Now Comes Winter

Dawn 01/09/2020

Thursday January 9th, 2020.

I awoke warm between flannel sheets, beneath a couple comforters and pressed upon by two warm Jack Russell Terriers. The dawn was a wondrous band of color outside the bedroom window.

Dawn 01/09/2020

I got out of bed, and it was cold! I checked the digital thermometer. 58 degrees inside and 21 out. I must have done a poor job stoking and banking the woodstove last night for it to be so cold inside. I opened the dampers on the Defiant and set a couple large splits inside. Soon the fire was a bright orange dancing behind the glass doors.

The dogs abandoned the bed and moved to stand before the cast-iron stove.

Dogs by Stove

Such loyalty… They only like me for my soft empty bed and warmth.

Now the long lonely stretch of winter has come. The forecast today says it will only get up to 38 degrees. Too cold for Merry and Pippin to stay outside in their “puppy chalet.” (It has two doghouses in it.) They’ll stay inside in their metal pen with lots of towels until I get back from work this evening. I guess they will just curl up and sleep all day.

Long ago a bookseller friend told me a joke:

“What do dogs do on their day off?
They can’t just lie around.
That’s their job!”

(I googled, and apparently that is a George Carlin joke!)

I have a friend who likes to do that. Lie around a LOT. I don’t understand that. You live once. Do something. Go somewhere. Accomplish something.

Maybe I am too driven. But I do take time to “smell the flowers.” I was on my hands and knees planting daffodils and crocus Sunday and Monday. I still have several hundred more to plant. Tuesday I was too busy, and the snow and cold into Wednesday made it impossible.

But Friday’s high will be 56. Saturday 69!? Sunday 65… There will be no excuse not to get the rest of the flowers planted!

(It’s actually been a pretty mild winter so far.)

I guess being driven to plant thousands of flower bulbs is not “smelling the flowers.”

But come spring, even if these new ones went in too late and don’t do well, my little patch of dirt will come alive with color. I’ve put in thousands of bulbs over the decade I’ve been here. And most come back year after year. Many bulbs multiply under the earth. Some self propagate by seed.

Come spring, I will stop and “smell the flowers.”

For a little while.

Then I will stop and look around and see what needs to be done next! LOL.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all work for me. The weekend before last I went to Luray, Virginia for the weekend. I rented an Air BNB—my first. It was a cute tiny 18th-century stone house in the middle of nowhere.

Luray Air BNB

I slept and read and wrote a lot. There wasn’t much else to do. The friend I went with binge watched the Lifetime Channel. I had no idea what that was. I do have satellite, but if I turn it on, it is mostly for sports, news or replays of favorite old shows like Bourdain. Lifetime airs “original movies.” Actually they’re long single episode soap operas. I actually sat through Killer Contractor. It was pretty bad acting. The plot, dialog and effects were dreadful. It was so awful it was quite fun. The bottles of wine helped. I don’t think I’ll be watching more though. Life is too short.

Actually, it was wonderfully bad. Unforgettable! Maybe I’ll tune in to see if there’s a sequel.

It was a wonderful weekend. Beauty all around. No chores or projects to work on. It was certainly too short.

It’s now 8 AM. The house has quickly warmed to 64. (24 outside.) I’m showered and dressed. The dogs are crunching away at breakfast in their spacious pen.

I will roll down the mountain and head into work and see what the day brings.

Thursday 10 am

Clif and I are heading for part two of “The First House Call of 2020.” We picked up the load of books from the grandmother’s apartment January 2nd. The granddaughter wants us to buy the books in a storage unit. It is bright and windless but bitter cold. The books from the apartment though at first appearing “blah” turned out to have some nice vintage titles on the supernatural, superstition and more “super” stuff like exotic religion and astrology and UFOs and other “weird” things. I hope the storage unit will have some cool things as well.

It is good to get out regardless.

