go to New York City? So far away. So exotic.

The floats, the giant balloons tethered to dozens of earthbound humans walking the street below, the marching bands from Missouri, Nebraska… alien places I would never go.

Noises and smells would seep into the music room from the kitchen, the heart of the house.

Older brothers, impossibly big. Muscular limbs. Sneaking out for a smoke or a game somewhere with friends.

I was tethered to home. Home would always be there.

Warm. Familiar. Safe as a house.

I had known no death.

My world was an endless family. Warmth, smell, sounds. My big mother, her apron cinched round her big frame. Brothers, father, cushions, carpet, today’s newspaper and comics.

The bed is warm now. The memories are warm and close. Just outside the window is the cold lonely world, eternal. I never knew it was there. I was protected by my mom, dad and brothers and the smells and sound of the eternal home.

It would never end. Those Thanksgivings would repeat themselves annually forever.


Family gone to age and death.

Family gone to other families.

I have done something wrong. Dreadfully. I am not sure what it was. Therefore, I cannot think what to do about it. If there was something, anything, I could do.

All the leaves are down now. Tuesday’s heavy rains knocked the last stragglers down.

My dog family is cuddled about me on the bed. They want warmth and affection. When food comes, they appreciate that.

It is a blood-red dawn this morning.

Thanksgiving week.

I stoked the fire. It will be a cold day. A high of 47. Lots to do to get things to the stores and online.

Before the rains, I had a third truckload of mulch to spread. Plenty of newspaper to be a foundation below it as well. I think three more loads will do it. Next week.

Most of the potted plants are on saucers and set atop junk books so the carpet or wooden floor beneath won’t be ruined. My hanging gardens. The house is coming together again.

I should rise and cleanup.

Well, you reap what you sow.

There’s nothing to do but resist. Protest. Boycott.

And, as long as there is breath, defy the foul fiend.

Wednesday felt like Friday. Thursday like Sunday. This black cold Friday feels like Monday.

I am tired and sore.

I worked alone all day on Thanksgiving in the warehouse.

I wasn’t lonely. I was surrounded by millions of books. Thousands passed through my hands. I would take occasional breaks and go out to play with the dogs.

Posing Dogs

They are posing so sweetly because I have a sliced hot dog in my hand.

For years, I would be the only one working in the warehouse on weekends. Now there are almost always a few people here with me.

I relish being here alone today.

I had invitations, options I didn’t want to go to. Would I watch TV? Start eating before noon?

I had a great time. Hours flew by. Extra carts had been loaded with old books and other potentially collectible books and things.

Did I go through 30 six-shelf metal carts? More? Each shelf is three-feet long.

I had Star Wars movies on my laptop in the background for part of the day. Then some football—though I don’t really like it any more.

By day’s end, I had processed a LOT of things—for the stores, online sales and Books by the Foot.

Thanksgiving Work

The carts which will be pushed up to Books by the Foot for final processing today created a massive traffic jam.

Thanksgiving Work

The sunrise is a faint red-orange glow on the horizon. It is pretty cloudy.

Black Friday.

Will there be crowds at the stores? Will there be thousands of orders for our online special sales?

What will I do today?

Try to be useful, I guess.

Try to be relevant.

This evening, I am risking a trip to Baltimore to see Bob Dylan. I’ve gotten a number of emails from the organizers and venue. I’m warned that my phone will be confiscated.

Phone-Free Experience
This show will be a phone-free experience provided by YONDR. Use of cell phones, smart watches, cameras and recording devices will not be permitted in the performance space, upon arrival at the venue, all devices will be secured in YONDR pouches that will be opened at the end of the event. No photos or videos are permitted.

So now you are required to PRINT your tickets. If you want to buy anything, you must have your physical credit card.


I’m planning the safest route to the concert hall and prepaying parking across the street.

I hope he actually sings this time. He did pretty well last year in DC. When I went to see him a few years ago, he just mumbled through the “songs.” But he is an icon. His thread has been a part of the tapestry of most of my life. My brother Jim, ten years older, got his first album. The Kingston Trio era was suddenly over. Folk Rock was a new sound. I would sneak up to his third-floor garret and play his albums when he was away. I would have been about 8 years old when I set the tone arm down on the shiny black Bob Dylan disc for the first time.

So, he is one of the last connections to that childhood and the family that is all gone now.

I gotta go. He is 82. I’m looking at a horizon ever closer.

The trees outside my window are all bare. The heavy rains all day on Tuesday knocked down whatever had still clung. That was a bitter day. I didn’t dress warmly enough, and the cold and dampness had me chilled all day at work. It is time to bring up the winter coats from the cedar closet downstairs.


