Stella Blue


My Garden

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
ringed pool,
Ferned grot—
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not—
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Thomas Edward Brown 1893

Now come the dark days of winter. The flickering lights of last year’s subdued holidays are extinguished.

Hard times. Hard times ahead.



Thousands of bulbs to plant.

Why, oh why, did I not plant them in November when I should have?

Or in December?

For the last week, I’ve been leaving work a little early—3:30 or 4:00—to get home while there is still light.

I fill two buckets with daffodil bulbs.

One is for various miniature varieties that will be planted at the front of beds or borders. The other is for mixed taller growing types. I make sure there are early, mid-season and late varieties in that bucket as well. Daffodils will bloom from March (perhaps February) through May (maybe into June.) I want each bed to have as much color as often as possible.

The January soil is so cold and black. My fingers are numb and filthy when darkness forces me to stop. But to finish a nearly completed bed or border, I will turn on the exterior lights or even aim my truck’s headlights at the garden.

Bulbs, once planted, are invisible. It wouldn’t do to dig and plant where there are already bulbs installed. If there is too much space left and I can’t finish a bed or section, I’ll put sticks in the ground to mark where I left off.

If I get a couple hundred in per day, I’ll be finished—barring rain or snow or hard freezes—in how many days…I don’t know.

January 2021

Dark gray days ended with early sundowns.

The mornings are freezing with late sunrises.


I rise early.

I make sure the fire is lit.

I put water on to boil in the stainless steel kettle.

When it starts screaming, I stop writing in my journal and pour the water over the strainer. I fill two mugs. One to drink right away. The other to seep until I go and get it—”dark.”

While the first tea is cooling, I continue writing or looking at news on my iPhone or Instagram.

Books by the Foot just went over 15,000 followers! Wonder Book 8,000. People LOVE the images I take of the piles and bookcases of old books in our storerooms. I don’t know why I care. It is not profitable. Just a game. A popularity game.

BBTF Followers

This is embarrassing…

I’ve found a way to save a little bit of energy in the winter.

Shower Bucket

I put a bucket—someone brought us books in it—in the shower with me. It collects a good deal of heated water that used to go down the drain immediately. It also adds a bit of moisture to the air. The air can be so dry in the winter, especially with a woodstove. The bucket just stays in the shower emitting a bit of heat and moisture.

Is it too nitpicky to do this? Am I a recycling crank?

Well, another gentle madness to add to my resume.

But it costs nothing and takes no time or effort—beyond tipping the water out when next I shower.

I have culled a lot of books from my personal collection.

They are being added to my “Collection” on Each comes with a bookplate designed by Alan James Robinson with my collaboration. It is signed by me—in facsimile.

The image is a mashup of various scenes from Connemara. I wrote a poem about the place a few years ago and was thinking of doing a broadside. Humbleness (and common sense) prevented me from going any further than this:

Connemara Poem


when I go to connemara again
the wind will whisper irish poems
i’ll not understand a word
but will know the song

when i go to connemara again
– perhaps tonight –
time will speed, slow, stop
then return to the beginning

i close my eyes, open my heart
and i am back in connemara
i can recall each word we spoke
though that language is now extinct

when i return to connemara again
i’ll taste the sea air, see the mountain sun
and i will be there forever
– as i am now –

I decided I had far too many Folio Society books. Most were obscure classics, histories or biographies I will never look at. A friend has come in a couple times to help organize the remaining books.

She has found I had a lot of duplicates. She is also shelving the piles from the floor.

She comes when I’m not there. I’d just be in the way—offering advice, saying “No”…

The place will be reinvented when the project is finished.

Strange…I can grind away at books in the warehouse for hours, but I cannot motivate myself to do many things like this at home.

I don’t know how many books I culled. I guess I could check online.

I did keep some of my favorite Folios.

Chuck's Favorite Folios

And there will be some spare room on the shelves, even when everything is off the floor.

Chuck's Shelves

I wonder if I can find books to fill them somewhere?

The fallout has subsided from the Politico story on December 26th. But Thursday I got a request from the BBC:

I’m writing to you from BBC World Business TV.