We are driving down West Patrick St/US Rt 40/The Old Pike. This September will mark the 40th anniversary of our first store. It’s always been on that street. (We have had three locations over the years.)

40 years…

Often older people say about long stretches of time (like a lifetime) “it went by so fast.” But for me, two score years haven’t raced by. The first day at the first store location doesn’t seem like “yesterday.” The years have not flown by. Nor have the years crept by tediously in some dreary petty pace. They have been very full and rich.

I’m pretty certain another 40 years are not in the cards. But maybe 20 or so… Maybe then I’ll be ready to take some time off and catch up on the Lifetime “movies.”

The stretch of Rt 40 Clif is motoring up is still called The Golden Mile. Its luster has become quite tarnished in the last 15 years or so. (I know, I know, real gold cannot tarnish or fade.) In the 80s and 90s, this mile plus strip was the commercial center of Frederick. Both sides of the road were lined with vibrant shopping centers, fast food joints, a mall, filling stations, pizza parlors, donut shops… It killed much of the old downtown retail decades ago. Now this strip has a lot of dark retail storefronts. The mall—once THE hub of not only Frederick’s retail life but also much of its social life has been abandoned for many years. It is a huge moldering hulk. No one seems to know what to do with it. But in its glory days, it was always packed with people. Even in the morning before it opened, dozens and dozens of older people would “power walk” the indoor mile long circuit to keep fit and extend their longevity. I would visit the bank before opening the bookstore almost every morning to make a deposit and pick up rolls change and “ones.” There was always a “Mall Cop” circling the parking lot in a tiny “Security” car with a yellow light flashing atop it. On weekends, it was a churning mass of humanity everywhere—especially in the vast public area—the mall. Teens and kids would show up as it was “the place to be.” You were there to see the other kids and been seen. I used to stay away. It was too crowded. And back then I was the face of the city’s most popular book and video store. I would be stopped and chatted by customers and acquaintances far too much for my shy sensibilities. Gone are the major hubs—Montgomery Wards, JC Penney, Bon-Ton and the McCrory’s with its old style lunch counter. Gone is the Hallmark card shop. Gone the video arcade with its bright flashing lights and cacophony of beeping roaring alien siren and various other exotic electronic sounds.

The mall—once the most expensive retail property in town sits dark—waiting for the roof or walls to fall in.

…or maybe someone with vision and lots of money can repurpose it.

Well, here we are at a storage unit facility on the farthest west end of the Golden Mile. My first store location is essentially across the street. We pulled up the automated gate which will roll open if you have the magic code. We stop before it. Jasmine, the granddaughter was supposed to meet us at 10. I reach for my phone to check the time. It’s not in any pocket. I must have left it on the charger back at the warehouse. I ask Clif to let me use his phone.

I push the numbers on the plastic screen to call Jasmine.

“…I left a message on your phone. I’m running about 15 minutes late…”

“Let’s get some coffee, Clif.”

McDonald’s is just a couple retail plots away. Clif pulls into the drive through and ordered two “Cawfiees.” He’s from upstate New York and retains occasional unusual pronunciations. The McDonald’s is quite familiar to me though I haven’t stopped there for many years. When my kids were little, they’d often accompany me to the bookstore. In preschool we called them “daddy days.” When they got into school, it would often be on holidays or school vacations. I would buy them Happy Meals. They were fed good nutritious food in general. The fast food didn’t seem to hurt. They’re both tall, very fit, bright and handsome.

Clif and I rolled back to the gate. Jasmine soon arrived with two young friends. The massive orange gate rolled aside, and we rolled in. She stopped before a bright orange overhead (or “garage”) door which was identical to all the other orange doors. Her unit was inside the building. In we went and stopped before an interior orange overhead door. She unlocked it and lifted the door. It rolled up with the sound of metal and chains in a hollow dead space.

Before us was a scene I’ve seen so often. Irregular stacks of irregular boxes piled inside a sheet metal room. It was full—not quite floor to ceiling, wall to wall, front to back—but full.