The one find that sticks out is a first of Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf. I come across London books pretty often, but they are almost reprints.

Jack London's The Sea-Wolf

But there were hundreds of other cool books and things.

I decided to quit around four. I had dinner options, but both would be in the spheres of my sons’ in-laws and their new “families.” I decided to go to the Pennsylvania option. I purposely arrived after their meal. We sat around and chatted. I had some leftover turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Oddly, I have been going to that house for about thirty years. He had been my dentist even before that in Frederick. We became friends and played golf and got together socially some. Then his situation changed. He married another dentist whose daughter is now my son’s wife. Sadly, he had a catastrophic heart attack ten years ago and is now frail and wheelchair bound. Still, it is a happy family with several daughters and grandkids and extended relations. My son is happy with them. He has been taken in.

I left after a couple of hours and went back to the warehouse to pick up the dogs. We went home, and I put a turkey on to roast. It had been defrosting over a couple of days in the sink.

I don’t know why I got the bird. I guess I wasn’t sure I would have turkey on Thanksgiving. Now I have a 17-pound thing to deal with.

17-lb Turkey

I wonder why it flattened out like that? I couldn’t find the roasting pan last night, so I cooked it in a square pan with three-inch sides. Maybe I was supposed to string it up somehow. It was enough effort doing what I did.

The dogs will like it. I just cut up the cooked guts for them.

I’ll stick the brown carcass in the “beer” fridge downstairs and deal with it over the weekend.

So, I got through another Thanksgiving. Different than any other.

I’m thankful for a lot of things. Could be much worse.

Could be better.

A great book came in this week from my friend Gerry.

It’s actually three books. A Triple Decker. They were all the rage in early 20th century book collecting.

George Eliot's Romola

And it is enhanced by a nice letter from George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) to Alexander Main discussing Romola (her fourth novel) and her (complicated) life with George Lewes.


George Eliot's Letter

Not nearly as “important” but fun for me was this little group of items relating to the Patrick McGoohan television series The Prisoner. I rewatched the paranoid spy drama a year or two ago. It held up very well. Still very “post modern” though 5 or 6 decades old.

The Prisoner Items

I visited the “Village” about ten years ago with my older son when he was attending Oswestry School (the second oldest “Public” school in England—1407.) It is a Welsh “folly” setting in Portmeirion. Very quirky and striking. That was when my kids were not shared with spouses and in-laws.

I also found a lot of vintage comics.

Vintage Comics

I bought a lot of these “new.” I don’t remember buying any that were a dime. I do recall when they jumped from 12 cents to 15 cents. I couldn’t buy as many each week with my allowance. It was my first experience with inflation. Did I ask my dad for a raise to compensate?

Well, it is what it is.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, picking up one book after another until…

Until… I can’t any longer.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Have you ever written in detail about how you research a book and determine an asking price? Do you just use your judgment except for more unusual items or do you look up everything online? Might make for an interesting column.
    My mother used the very same words to my sisters and me: “Don’t sit so close to the television. You’ll ruin your eyes.” Where did this notion come from, I wonder?
    Very cool to find a George Eliot letter. When I read “Middlemarch” I thought it was the greatest English novel of the 19th century. I may still think that, but I’d first need to reread “Vanity Fair.”
    Love the picture of the three dogs.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Books are evaluated many ways here.
      Currently at least 7 humans are permitted to price many types of books.
      The computer is an 8th entity that does as well.
      I’ll write more on it sometime!
      Thanks for writing Michael!

  2. Mike Hassel Shearer commented on

    I understand perhaps your feeling. I think those of us who have grown up even at an early age love books more than people. I know I do though I am happily married with kids and grandkids. A book and time to hear my own thoughts is always the best of times for me.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for reading and writing!
      Yes. I’m introverted in many ways.
      Still I yearn for company sometimes – but often wish I was alone when I with people.

      Crazy …


  3. Louisa commented on

    I am thankful for you and the huge blessing you are to all the book lovers and to society in general! Thank you for your noble and valuable work helping to preserve a treasured gift to humanity and allowing new generations see the value.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is a beautiful sentiment.
      And it is inspiring.
      Thank you so much! It makes me feel like some people understand what we do.

  4. Salomon Torres commented on

    Thanks for your candid essays. I especially like the photos of the Frederick landscape. I miss going out there to get my monthly visit to the Frederick store when I lived in the DC area for 7 years. Am happy to to now buy your books online but there is nothing like walking your store aisles. Thanks for keeping Wonder Books wonderful.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      What a great comment.
      Thank you for taking the time to write (and reading the story in the first place!)
      I really appreciate it.

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