I read an article about your books by the book service

I was wondering if anyone from Wonder Books would be interested in joining us for a Skype interview next week, to talk to us about book cases and what your customers desire?

The interview will be at 0530am (UK time) which I believe is 0030 Maryland time, via Skype and will broadcast to a worldwide audience.

If it actually happens, maybe I’ll have to learn how to put on makeup. A midnight appearance will not be flattering.

I wonder how much of my obituary—I hope in the far distant future—will be devoted to Books by the Foot?


January 2021

Off to a dreadful beginning, most certainly.

Worse than 2020—at least so far.

More than ever, a society bright and excited a year ago is huddled in their houses, often alone, solitary. Terror of being infected by something, someone. An amorphous shadow hovering above all.




Things slipping into chaos.

I’m not going out much at all. Some older friends will not even see me unless we can sit outside. It has been and will be far too cold for that.

The world is distracted and frozen by a disease deadly almost exclusively to older people:

In fact, people over the age of 54 account for 97.18% of total COVID deaths. The problem is—as we hear every day—that young, asymptomatic people can unknowingly infect older people or those with underlying medical conditions.

In Frederick County, the death toll is at 197 today. The population is about 264,000. This graph shows that 94% of the victims are over 60. (I fall into that demographic.)

Frederick COVID-19 Deaths by Age

If my math is correct, there were 11 or 12 people under 60 who are victims. All but one of them were 40-59. One person 20-39 perished. No one under 20 has perished thus far.

They aren’t reporting—that I can find—how many of the 197 had serious comorbidities beyond advancing age? Why not? Why aren’t what demographics are dying and what percentage have serious diseases coincidentally on the front?

I’m waiting for the vaccine. I fall into Tier 3. That is after frontline health workers. Congregate home people will be Tier 2.

When we are all shot, will things return to normal? How soon?

Or will we have ongoing fears that will mandate new protocols—like health agents operating TSA-like checkpoints? Another way we are tracked and guided?

“I need to see your vaccination certificate, sir.”

I wear my mask.

I went to one of my stores yesterday to pull culls for Books by the Foot orders.

Books by the Foot List

I was in the most remote part of my own shop. No one was within 50 feet of me. I was facing bookcases just inches away, scanning for dupes. I pulled the mask below my nose because my glasses were fogging with the exertion of pulling and tossing them into tubs.

A concerned staff member sidled up to me and asked me to cover up.

“You don’t want to be seen.”

How WAS I seen?

How could I possibly spread infected droplets from my nose to people not even remotely close?

I complied. It is not only my rule for the company. It is the Law there.

… I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way…
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well…

I used to listen to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on my brother’s stereo. I’d sneak up to his garret rooms when he was away.

It didn’t make much sense then. It doesn’t now.

But I sure don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing now.


I always wondered who the languorous woman in the background was. I could probably Google it or Duck Duck Go it.

Bringing It All Back Home

Doesn’t matter…a lot of things don’t matter…cuz “the vandals took the handles.”

Last week’s entry ended on New Year’s Day.

I did go out for drinks and a light dinner that night. The nights since then have been depressing leftovers or frozen fare wrapped in foil from my freezer. Nothing at home tastes good anymore.

Except the Old Fashioneds. Those have been my weapon of choice lately. Those DO taste good. I make good ones if the supplies are right. I like to muddle the brandied cherries on the bottom of the tumbler.

The weekend was the usual. I was very motivated and went through thousands of books.

There were some nice ones—lots of them. Signed Seamus Heaney and Stephen Spender…Lots and LOTS of books. Many “good” books.

Then it was Sunday evening. I’d worked. I made so many carts of collectible books to put online.

We are selling so many books all over the world.

I’m proud if we are bringing people comfort. And distraction. And information. And the physical beauty of the printed book.

Among the weekend collection was a large group of True Crime. I’ve never understood the appeal. There was also someone’s yachting collection. That would appeal to me, but I don’t see a yacht in my future.

Slider image
Slider image

When Sunday afternoon’s time-to-quit bell tolled, I’d yet again, created two large herd of book carts. Only herd was laden. The other bare.