Jasmine's Storage Unit

I stepped in and peeked in to a few boxes. They looked much the same as last week’s load at the tiny apartment. Many of the boxes had notes written in black marker atop them.

Slider image
Slider image

I could tell there would plenty of books to keep our conspiracy theory book sorter happy.

Many of the books had “09” marked on them. I suspect that was when the grandmother must have downsized from a house and moved into the apartment we visited. If so, she had paid eleven years rent on these books.

“Is everything here books?”


“And it all goes?”


I made a blind offer based on the previous load. I told her that, like last time, I’d send more money if we found anything very special in these boxes. It was far too cold to go rooting in these, and it really didn’t make any sense to.

We began rolling the boxes out on dollies and carts. I’d hinted that if Jasmine and her friends assisted, we would all get out of there faster. They pitched in.

As were worked, I discovered she was in college in Oregon. Her mom and grandfather had recently died, and now she wrapping up her grandmother’s estate.

“I went through that when I was about your age,” I told her. “You’re forced to learn things no young person should be exposed to.”

At the apartment last week, I’d described the Wonder Book “factory” to her. I did this to put her at ease that her relative’s books would be handled respectfully and to explain why the buying process was so fast and inclusive. While we were passing in and out past the orange doors, she expressed interest in seeing it.

“You and your friends can follow us back if you want.”

The van was filling quickly.

“Should we go get another one?” I asked Clif.

“No. She can take them all.”

He was correct. Barely. The van was completely full. Floor to ceiling. Front to back. Side to side. As we drove back to the warehouse, I had to twist to hold back the boxes of posters we’d wedged above and behind the seats to keep them from falling on us.

Very Full Van

We got back to Tilco, and I gave the three kids a “tour.” They “ooh’d and “aah’d” in the spots where most unsuspecting visitors do when they see the scope of what we do.

As she was leaving, Jasmine mentioned there might be some antique ivory treasures in the boxes.

“Grandma said there were. We looked and looked and didn’t find anything.”

“If we find anything, I’ll send you pictures, and you can decide what to do.”

I’m glad we got her grandma’s books. We took EVERYTHING, and we will look at every item we got.

Jasmine left and, I think, can now get on with her life and studies out West.

It is Friday morning. “B—Day”…blog day. I hate the word “blog.” It sounds mechanical. I try to write stories and life experiences here. I hope it is more about books and book life in these times (and not so long ago) and not too much about me. I went to bed very early last night. I listened to a bit of Jesse Winchester:

I’ve a sadness too sad to be true…
So have all of your passionate violins
Play a tune for a Tennessee kid
Who’s feeling, like leaving another town
With no place to go if he did
‘Cause they’ll catch you wherever you’re hid

—Brand New Tennessee Waltz

Then I curled up and blessed Lethe’s took me away from consciousness and sorrow. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t build and bank a good fire yet again. When I awoke, it was 58 degrees in, 29 out. I opened the dampers and set some wood in the firebox. Then I climbed back into bed and pecked away on this story—my laptop propped on my knees and stomach.

Now I’m showered, coffeed and dressed warmly for work. The dogs are set; they can be out today. The afternoon will be in the 50s.

I feel ok. Now I feel confident I’ll get some kind of story out today.

Tonight I’m going to see the Beatles. I’m trying to find someone to go with me. Well, it’s not really the Beatles. It is four guys that for the last 30 years have impersonated them. They dress in 1960s gray suits and black mop tops. If you squint, they look kind of like John, Paul, George and Ringo. But their music is spot on! I was too young to see the real Beatles in concert. But this will be close enough for me! Maybe I’ll forget…for an evening. That would be healthy.

I wonder what happened?


I walk through the entire warehouse at least several times a week. It is not ego—inspecting my dominions. I want to check for problems or projects or very good things or bad things that need attention.

