Wednesday morning, March 17
It is 63 degrees inside. 39 out. The sun will rise in a few minutes. It might brighten the gray curtain outside.
The first day of spring is Saturday. The Equinox is at 5:37 a.m.
Perhaps this spring will take place most everywhere. Last spring took place only in nature. I looked on at it but could not participate except in my gardens and forest.
The world looked only at fear last spring. Civilization in cities and towns and suburbs shut down.
I have worked on books every day since…early March 2020.
What else would I do?
They need constant attention.
Last year—March 23—we were shut down.
That began a fight for survival. April, May, June… Wonder Book was reinvented. The warehouse and the three stores were fundamentally changed to be in compliance with the governments’ and our own guidelines.
There was real concern people would not return to work.
We worked so hard. I moved so many books and pallets and furnishings and…
“Social distancing” was a new mantra.
I don’t want to think about those times. Dark days. I think I recorded much of what happened here, in these stories.
“Bookselling in the COVID era.” Is this week 52?
Almost all the rules are still in place. Though the Maryland governor opened the state last week (some jurisdictions have balked), the precautions for employees and customers are still in place.
So, Wonder Book continues to sell books in the COVID era.
The weekend went much as predicted.
Teachers from an under-funded elementary school arrived Saturday morning. I set them up with Gaylords of children’s books, empty boxes and tubs. The tubs are for books they don’t want. They toss those books into the tubs so they are out of the way, and they can dig deeper into the giant boxes.
“Take all you want. Text me when you’re done, and we will help you carry them out.”
Soon after, a prison librarian arrived, and I set him up with Gaylords of adult assorted books. Boxes. Tubs.
“Take all you want. Text me…”
Not long after, the deceased bookseller’s father backed up to Dock 1 in a big 24-foot UHaul truck. Fortunately, he had several helpers. On our end, the weekend high school kid was kept busy moving 12 pallets they built of big plastic tubs of old books and journals that had been cleared from the home I had visited about a month ago.
My day was interrupted two more times when I had to help the teachers and prison librarian out to their vehicles with boxes of books I was donating to them.
It was frustrating. I like to focus on the books set aside for my inspection on “my” weekends. But I have to serve in other ways. Otherwise…I might be seen as an effete intellectual snob…or worse, a jerk.
Most weekends yield something exciting. It is the law of averages. You’re going to find a gem or 5 if your “mine” is selective in its “inselectively.”
Or, to mix metaphors, since we cast a VERY wide net, we can expect some great catches along with all the trash fish.
Ummmm…no book is a “trash fish.” It is just that some are more common than others.
This slim volume did not look inspiring.
Until I looked at the title page.
What appeared to be a colonial imprint!
And then my memory was jogged from the history I was taught in high school.
Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania is a series of essays written by the Pennsylvania lawyer and legislator John Dickinson (1732—1808) and published under the pseudonym “A Farmer” from 1767 to 1768. The twelve letters were widely read and reprinted throughout the Thirteen Colonies, and were important in uniting the colonists against the Townshend Acts in the run-up to the American Revolution. According to many historians, the impact of the Letters on the colonies was unmatched until the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in 1776.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_from_a_Farmer_in_Pennsylvania
Real history. Not “Lies the Iconoclasts are Foisting Upon High School Students” today.
Some books change the world. This was one.
All the revisionist historians who say how bad these people were and how terrible this country was and is…
Look up the word “context.”
This had never been done before. Ever.
A few years later, those guys came up with this:
WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—
(Who knows—maybe I’ll find a copy of that document one of these days…)
Not bad for a human rights statement.
Have the last 245 years been perfect? Has that statement been followed perfectly at all times and for every person?
But there has been progress.
And progress is still being made.
All the stuff that is being protested and canceled and revised and trashed…well, one wouldn’t be able to do that stuff without the framework the “Founders” created.
Family tradition has it that my Welsh ancestors fled to the American colonies to escape persecution—religious and physical. Until the 1840s, Welsh coal mines were worked by children as young as 5.
The Welsh Quakers suffered religious persecution. William Penn (1644-1718) was the founding father of the Quaker colonies in America. William Penn established Pennsylvania in 1682, he first called the area “New Wales.” The Welsh Quakers were led by John Roberts, who had negotiated with William Penn to constitute a separate county whose local government and inhabitants would use the Welsh language. The Quakers founded the city of “Brotherly Love” (or Phil-Adelphia.) Philadelphia was the first planned, and surveyed city in the western hemisphere.
Do I blame those who don’t have a contextual understanding of history?
Do they have any notion how the world would be today if it wasn’t for the “Farmer”, Thomas Paine, the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation…
I blame some of their teachers. And now, their teachers’ teachers and…
There is some blame for them. Self-motivation. Anyone who has a lack of intellectual curiosity to investigate all sides of an argument must take some blame for their own inactions. Wearing blinders is your loss.