Slider image
Slider image

There was plenty of my weekend handiwork elsewhere in the building as well.

I rewarded myself with a wee dram of quality scotch.


I have a pretty large rare scotch collection. I’m a saver, not a user.

There’s no reason to save all these bottles for the future. A Washington Redskins’ coach famously said:

“The Future Is Now.” George Allen even wrote a book using that title, I think.

Doesn’t matter.

The scotch was smooth and very warm going down.

I got dreamy.

…I worked so hard today
Just so hours would pass away…

Something made me think of the question my mom would ask me when I complained others were doing things I wasn’t permitted to.

“Would you jump off a cliff if others were doing it?”

I think a lot of people are jumping like lemmings nowadays—metaphorically.

I went home.

I made sure the woodstove was stoked.

I put on football even though I’ve rebelled against it because of the preaching and double standards. It was tiresome.

Now the season is ending. It gives me a bit of comfort. Fond memories of when I cared. I don’t think I’ll wear any team gear again.

I finished the penultimate Elizabeth Daly unread in my collection. Nothing Can Rescue Me. That seems apt. What will I turn to when the Dalys run out?

I dunno. Something comfortable.

I bought new jeans for the first time in years last week. Two inches wider girth. The dressing rooms are closed. The new jeans are…comfortable. My COVID couture.

A few belated Christmas gifts arrived. I feel dreadful. I didn’t give anyone but family anything.

Bookseller friends sent me candy, a vintage hotel coaster (so I can dream of returning to grand hotel bars) and a bottle of Irish Gunpowder Gin. That gin is sublime.

Clark asked me if I’d had a chance to look at a link he sent me just before Christmas. I didn’t know it was a gift. I’d glanced at it and recognized the actor. But I hate Denethor. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you’ll understand. Plus, I didn’t have 5 minutes to spare. Clark wrote:

Here’s a Holiday Greeting from a familiar face. 🙂

Merry Christmas/Happy New Year.

I found 5 minutes and pushed the play arrow.

It brought tears to my eyes. If I find Denethor despicable, I find John Noble delightful.

All the years combine
They melt into a dream
A broken angel sings
From a guitar
In the end there’s just a song
Comes crying up the night
Through all the broken dreams
And vanished years

It all rolls into one
And nothing comes for free
There’s nothing you can hold
For very long
And when you hear that song
Come crying like the wind
It seems like all this life
Was just a dream
Stella Blue

Long, long ago, I was in a band. We mostly played Grateful Dead songs. We only got beyond the basement a few times. No, we played a lot at a friend’s farm in Montgomery County. A housing development now, I’m sure. There were times when it all came together, and we were transported beyond ourselves.

The “Unspoken Thing.” That was a term when the Dead got into the zone, when they and their playing became greater together than the sum of their parts.

When it happened to me, it was magic. My fingers seemed to move of their own accord. Magic…

It was an altered state of consciousness. I was creating—improvising things I was…incapable of.

I guess you had to be there.

We had some wonderful versions of “Stella Blue.”

Transporting—even in memory.

I wonder if I can pick up my guitar again? So much else to do.

How many stars do you see?


The fire is lit.

The tea is cooling.

Sometimes I just want to go hide in a corner.

Vintage Corner

8 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on

    Thank you, thank you Chuck, for your continuing stories, please keep them coming. And you’ve inspired my cocktail for the evening….an Old Fashioned and I’ll toast for a (hopefully) better 2021!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      My secret is muddling brandied cherries or black cherries.
      You can get them frozen at Costco.
      I also muddle some orange if I have it.
      I resigned to a bad 2021 for the foreseeable.
      Maybe fall?
      But I dont what the country will look like.

      I really appreciate your reading and commenting

  2. Charlie Downs commented on

    Hope you can get the vaccine soon. Since I’m a pharmacist at the hospital in Hagerstown, I was fortunate enough to get my first dose this past Monday. Then they opened it up to the public on Wednesday and the call volume was so heavy that it shut down their phone system for part of three days. These are crazy times that we live in. I just hope that we can rapidly immunize as many people who choose to get vaccinated. Of course there are many who won’t and they will continue to pay the ultimate price.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you for reading and writing Charlie!