I went into the janitors closet—actually it is more of a “room.” Maybe we could put some bookcases in there! LOL…

On one of the shelves were about 50 new boxes of bar soap. Irish Spring and Dove mostly.

I laughed.

About a year ago, we received an official letter from the State of Maryland. It was pretty lengthy. They’d received an anonymous complaint from an employee. One of the complaints was about toilet paper. As a semi-grownup, I’ve learned that when the toilet paper is low, you go and get more from the supply closet. I guess the anonymous person felt the company should periodically inspect the 8 stalls we have?

I came up with an instant solution. We installed a second toilet paper dispenser in each stall! Necessity is the mother of invention! I am so brilliant sometimes.

The other complaint was about bar soap. There are three sinks in each bathroom. We always have plastic bottle soap dispensers as well as refillable wall mounted liquid soap dispensers. We also had bar soap on each sink. I’m old school. I like bar soap. I don’t like touching a pump bottle other people have touched. I don’t like using plastic bottles that need to be thrown away or refilled from other plastic bottles that need to be thrown away.

(Dirty secret—it is VERY unlikely any plastic you “recycle” gets recycled. I’d like to be wrong. We’ve talked with MANY mega recyclers about it because we generate tons of scrap plastic every month.)

Bar soap—so we were officially informed that bar soap is not permitted in bathrooms in commercial entities (or something like that.)

I could get snarkier about this. But I’m sure there’s a reason behind it. And I know better than to poke the tiger.

Boom! We pulled all the bars out of the bathrooms. Rules are rules!

So last weekend when I looked through the janitor room I saw we still had all these bars of soap—new in boxes. I figured we would never use them. So, I sent them off to the Frederick store. We now have a selection of soap in our bookstore. Get ’em while you can!

Soap Display at Frederick Store

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Last Sunday Wonder Book sponsored a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Weinberg.

I’ve seen it many times at home. But the immersion of being in a great theater with a couple hundred other people was a completely different experience.

This film is so beautiful, so perfect, on so many levels I had to choke back tears…was 5 times? Or 6…or more?

To Kill a Mockingbird Screening

I was literally choked up and had to keep the emotions in to avoid making a scene. I’d feel foolish gasping or sobbing or whatever in front of so many potential customers!

Afterward, as I was packing up in the lobby (we had a table with copies of the book and other related titles for sale starting at $1) several strangers came up, extended their hand to shake and thanked me. The look on their faces I think mirrored mine.

To Kill a Mockingbird Table

I think they were just as drained and filled at the same time as I was.

I’m very proud for Wonder Book to have been part of this event. It meant a lot to me and many others as well.

One friend who had never seen it before anywhere texted: “I’m speechless.”

Four days later and I’m still affected.

It was as if the whole audience was sharing a reverential experience.

I hope we can offer something like that again some time. Only…not too soon. I need to recover.

March 13 we will be sponsoring Funny Girl at the Weinberg. I’m not so excited about that. LOL. But I’ll give it a try and hope that Barbara and Omar will give me a different kind of special experience.


For some reason, I thought I should check on the Farm

Painted Farm

It is so beautiful…

A lot of people keep asking:

“How is it going? What are you going to do?”

It’s in limbo right now.

We’ve had lots of people reach out to us. But so far none have been the match we are looking for.

At this point in my life, I’m not personally going to become a brewer or…

“I’m a bookseller not a bartender, dammit!”

It’s not going anywhere. I think, if history is any judge, that the right thing will come along for Wonder Book and that beautiful place.

OH! So I went to check on the property. I hadn’t visited during the holidays. I was away or sick or too busy.

The farmhouse was fine. No problems.

When I stepped in the barn, it felt cold. I put thermometers here and there and the nearest one read 45.

I switched on the lights and…nothing.

“Where are the breaker boxes?” I wondered.

I wandered around and found a few. Nothing seemed awry. I decided to go downstairs and see if there were more down there. I didn’t want the pipes to freeze.