I force myself to read and watch things I disagree with or find uncomfortable.
Anyway…this book—unchanged for 247 years—is a survivor. How it came here—who knows?
I’m glad it did. I feel proud to be its caretaker for however long it is in my custody.
If it didn’t…it would likely have been destroyed.
I left the warehouse Sunday evening exhausted. Mentally and physically.
But I gave a lot of books the best treatment I could.
I went through another cartload of James Woolsey’s books. I didn’t get to the half cart of Jack Valenti’s books. I’m pretty sure I’ll do those this weekend. And maybe a cart or two or three of William Safire’s books.
Three pretty accomplished, brilliant and respectable guys. Give some names of similar folks working today.
Part of weekend duties are to clear carts—or prepare them to be cleared.
Monday mornings require a LOT of empty carts for the machinery to function.
I went to all the stores.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
That is a duty and often a pleasure.
Sometimes it is a pain.
Lately, all three are looking great and functioning well.
Books by the Foot had some unusual orders.
60 linear feet of books on California. That’s pretty tough. That is a LOT of books!
20 linear feet on New York.
50 linear feet on wealthy pursuits—Polo, Yachting, Horsey stuff, Fashion…
Where are these three orders going? I dunno. I suspect California and New York, though… LOL.
It is a great way to #rescue unwanted books.
And it is fun, physical and therapeutic work for me. It helps the stores cull old and duplicate stock as well. (Although currently you won’t many modern California hardcovers at any of the stores.)
Any voids will soon fill, though. That’s the nature of books.
I picked up a few framing jobs. 2 old maps that I felt certain were reproductions until I got them out of the old cheap frames.
And a framed book!
Have you ever framed a book?
We acquired the NC Wyeth drawing months ago from a retiring bookman who had a general bookshop months ago. It was being sold for $15.
I found it on a cart with other anonymous “old books.” It was only serendipity that I opened the book and looked inside.
What was the book?
I emailed my framer, and it turned out she read the thing while waiting for the unusual material needed to mount and frame a book.
On Board the Morning Star by Orlan
It is a 20-50 dollar book, even though it is Malcolm Cowley’s second book.
And it is a pirate tale! Go figure.
(I need to note that on the back of the frame so no one will be tempted to break it up to see if the anonymous book inside is anything special.)
Then Annika got around to this book I’d sent her a while back.
And it is signed by several Tuskegee Institute personages who worked with and succeeded Booker T. Washington.
Americans who continued the constant struggle to change and improve things for everyone. I’m proud this is another book we #rescued.
Friday, March 19, 5:30 a.m.
“wooo ooOO ooooo OOO!!! ooo…”
Winds are howling and rushing through the forest in blackness outside.
“Screeeeeee!” the teakettle screams in urgency.
59 degrees inside. 36 out.
I already stoked the woodstove, whose contents had burnt to ash and coals overnight.
I slept so hard and well. A rarity.
It was because Thursday exhausted me.
The plan was to leave Frederick at 6 a.m. Two vans. Clif and Annika. Me and Caryn.
The weather forecast called for rain all day.
I thought we could handle it? How bad could it be?
We were going back to the university to pick up the rest of the material we’d bid on at the Phillips Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts.
I wanted to get this behind us. The folks at the library were anxious to have everything removed.
I woke up tired and stressed.
I’d gone to Smoketown Brewery in Frederick Wednesday evening, St Patrick’s Day. David, the owner and a good friend, said they were having a live Bluegrass band.
I hadn’t seen live—anything—since November last year when I attended a drive-in concert at the fair grounds—a Grateful Dead cover band.
I wanted to see this tentative beginning of, perhaps, life returning to normal.
It was ok. Not very many people were out. It was very cold and gray.
I listened to a few songs, had a couple wonderful Hazy DIPAs and then went home.
I must not have slept well—or long.
At 4 a.m. Thursday, I woke feeling out of sorts.
It was black outside, but I could hear the rain and sense the fog and mist.
‘Should we cancel?’ I thought. ‘No. A promise is a promise. Let’s get it over with.’
I mean, how bad could it be?
I got to the warehouse at 6. Sunrise was still an hour and 20 minutes away.
Clif took off. I wasn’t far behind.
It was miserable. Cold. Black. Heavy rain. Mist and fog.
The windshield wipers weren’t working well. They smeared the precipitation, and I had to struggle to see the lines on the roads. Every passing truck would kick up spray, doubling the obscurity.
Somewhere beyond Harrisburg—Pennsylvania’s Capital—the sky brightened to a dark slate gray. The rain swept down constantly.
In four hours, we were backing toward the below ground level doors at the back of the library building.