      I hope we all get better soon.


  3. Dear Mr. Roberts:
    Thanks again for letting us into your life as our region’s number one book man! Since you invoked Mr. Dylan, allow me to do the same, briefly!

    Something is happening and you don’t don’t know what it is. Do. You. Mr. Jones.
    (Some liberty taken, but anyone who wants to, go ahead and reflect!)

    Why this post, okay, well a very fine and knowledgable gentleman, Dave Carter–he of Dave’s Golden Oldies–was ending his store’s tenure with a colleague of yours in Rockville last week, and we got to talking. He saw himself as a curator of a museum of sorts, what with his experience as a seller of recorded music, one of the very finest components of what we call culture. I couldn’t agree more, but with one wonderful caveat. When one visited DGO, just like your stores, at very reasonable cost, YOU get to take your museum artifact home with you. Try that at my all time favorite museum, the Hillwood Estate and Gardens in NW Washington DC. If you have not visited Hillwood, you are cheating yourself bigly in your only known lifetime. Hillwood was gifted to all of us by Marjorie Merriwether Post, who was once perhaps the wealthiest woman in the world. Mrs. Post envisioned from the outset her final home as a museum when she purchased it in 1955 and resided there seasonally until she died in 1973. It contains the largest collection of czarist period artifacts outside Russia. Eye popping, jaw dropping. So while on the tour one day, I lagged behind in stone silence, gazing trance-like at a ruby encrusted chalice (you can’t put a price on the value of it) which was broken only by the stealthy appearance of the guard corps who, quite correctly, shadowed the visitors. I heartily agree, some things found in museums shouldn’t be taken home.

    So last week, I drove up 270 and visited your “take out” museum. On the way back to Fairfax, I played of all things, “The Letterman’s All-Time Greatest Hits, re-recorded in 2001. Played it twice! Sang along! Loved it! Revisited happier times, a respite from the misery and uncertainty of the public aspects of my world. Thank you for giving us a place on your shelves where that item could be found and given a new home.

    I recall walking up and down down your music theater movies and tv aisle in Hagerstown on a blissful Sunday afternoon a few years ago. Echoes of some of the finest entertainers and what they left us filled my head even as all was quiet around me. So many biographies of many of the greats we seem to be forgetting. Culture is turning over way too fast to my liking. A collection of Broadway reviews dating back to the 40’s. What was it like to go to a Broadway play during that glorious time? So much more. I recall commenting to one of your employees, if you transplanted this aisle alone to the heart of New York’s theater district, there would be no room to walk and so much of this would be quickly sold. But on that day, this fine museum was mine to explore and mine alone.

    In this so far very gloomy and you’d better believe challenging year, I hope people will choose to rediscover bookstores like yours. If I were the king of Wonder Books, I’d meet everyone at the door and tell them, thanks for voting FOR the preservation of culture. This place is yours, don’t fail to take something home with you. You’re gonna feel better, guaranteed.

    Best wishes, Steven R

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you for reading and writing AND visiting the stores!
      “Something is happening and you don’t don’t know what it is. Do. You. Mr. Jones.”
      I had that in the rough draft but didnt want to mix songs
      It helps so mocha to hear from people like this.
      I have-not been to Hillwood for many years.
      I need to revisit!

  4. Jeff S. commented on

    “I’m proud if we are bringing people comfort. And distraction. And information. And the physical beauty of the printed book.”

    During the pandemic, I’ve made a habit of visiting each of your stores once a month, and I never leave empty-handed. Except for the grocery store, the hardware store, and various hiking trails here in rural MoCo, Wonder Book is the only place I’ve regularly gone since last spring. Your stores have been a source of comfort and provide a pretense of normality, even with face masks and plexiglass shields. So yes, you’ve improved people’s lives during this whole mess–and not just mine, but also the life of the work-from-home high-school teacher in my household who needs a little break from my omnipresence from time to time.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Jeff, those comments move me.
      It is a passion here – #bookrescue

      Thank you so much for reading the story and especially taking time to comment.

Leave a Comment

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