Lost Lorien

Martini for Barbara

Things are always at a FAST pace here. They have to be. The books flow in so fast here that even with a 3-acre warehouse, we would quickly fill up and have to turn books away or store them outdoors.

We have never had to turn away any books, and I hope we never are forced to.

Among the many interesting finds this week was this very “fast” book.

"The Fastest Human" by Charles Paddock

Even though it is signed, my first inclination was that it was just an interesting old sports book.

“The Fastest Human” by Charles Paddock. He was the first to be called “The Fastest Man Alive.” He was also a character in the movie Chariots of Fire. In the early 1980s when Wonder Book was a pioneer in merging books and movies, the movie was a big hit. I always considered it a groundbreaking “modern” film. The title is from William Blake’s Jerusalem.

Thursday morning, and the valley is obscured by smoke.

Code Red is the air quality report.

It’s the Canadian forest fires again.

The sun is a fuzzy dull orange spot in the sky.

The phone says it is cloudless, full sun. I can’t see the sky.

It has been a dreamy week.

I feel I’ve been in two times often.

The present. Good and bad. Happy and sad.

And the past where so often I was looking to the future.

Going through carts late yesterday afternoon, I came across a yearbook.


Something clicked. An old door opened. Slowly, it came back. I used to see these around the house when I was a kid. It was an Amherst Central High School yearbook from 1955. The school was right across the street from the house I grew up in at 36 Washington Hwy. (It wasn’t a “highway” but a bucolic residential unlined street. Old elm trees reached across it, and their canopies intertwined far above. Then, when I was 9 or 10, Dutch elm disease killed off all of them. I remember how upset my parents were about that.)

The book…

I had three older brothers. Joe, Tony and Jim. Joe was 15 years older than I. Tony 12. Jim 10. They all graduated from Amherst Central High School.

All are gone now. Tony died in April 2021. Jim in October 2002.

The book…

So strange. A slice of life from the street where I spent the first thirteen years of my life. It would cover my first year on earth.

‘My brother Joe might be in this,’ I thought.

I started flipping through it.

“This is what kids looked like and did so long ago.”

He wasn’t in the senior class.

Oddly, the junior and sophomore classes had group photos, and there were no captions with names below. Oddly, there were group photos of the 9th, 8th and 7th grade classes as well.

I would need a magnifying glass to look through 500 or so tiny faces to try to find my brother. I had no idea what class he would have been in.

‘He played basketball,’ I recalled.

I vaguely remember my parents walking me across the street to the school for a basketball game. I would have been 4 or 5. All I recall is seeing my big brother in an orange and black kit, running up and down the shiny wooden floor. The high school team was the Tigers.

I flipped to the sports teams’ section.

He wasn’t varsity. He would have been too young. I looked at the dozen or so kids on JV. There he was!

“Joe Roberts.”

A smiling gawky kid who would mature into a strikingly handsome Marine helicopter pilot. A Naval Academy graduate who was going to conquer the world.

Joe Roberts

I can’t find one of his Marine Vietnam photos on my phone. The picture above shows him still as a teen when he ran away to boot camp. Dad convinced him to come back and go to Annapolis.

He died in 2018 after a horrible lingering decline in a dreadful nursing home. I was about the only one who would visit him beside a dutiful stepson who handled his affairs. His second wife had died some years earlier. His own four kids would never visit. I was furious with them. It was depressing to go see him. He shared a room with other old men who would disappear and be replaced periodically. I would bring food in for him. It was usually Mexican. He loved it. I would have to cut it up for him. He would struggle to scoop it up into his mouth.

“Hoo! Hoo! So hot!” he would chortle happily.

Before the nursing home and after his second wife Freddie died, he sort of gave up. I would send him boxes of books often. He liked westerns. Especially Louis L’Amour. He stopped going places or doing things. Eventually, his very old Cadillac died in the driveway, and he didn’t repair it.

It was a miserable way to end. I hated seeing him like that.

He would call me sometimes and beg me to come get him.

“I’ll give you all my money and my monthly Social Security check.”

“I couldn’t take care of you, Joe. You need to start your rehab again and get so you can walk and use your hands again. Fight yourself back into shape like a Marine…”

I considered it a mercy when my step-nephew called early one morning in the spring of 2018 to say Joe had died in his sleep. He was 79. Alone, decrepit and miserable.

The kid looking back at me in the yearbook basketball team photo sure didn’t think things would end like that.