It was my fourth visit.
The trip and poor rest had me stressed out. But there was nothing to do but pack and roll boxes on carts across the hall to the little elevator and descend two floors. There we would roll the boxes of books through a hall and into the machinery and power plant rooms—winding our way til we got to the doors leading outside to our vans.
Inside was very warm. I removed my hoodie. Outside was pouring rain and bone-chilling cold.
We packed and packed. Moved boxes out, down, across and out, over and over.
Hot. Cold. Tired. Dazed.
Stuart was kind of enough to go out to a Panera and get lunch for the crew. I just wanted a Diet Coke.
While they lunched, I slowed the pace for a bit and took a break, looking at the books left to pack.
The last trip I’d taken care to pack all the high spots I could find.
But as I looked at the shelves of thin volumes of poetry, I saw things I had missed.
Yeats, Eliot, Dylan Thomas…signed, signed, signed.
A couple Lady Gregory’s.
I started packing a box of high points…again.
In the adjacent fiction, a Dickens’ Christmas story and an odd number of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.
Could it be? Or is that a facsimile?
I’ll check later.
More. More. More…
I set that box aside, so it wouldn’t get mixed in with the 120 or so that were being packed or moved or staged near the exit door—to be loaded when there was a break in the rain.
We’d brought only lidded boxes to protect the books when stacking the boxes and, in this case, the rain.
I got in the van and maneuvered it closer and closer to the very small covered entryway to the building. I got the tail of the tall Transit van just under the overhang.
We could load that one somewhat dry.
I’d negotiated to buy 7 metal 4-wheel book trucks. These had been buried in books and prints and… perhaps immobile for many years in the rare book rooms.
We can always use more carts. They’ll join the herd back in Frederick. I’m sure they’ll become friends. I believe they’ll enjoy the work and movement they will experience nearly every day going forward.
They nearly filled the van I had driven. But we squeezed boxes in and around them.
Around 2:30, I looked around.
We were all packed!
We’d brought large plastic tubs for the oversized books and materials.
I looked around for things we had missed…
“How did this happen? We are done!”
Now, we just needed to load the stuff staged in the long gray concrete hallway leading outside from the mechanical room and roll these last tubs out and…
Clif called me on my cell from far below.
“Chuck, we’re full. I might be able to squeeze the last few tubs down here on.”
I looked around the former rare book rooms.
It was a little deflating.
I took the elevator down to survey the vehicles.
The rain was still pouring cold.
“We better take this stuff back up.”
My legs were sore. I was tired and drained and stressed.
“Stuart, we’re going to have to come back. I’m sorry.”
We closed up and headed out into the rain. I gave Clif a card and told him to stop for dinner when they wanted.
I stopped at the statue of Mary.
I have seen her in snow and sun and now rain.
I’ll be seeing her once more. Soon.
The trip home was…rainy.
We were delayed leaving campus by the stopped commuter train blocking the road. Cars were backed up about 50 deep.
On the highway, I strained to see the lines.
Then the traffic backed up. For miles.
We got off in Allentown, where my younger son went to college. There wasn’t much to like about the town. I had a profound dislike for the school. I make an obscene gesture whenever I pass.
It does have the best little neighborhood tavern in the world, perhaps.
Tavern on Main.
They have about 20 flavors of wings. These aren’t just chicken wings. They are transcendent. Blue Heat—some amazing sauce creation. And the legs themselves are very large, meaty, juicy…
And the pizza. The crust is the best part. Well, after the cheese and sauce and toppings…
I got extra to carry out. Of everything.
Back onto the highway. I 78. The traffic had thinned markedly. But the rain continued.
78 onto I 81. The bypass through Harrisburg—which has been under construction for twenty years, it seems.
When we got onto US 15, Caryn agreed to drive last leg. A straight shot south.
She adjusted the seat and mirrors and got ready to pull out.
The rain stopped.
I put my tired feet up on the dashboard and relaxed—keeping one eye on the road.
Past Gettysburg, the St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine and Grotto. (Yes, the same St. Elizabeth that founded the university.) Past my mountain eyrie to the Wonder Book warehouse.
The big American flag was waving, illuminated by the buildings lights. The gardens are bright with flowers.
Then home to Merry and Pip.
It was about 10 o’clock. A 16-hour day.
I will need to return once more to the university.
Maybe next week.
The Friday morning sun is up.
Time to shower and head in.
First, I’ll send this draft off via the ether to my editor 7 miles away—as the crow flies.
We haven’t unpacked single box from the last visit. They are packed and stacked carefully on 6 pallets, in 6 Gaylords.
There is another book that was too large to pack. I wanted to look at it more closely.
Some bookseller colleagues think I have a “thing” for big books.
That is true.
But I also love little books.
And all books in between.