I put a call in to our office to check that the bills were all paid. There are three or more meters on the property. We hadn’t switched them all over from the previous owner until they were gone in March.

I texted an electrician friend who does urgent stuff when needed.

“Did you call the electric company?”

I hadn’t thought of that. I called the office and asked them to call. I didn’t have the account numbers or other info they might ask for.

When I got back to the warehouse, I was told all that could be reached was an automated message.

“…we should have your problem resolved by 5:30. We will call then…”

Hmmmm. We don’t know what or where the problem is.

My friend came to the warehouse, and I gave him the keys to the Farm.

Not long after—about 4:30—I got a call from an 800 number.

“This is the [power company]. We think we have resolved your problem. If your power is on, push 1. If not, push 2.”

There was no number for “I don’t know.”

I disconnected.

About then I got a text from my friend.

“Problem solved. Dead squirrel. Power restored!”

Apparently a squirrel had committed suicide and blew up the transformer.

Ummm… I hadn’t thought to check on that.

Lizzie Borden

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks;
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

In 1904, O’Neil met Lizzie Borden while in Boston. The two had a close friendship, which incited considerable gossip.

O’Neil was referenced as a character in the musical Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe, where she was played by Suellen Vance. The women’s implied romantic relationship was explored as well in the 2010 play Nance O’Neil by David Foley and the 2006 novel Miss Lizzie by Walter Satterthwait.

O’Neil was also cited as a character in a play by William Norfolk, The Lights are Warm and Colored. Set in 1905, it uses Lizzie’s friendship with O’Neil and other theatrical players as a vehicle for a play within a play. The actors recreate scenes from the murder trial in an improv-like setting, coached or criticized by Lizzie and Emma. The playwright seems to think that Lizzie was innocent, and the real perpetrator was the maid, who makes a surprise visit at the end.

This little folder appeared on a cart with my name on it recently.

Lizzie Borden Folder

I have no idea where it came from. (The usual.)

It contains several news clippings and a 3 page handwritten letter from Mary A (Mrs C T) Holm.

It is dated June 1961 when Lizzie Borden—The Untold Story was published.

Mary Holm writes she was just a ten-year-old child living in Fall River when the murders took place.

She recalls walking past the house with her father “where the tragedies took place.”

She then goes on about the gossip in the town.

Lizzie’s next door neighbor, a Mrs. Churchill, visited Mary’s mother and said in no uncertain terms that she was guilty.

Apparently, Lizzie inherited a good deal of money. Fall River residents were resentful of “high toned” living. Evidently Lizzie acquired a “fine carriage with a liveried coach-man”. She purchased a “large fine house on the Hill.”

“It was a subject of talk when she made a friend of Nance O’Neill, the tragedienne…it was rumored she left a bequest in her will.”

There was further gossip that despite her wealth Lizzie was caught appropriating objects from a store and had to pay restitution.

There’s a death notice clipping from 1927 about Lizzie’s demise.

Another clipping from the NYTimes in 1948 is about the “last witness”—the maid who discovered Lizzie in the house with the two bodies.

Mary further writes of her disappointment that Lizzie’s sister Emma made no deathbed confession about Lizzie Borden’s will. Emma “will never be forgiven for dying with her secret buried with her.”

“Strange that the hatchet never was found.”

Lizzie Borden Excerpt

This letter may not add much light about really happened. Still it is so evocative to come across such first information from a neighbor.

It is Friday. January 10th. Noon. I’ve got to get this copy to my editor, or we will miss the deadline.

There are other things I wanted to write about.

Censorship in our stores by our staff for one thing. (i.e. political correctness)

And censorship online by book sites we sell our books on.

I wanted to get the next installment of Round and Round out.

It has stalled.

But I did write a bit about what may happen between Althea and the bookseller in about a year from now.

Fantasy is fun!

Here goes (you can skip the long “poem” below):

“Round and Round Part …” [Maybe it will be Part 24 by then]

The holidays were over. The annual race from mid November through New Year’s was done. All that was left was some football…

There were no distractions and no relief. Only winter for the next few months.