At that age, I thought things would never end too.

I flipped the book closed with a “slap.”

A cautionary tale. Memo to self…

I needed to do something. I needed to get out. Maybe this old book business isn’t so healthy. Too much history. Too much past. Too much long gone.

I went out to my pickup truck and drove around the building to the construction site. Paving has started.

Soon, all the piles of dirt and rock will be gone.

“I’ll build another garden wall.”

I pulled stone after stone out of the dirt piles and rolled them into the truck bed.

“I have to do something!” I grunted. “Something that will keep my mind busy right now. Something that will last.”

Chuck's New Stones

At home, I had work to do. A housekeeper was coming tomorrow morning. I puttered around the place for a couple of hours and then ran out of steam. She can get to two new rooms this time. My bedroom and the downstairs foyer have been cleaned of the flotsam and jetsam. It has been nearly a month since her first marathon visit. I didn’t mess up her previous work. Too much.

I chopped a head of romaine and drained a can of Genova Italian canned tuna. I mashed it up with some Miracle Whip, dill relish and jarred chopped cherry peppers. If I’d planned ahead, I could have brought some fresh dill from the warehouse gardens. There are a dozen or more plants—self-seeded. A couple are in full bloom and are nearly five feet tall.

I’m trying to get back on the healthy food wagon. Most of the month has been spent going out for dinner.

I sat on the recliner couch in the “great room” with some fizzy water. Merry and Pip followed me in and settled on their pillow with a rawhide chewy each. I found some Perry Mason episodes that the satellite had thoughtfully recorded for me. I spent the next few hours in the 1950s. A time I was too young to know.

Black and white. My memories of the 1950s are always in black and white.

When I awoke Thursday morning, the “nanny watch” said I had slept well. It didn’t feel like it.

I was in a funk. I had been in it for most of the week.

I still had some picking up and hiding of stuff to do before I met my housekeeper at 7-11 to lead her up to the house. She said she wasn’t sure how to get back after the first visit a month ago.

It is 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. I did book carts all day just to keep my mind and body occupied. ALL DAY. Fortunately, there’s an endless supply here. I’m just the middleman for many.

I texted my wacky nephew and asked him to send a picture of Joe as an adult.

Joe Roberts

Oh, on Wednesday afternoon, I got a text from Ray and Jay. They were on the road to Mississippi.

“…we received word from our agent that the closing happened…”

Lorien is gone. But for memories.

I went there on Monday to say goodbye. Out on the road—”private” since the county took the bridge over Linganore Creek down decades ago and replaced it with a new modern road and bridge far above the property—there was a big moving truck parked and about a half-dozen men in blue uniforms. They were carrying things from the house and returning empty-handed. I turned into the drive and squeezed through the big wooden gates. (It used to be pretty dicey coming out of there if it had started snowing during a visit.) I parked on the circle and took a shovel and big plastic tub to the wooded area of the gardens. They had told me I could dig up anything I wanted.

I promised I wouldn’t take anything anyone would notice. On a previous visit, I had scouted some of the wilder areas. I dug at a dozen so things in a desultory manner. Things that had self-propagated over the decades. I was in a funk and really in no mood for gardening work. But I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t save some things. I certainly have plenty of plants from Barbara from years ago. I put the tub in the shade of the pickup truck and got the bottle and the martini glass off the front seat.

Waddesdon Gin—a Rothschild production from my visit to Rothschild’s Waddesdon Manor outside of Oxford last fall. I took them across the lawn to waterfall and pool. At some point on the lawn, I crossed a time plane and was back in the early 2000s. The rustic table and chairs were gone. I sat on the stone pavers that constitute the little patio bordering the pond and across from the waterfall.

‘Just one glass this time, Barbara,’ I thought. ‘You won’t be drinking today.’

The pavers are uneven but smooth. Likely worn by ancient waters somewhere nearby. I sat cross-legged and poured some gin into the glass.

Martini for Barbara

The water was splashing onto the walls and stone. The sun was descending behind it. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees and water spray. A half-dozen water lilies were blossoming in the still pond.

Time travel is very strenuous.

“Cheers,” I forced out the salutation out. It wasn’t a cheerful occasion.

But the first sip of gin helped. My mood lightened, and my face shifted into a Mona Lisa smile. Enigmatic. Half-hearted. Thoughtful, bittersweet happiness.

I was not alone. I was awash in memories.

The waterfall sang an eternal song. An occasional bullfrog croaked an earthy grace note.

I eventually poured a second drink.

I don’t know how long I sat. I didn’t get sore or stiff. Perhaps it was the clear lubrication I sipped.

For a little while, I was as smart and charming and witty as I had been those many times over many years in her company. She was able to cast that spell—to make people better than they were? No, that’s not it. To raise them to a higher level—nearer to hers just by being in her presence. Many others have told me the same.

Toward the end, we’d walk from the house out to the pond arm in arm. She didn’t want to use a cane. She’d usually wear a flowing colorful gown. Just before she passed, she had a winding smooth walkway installed. It was built in anticipation of her needing a wheelchair.

I heard Ray’s footsteps before I saw him approach.

“Come inside when you’re ready. The movers are done, and we will be leaving soon.”

He walked away, and I was jolted back into the past. It was damned uncomfortable. I sipped the last of the martini. I felt a drop of liquid on my face. Perhaps it was a bit of spray from the falling water striking the stones across the pond. The late afternoon sun glowed golden on the water and the trees and flowers. I watched the tadpoles flitting under the lily pads just a couple of feet away. Little leopard ones and much bigger bullfrog babies. An occasional goldfish would flash out and then back into the darkness in the bottom of the pond.

“Just one more small one,” I would say.

“Yes. Let’s,” she would reply.

It was all I could do to rise and take myself away from that spot where I was made to feel so special, where I learned so much. It wasn’t reluctant muscles and joints. It was a reluctant heart. When I left this time, I would never return. But it was time. When I rose, I felt nimble. Young. Sad. Empty. Filled.

“Thank you,” I said in parting. “I loved you so much, my friend.”

I crossed the lawn into 2023. I placed the sacramental bottle and glass in the truck and headed for the house.

I wasn’t prepared for the shock upon entering the solarium. It was empty!

Barbara's Solarium

But I stopped and heard music in the distant past. My little boy was playing the Hobbiton theme from The Lord of the Rings on her grand piano.

I headed to the front where her office is. Ray and Jay were in there.

Barbara's Office


Empty but for the several dozen magical books written in there of bestseller Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels and Barbara Mertz. The presences of the muses of creativity and scholarship and genius in that room were tangible. They will remain in the walls and bookcases lining the room until the ancient stone house crumbles—if ever.

I croaked a goodbye and, “We’ll get together when you get back…”

There were no other words inside. I was somewhere between time “zones.”

“I hope the settlement goes through, but let me know if there are any glitches…”

‘I should have bought it,’ I thought. ‘No. I could never keep it up. I have some other role to play in the time ahead, and Lorien would have drained me. It was time.’

I drove down the drive and squeezed through the wooden gate. I crossed the border from Lothlorien and Galadriel into the real world one last time.

“It was time.”

The next morning, the plants were put into the new garden bed I made earlier in the spring. I’ll tend them carefully and hope they flourish so they spread or propagate and I can transplant them into other beds and then give some away.

It is Friday, June 30.


There’s still a lot of smoke obscuring the valley. Our region went from Red to a Purple alert yesterday. It looks like we are still near purple this morning.

Friday Air Quality

I’m glad June is ending. It has been a very socially active month. That’s good. I should see people outside of work more often. But it has worn me out. My home looks the best it has since COVID. When I finish going through my old book collection and stock the garret, it will be wonderful again.

Maybe I’ll have a party. I wonder if anyone would come? Who is left?

Coincidentally, I came across one of Barbara’s books last night. Over the years, she would give me a galley of every new one, and when the finished book was published, she would give me one of those. I haven’t seen this one for 15 years or so.

Tomb of the Golden Bird

I think I have an inscribed first edition of every one of her books.

Tomb of the Golden Bird

Most are shelved together downstairs here. I’ll add this to them.

Coincidences… there have been many recently. Perhaps there’s some meaning to them. Some portent. Perhaps it is just the odds. I go through thousands of books every week. Odds are there will be some percentage of coincidences.

It was a rough night. I think I ate too much spicy pizza after working too hard. I got home at 5:30. The housekeeper was still at it. I wanted to stay out of the way, so I changed and went outside. I emptied the stone out of the truck onto the rough outline of the new bed I will make. I got the weed whacker out and fired it up. I trimmed and knocked down weeds and headed back too low overhanging branches above the quarter mile steep driveway. My path of destruction covered several acres.

Down near the bottom of the drive, I checked the “mound” where my official “Tree Farm” sign stands. I had been sure one of the 5 redbuds I transplanted there in early spring had died. I’d nearly pulled it up a week ago. But I noticed one little green leaf amongst all the dead ones. Maybe like the White Tree of Gondor, it will come back from near death.

I went back inside and urged my housekeeper to wrap it up.

“You can get to that next time.”

Then I went out and sat on the asphalt at the top of the drive with a can of Coors Light next to me. “Yard beer” I only drink after hard work. I tossed a golf ball down the hill, and Merry went careening after it. He ran back with it in his mouth and dropped it between my splayed legs. He wagged his tail in supplication to do it again.

And again.


Then it was Pippin’s turn.

I’d put the pizza in the oven to heat. I was very careful not to drop a crumb on the perfectly clean counter and stove.

All these endings got me thinking.

I need to go places. Do things. I devoted every day of June to books. EVERY day.

I’m not complaining. I love my work. It does take possession of me sometimes.

So on Wednesday, I booked some trips. Four of them! It’s time to get up and go.


And right now, it is time to get up and go down the mountain for another Friday. Another story to publish. But I’ve been selfish, self-absorbed. These weekly things have been little more than simple autobiography. I should be writing more than journals—these stories are little more than that. And then there are my actual paper journals. Volume 24 started last week. I’d like to write more chapters about the weird bookshop in the Round and Round stories. There are two on this laptop just waiting for the inspiration to finish them.

And July… what will it bring?

Barring misadventure, it will be the sixth anniversary of these stories. Over 300 consecutive Fridays. That’s pretty obsessive. But it has given me a discipline. And context. And I’ve recorded a lot about how we go about book rescue and bookselling in the business we have built.

We had a visit this week from a director at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. He had been referred to us by a friend and bookselling colleague. I gave him the “tour”, and then we chatted about old books and bookselling for a couple of hours. He was very surprised by the scale.

…and by the location. “This is an industrial park. Not your usual venue for old books.”

Despite all the rare and collectible books we find and sell, we are pretty much off the grid to biblio-academia.

Maybe we will get discovered at last.

And the swallows fledged this week. Coincidentally, I came across an old book about swallows this week.

The Swallow Book

They are magical creatures, and I’m glad to host the several dozen mud nests attached to the huge warehouse here.

I always read in the bathroom. Usually, it is about travel and sites I’ve visited or would like to visit. Recently, it has been a National Geographic map from the 1960s. “Shakespeare’s England.” It is based on the John Speed map from 1611. I’ve been studying the names on it. There are still so many places in England that I’d like to go. And now Barbara’s canopic jars are companions nearby.

Chuck's Bathroom

I’ve only used that huge bathtub once in the 13 years I’ve been here. That was a riot.

So ends story #311.

And the last tangible links to a great friend and mentor. She liked my writing and encouraged me to continue. She told me I should publish my book stories. I balked at the idea of self-publishing—”Vanity Press.”

But here you are.

All that’s left are her books and some objects and some distant friends.

…and memories.

And the only way memories will last it to…

…write them down.

4 Comments on Article

  1. Jack Walsh commented on

    This week’s entry really hit home with me, especially your very last line!
    In his last year my sister convinced my father to write about his experiences in WWII. Growing up we heard various stories and wished he would write them down. Thankfully, he did, all 52 pages of them. When I retired, a few years ago, I took his writing and added appropriate family pictures and other details that I remembered from hearing his tales. This effort produced a 150 page product which I sent to all of his grandkids, hoping that they would appreciate what he did during that time.
    I guess it is now my turn to write down many of the stories that I have told to my kids over the years, so that these memories will also last.
    Thank you

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That was a great thing to do for your family.
      And yes! You should write down your memories as well.
      I think kids will appreciate where they came from.
      Thank you for writing me!


  2. Tom Campbell commented on

    I always enjoy reading your remembrances of Barbara. I’ve had an odd fixation with Barbara Michaels since 1986 which is wrapped up in the loss of a loved one that year. In summer of 1989 my older sister had to take science classes at Hood College, so on a weekend visit we searched the Frederick country side for a glimpse of Barbara’s Farmhouse, to no avail. It is terrific to finally get a look inside her home all these years later.
    Thank you.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Those are great memories Tom.
      Thank you for sharing them.


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