To Althea—Four Seasons

It was the first kiss of spring
Brief fleeting the first flower against winter’s demise
Golden yellow—narcissus mostly
In ancient times these flowers moved from the Mediterranean
to the far east and then worldwide
I brought them to my home years ago
to brighten the dull dark forest floor each year
As spring matured more flowers kissed the sun
That season came to life
I brought you more and more flowers from the mountain
Snipped and brought down from on high for you
Their soft beauty fleeting—
fading wilting swiftly

In late spring I brought you wild berries from the mountain
Pink, red; soft as skin
I plucked them gently
So fragile their flesh would sometimes tear
Rosy sweet juice bled out upon my fingers
I would gently tug their pebbly bodies
They would resist just a bit and then
break away from prickly stems
I could not hold one between thumb and forefinger
without thinking of you

In summer I gave you the first love apple
True deep red round and voluptuous
Warm as the sun
Gently, gently
lest it bruise
and lose its living tension
I could put one to my mouth
and gently, gently
set my teeth to her
The bitter juice would flow from it
Warm as blood but much thinner
I would pucker my lips to catch it
But love’s juice would trickle down my chin

Summer matured and peppers came
Glossy polished skin of green and red
Cool fruit hotter than sunlight
You would delight to burn those lips and that tongue
The pain is hard to get over
Harder yet to forget
But it leaves, nonetheless, a yearning
for more assaults on and inside you

The grapes ripened
Surprisingly each had your name upon it
At first hard green bitter impenetrable
Heat and light and time swelled them
Their skin turned dark pink and wine red
I would climb to reach and pluck a handful
Each fruit no bigger than a fingertip
I laid them upon your desk
They would roll bounce and bump before you
You would pick each between your thumb and forefinger
Place each namesake in your mouth
Press yourself upward with your tongue
Until you burst and sweet juice
poured from the broken skin
Wet warm evocative of the vineyard

Then sunflowers with heavy petaled heads
loaded with thousands of seeds
packed tight in no pattern
Protruding like tiny tongue tips
hard cased belying the soft white nut inside each one
Their faces followed each sunny day
Proud erect reaching for more heat and light
Their round faces framed in warm color
Gold, red, yellow, orange
Taller than the two of us
I’d sacrifice one head after another
When I’d give them
your face would brighten like dawn
You’d take them to your home
I hoped they’d brighten those rooms
which I had never seen

The freezes came
There was nothing living I could give
All was dead without
Withered, wilted, rotting, black, brown
Husks and shadows and skeletons and shells
The gardens were bare
but for dead sere leaves skittering over them

Cold dark festive season
I wished I could warm you
and in turn be warmed

Through all the seasons now
I have made a package
Each with your name scrawled upon it
Every day—cold hot wet or dry
I would find a book for you
I would scratch your name and mine inside
and then the month and year
It marked our time
—more apart than together
You would take them into your home
Today stacked upon yesterday
Tomorrow next week last month
until your vestibules were full of me
There was no more room
You were filled each and every where
Too much. Too many. Too much

The books will never wilt or fade or be consumed
These books may never die
They will abide upon your shelves
Til you tire of this one or that
You will take some away and voids appear
to be filled with books from others
But some will remain
Rare or common
Silly or serious
Look upon them from time to time;
season to season
and remember our four seasons
Open one now and again
Note two names linked together
for just one year
yet etched forever together
upon pages that may last
until there are no more books

4 Comments on Article

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Tom!
      I planted the last of the bulbs Sunday morning.
      So no more til Fall.
      And I hope I don’t forget what a pain it was planting that many.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  1. Denise Horner commented on

    Thanks for the Jesse Winchester link. The blog is like the stores. You just never know what treasure you’re about to discover.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I love Jesse Winchester.
      We used to play CDs in the sorting area at the old warehouse and he was often in the mix.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *