Ten Beautiful Words

Year of Wonder

Tuesday, July 25

Ernest and I are heading down I-270 to the Gaithersburg Wonder Book. There’s finally a large enough Books by the Foot order that justifies both of us going down there to cull.

Almost 200 linear feet:

  • Children’s Hardcover
  • Midcentury Hardcover
  • Distressed Art
  • Well-Read Biographies
  • And some smaller lots of paperbacks of various categories.

We are riding in one of the new “cubes.” These are miniature box trucks. The chassis is a heavy-duty pickup style. It still smells new.

It is cloudy, and the heat has broken a bit. The prediction is for the upper 90s later in the week.

I’m tired. (I should search these stories for how many times I have written that!)

I worked so hard over the weekend to try to get ahead, to try and make space in the crowded warehouse.

So many books…

Monday, I worked hard as well.

Whenever I made a space.

It filled in.

But the day began with a lark. I met Clark and my son and Maribeth at the venerable Frederick Wonder Book. I’m thinking of expanding it. Space next to us has been vacant for quite a while. There’s been frequent turnover when it has been occupied. Maybe the landlord will cut us a deal.

I don’t know. Do I want to take more work on?

Still, it was fun to look.

Maribeth and I first looked at this space in 1990. 33 years ago. Crazy.

When she led me inside, the floor was gravel, and the space totally raw and unfinished. I saw it as a blank canvas.

I recall exactly my feelings when I stepped into the vacant space.


I said it aloud.

It seemed huge. 11,000 square feet.

Not so big now. The warehouse complex Wonder Book owns is nearly 250,000 square feet. Crazy…

When I arrived at the Frederick store with a vanload of fresh books and supplies, the store had lots of people inside.

Families, young people, old people.

Do I want to mess with success?

“…coffee bar?…” Clark and Joey posited.


I’ve flirted with that plenty of times before. Sounds good until you think about all the permits and staffing and… other problems not anticipated.

Something to think about…

Whenever I’ve entered a new space, I get dreamy. I think of what the results could be—ignoring the work and expense in between.

But a bigger Wonder Book store…


How to spend my time?

When I got back to the warehouse, I parked the van and got into my pickup truck. I slipped over to Irwin Stone a couple of blocks away. I love that place. They sell all kinds of beautiful stone. From giant slabs to gravel.

Irwin Stone

This is only a portion of the stone yard.

Rock is like candy to me.

“I want…”

I’ve bought so much there over the last 13 years. Taking stone to a mountain covered in boulders seems counterintuitive.

It’s granite madness.

Limestone too.

Yesterday, I was there for Delaware River gravel. It is stone rounded by eons of water wearing it against other stones. It is decorative and functional. They sell it in 80 pound bags. I paid for 15 and drove back into the yard. The workers there are always big and strong. Two of them tossed the bags in as if they were filled with feathers, not rock. When I got home last night, I backed to where I wanted to spread the stuff.

They were so HEAVY! It was an effort just to drag the bags to the tailgate. Then I’d wrap both arms around them and cradle them against my body and lift.


Then I’d walk them to a likely spot and drop them. Hobbled, more like.


I cut the bags open with a box cutter and lifted the bags by their necks so the contents would spill out.

Those bags didn’t use to be that heavy, though they’ve always weighed 80 pounds.

Ernest and I are on our way back.

We culled a few thousand books, I’d estimate. It will make space for fresh stock. The culls we are taking back to the warehouse will find new homes with Books by the Foot clients.

Culls for BBTF

It is physically hard work. Much like yard work.

It seems like a lot of books, but in the scheme of things, it is just a drop in the bucket.

The culling continued all week at all three stores.


We are hitting the DC Beltway. Thousands of red taillights blinking on and off in front of us.

Joey, my younger son, is driving one of the new “cubes.” I picked it up yesterday from the sign people. It was closing time, but he waited til we got there. It was out in their parking lot.

“Looks great,” I said.

“Do you think we could have gotten any more words on it?” he quipped. “But you got a great mobile billboard.”

Cube Lettering

When it comes to signage, sometimes I forget the business adage “less is more.”

I guess this is full circle for my son. For years, I would drive both boys down to DC for house calls or museums and the zoo and other sites.

Now I’m the passenger.

It is good down time. I can try to write.

We are heading to the iconic Cosmos Club. They’ve done another book drive with their members, and we are going to pickup the results. They emailed that there were about 250 boxes.

Last year, I just went down with Clif thinking it would be an easy pickup. It turned out to be a lot of work. A LOT. And we had to return the next day. This year, I thought ahead, and Patrick and the new Eric are in a van behind us.

I’ve been in a funk most of the week. (I need to search the past 350 blogs for “funk” to see how many times I’ve written I’ve been funky.)

So many books…

There have been so many great house calls over the decades down here. We passed many familiar places on the way through the city. I can’t afford to go on house calls much any more.

It was only 54 minutes to the Cosmos Club. We turned off Massachusetts Avenue (Embassy Row) onto Florida and into the parking lot for the exclusive venue.

The boxes were sprawled on the floor of the lecture hall.

Cosmos Club Boxes

To think of all the different speakers and attendees that have graced this room.

But we were here to work. Schlep boxes of books. It went pretty fast, and in about 40 minutes, we were heading back out of town on Massachusetts with two very full vans.

I’m glad we brought extra help.

Now to see what I will find at the Tilco warehouse when I get back.

Things came to a head late yesterday afternoon. I made a command decision. The nuclear option.

Well… not THE nuclear option. That would be stopping ALL book buys.

I texted Clark and Joey, “We can’t get any more books into the building. Put notices on social media and at the stores to try and discourage buys.”

I hate doing this. It doesn’t happen very often. Just a few times ever, it seems.

But I’ve been swimming against the tide for over a couple of months. I’ve pushed the staff to sort faster.

The constant panic mode wears on me.

“I’m tired.”

“Enough!” something triggered inside me. “I can’t do this any more. We will be swept away.”

(I write these words on the Interstate with a couple of hundred boxes piled behind me and another vehicle a few hundred yards behind, also laden with books. Thought and action are often out of sync.)

I actually looked at the forecast to see how long we could leave books outside. But that wouldn’t work for long. Some day it will rain again.



Frustration often manifests itself in tiredness in me.

“I’m tired.”

When I got home last night, I took one of my four chainsaws down to the base of the driveway. It had just been sharpened. I took it to the nearby small engine repair place on Monday. I expected to wait weeks. That’s been the usual turnaround time. They called Tuesday and said it was ready.

The way my mind works, that must “mean something.”


In bad times, people use their own tools. They also repair rather than replace.

Why would a business that is usually weeks behind be able to flip a repair so quickly?

Anyway, the trunk of the big dead tree that fell across the driveway a few weeks ago has been lying along the edge of the drive. It needed to be moved. I thought if I cut it in half, I could lift the pieces into the pickup and transport them up the mountain. Hollowed-out logs can be cool rustic garden accents. It was long dead and much was rotted away. The saw went through the wood like it was soft butter. Indeed, the middle of the trunk was like mushy sawdust. I rolled one five-foot section with the sole of my boot. A small blue-gray checked copperhead slithered toward me like a dart of death. I stepped away, and the serpent disappeared into the woods far below my house. I rolled the second half, and bees buzzed out.

I wouldn’t be lifting these hazards today after all. Maybe when cold weather sets in.

I walked back up about 50 yards to the mound where my Tree Farm sign is planted. It is also where I’ve planted a little grove of redbud trees over the last two years. One of the four I transplanted this spring had died. Or so I thought. I planned to pull it up and replace it, but then I noticed, amongst all the dead branches and black drooping leaves, two tiny glows of green. The four-foot tree has only that to show it still has life.

Redbud Tree

It makes me think of a scene near the end of The Return of the King. The fabled white tree of Gondor, which after many years of dormancy, sprouted one small blossom. It was a signal that the kingdom was not dead. There was hope for a future in that one tiny flower.

Then I cut some deadfalls near the drive down there and drove them up to the barn. More extra firewood.

Thursday, wee hours.

I awoke around three and couldn’t get back to sleep. I reached for the old poetry anthology More Silver Pennies.

The original Silver Pennies is a favorite of mine. I’ve written about it before.

You need a silver penny
to get into Fairyland.

Blanche Jennings Thompson created More Silver Pennies due to popular demand. The original went through many printings.

I smile whenever I come across a copy. I know it will make someone happy. They are usually bound in dark blue-gray, but I have found them bound in green as well. The covers are all the same. A little girl in black silhouette with a shower of silver coins falling from the sky.

Silver Pennies

The poems are mostly aimed for children, but as she writes in her introduction:

The poems you cherish in youth will still be your friends in age, for no matter how old you grow
You still need a silver penny to get into Fairyland.

Many have said they liked them and many have asked for more.

I dipped into the book, turning to pages at random. It must be difficult to create a sequel to an anthology. By definition, you choose the best pieces for the original.

She writes brief introductions for each poem. For one called “Small Rain” written by Alice Lawry Gould, she wrote:

Someone said that the ten loveliest words in the language are these: lullaby, tranquil, murmur, chimes, melody, glisten, luminous, golden, mist, dawn. Alice Lawry Gould thought that it would be an interesting experiment to weave them into a sonnet… Make a list of lovely words yourself. Perhaps you even make them into a poem. Some words appeal to the ear and some to the eye, and some we like for their meaning…

Sleep would not take me back in its arms any time soon, so I thought I’d have a go at her suggestion:

The night wind whispers a lullaby
The breeze through the tree’s leaves
flutters percussive accompaniment
The cold soft moonlight’s luminous
It bleaches the earth a dull gray white
but glistens upon the forest’s shiny surfaces
The earth itself is tranquil
The mountain sleeps without a murmur
Stars hang in the firmament above.
I feel they ring like silent chimes
Can a melody be soundless?
The dawn is just a dream hours away
A golden east that will melt the morning mists

There’s a baby shower this weekend for my first grandchild. I understand there will be 70 people. We are supposed to bring a favorite children’s book to get the baby’s library off to a good start.

Seventy books! Why, when I was a baby, I only had… But what a great idea. The kid will have a great beginner’s library while in the womb.

I will take a copy of Silver Pennies. I have a handful set aside for just such an occasion. I chose a jacketed copy. This one’s binding is a lighter blue. The book is in fine condition. A veritable “time traveler.” I will bookmark La Gallienne’s “I Meant To Do My Work Today.”

I Meant to Do My Work Today
By Richard Le Gallienne

I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?

(As I’m writing this, I look out the window at the forest outside my window. Down the slope, I see the swaying of ferns with their fairy-like lacery. I would so like to stay and play today.)

We are supposed to bring an extra book to be donated.

I’m sure I can find one.

I read The Halloween Tree this week. It has been a long time since I last indulged myself with it. Without divulging too much plot, the story is about a group of boys dressed in costumes being led through time. They visit different periods and see how death is celebrated in other countries and eras. They are on a quest to help a friend. A sepulchral character accompanies or leads them.

It is Ray Bradbury at his most poetic, almost florid at times. It is also very cinematic. Or like an immense circular painted mural that immerses you as it rotates around you.

Near the end, one of the boys asks the mysterious stranger:

“O Mister Moundshroud, will we EVER stop being afraid of nights and death?”

“When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live forever, all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.”

It is Friday.

July is ending soon.

Another month ticked off.

Another step toward that far horizon.

I will be in Dublin soon. The break will do me good.

(“… What can I do but laugh and go!”)

Maybe I’ll get something written beside these “journal entries” and po-ems.

I’ve gotten a couple nice comments recently which help justify the effort of building this mountain of weekly writings.

But this one struck deep and hard:

Charles—You’ve done it again. I can’t always read your blog weekly and have to catch up on a few at time. This one truly spoke to me.

I lost my husband in January and left a comment back then that we shared your poem Addendum (with your permission) at his memorial. It was perfect because we lost our own Mr. Fix-it (anything!) when he passed.

Only now, months later, memories of him have become somewhat less sorrowful and heavy as more beautiful moments of our 47 years together appear without warning in my everyday thoughts.

I just returned from a visit to Shenandoah Park which we had to give up visiting because of his health. I wanted to reclaim it again with more pleasant memories and those mountain vistas, like your own on the mountain top, did just that for me.

Thank you for putting into words in Phantasie what I feel in my heart and can’t always express on my own.

Thank you! Exquisite words.

If one person thinks I’m a poet, then I am a poet. I have had a poem read publicly by a stranger.

I am honored.

I can hold on to that and consider these last 315 Fridays a success.

Last weekend was all books.

This weekend will be the same.

Yesterday, I signed the lease for the second warehouse building. So both will be rented before they are completed. It has been a massive project.

New Warehouses

What do I do next to keep myself busy?

I started carrying up books to shelve in the garret.

Maybe I will finally get my house in order again.

I took in more of my own collection to put online to pass on to others. I gave Annika a couple of boxes that needed to be evaluated beyond my “top of my head” pricing.

There’s a Carolina wren nesting amongst the potted plants that I walk past every day as I leave the house. I saw this little pile of leaves and knew right away what it was. I bent to peek in, and the mother fluttered out past my face, putting back a couple paces in surprise. Later, I tried to get a picture. You can just make out a few tiny eggs in there.

Wren Nest

I’ll have dinner with Ray and Jay tonight. It will be a farewell. They’re moving to Mississippi and then on to Italy for a fellowship at an Egyptian Museum then to Luxor. But maybe I’ll see them again before too long in Oxford or Turin.

The gardens are heading into their dog days. I still haven’t ordered bulbs. I still haven’t gotten far with the transplanting I’ve been planning since winter.

Maybe when things cool off.

(I mean to do my work today…)

The false arum seed stalks are everywhere this year.

False Arum

I’ve never seen so many. Soon they will be bright red.

At the Frederick store, the repurposed glass cases are filling with collectible comics. Soon, we will be a “comic shop” again.

Full circle.

Going through the boxes of my old collection, I found the last comic books I saved from my once vast collection.

Chuck's Last Comics

A handful of the first issues of Daredevil. That was my favorite in the end. He had no super powers and was blind but could still perform great feats.

I have no powers, and I am “blind” in many ways.

The rest I sold off at different times. The bulk went when I was desperate for money to buy the seed stock of videos to rent in the store early on. I organized the First (and only) Annual Frederick Book and Comic Auction.

Out went my first issue of the Fantastic Four…

That issue alone is worth a fortune now.

And a few thousand carefully curated comic books.

Well, when you need the money (or the space) you make sacrifices.

Poem below:


Black, black, black
is the color of this lightless night
The world could be empty
a featureless desert
on the other side of the window
Silent is the lightless night
No living thing flutters or crawls
I alone breathe and feel
There is nothing to taste or hear
One man, one memory
in this lightless night
Cool. Warm. Something in between
Weightless wrapped in a cotton cloud
Only the world moves undetectable
in this lightless night
Spinning fast Ponderously slow
toward a dawn which must surely come
Though now and forever nothing moves
Forever. Forever. My eyes silently close
To sleep in the darker darkness
Less Featureless sight
No tough or taste
in that blacker lightless night
No sight or sound
No thought in this lightless night
Til dreams awaken
Colors shapes sounds and faces
appear full-blown inside me
in this silent lightless night

6 Comments on Article

  1. David Holloway commented on

    Thank you for keeping this going. I look forward to reading your thoughts, poetry and book lore every week!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you David!
      Many happy memories with your book knowledge.
      I learned a lot from your visits.
      Hope all is well with your and yours!
      Thanks for writing!

  2. Jack Walsh commented on

    When I first started work after college, my mother gave me a copy of “I meant to do my work today”. It came out of a set of ten small poem books that her mother had given her. It was only after I started dating my second wife that I began to understand what the poem was telling me. One of the most common questions I received from my coworkers after that was “How did I find time to go away with my wife ( and then family) with so much work on my desk. My response was to give them a copy of the poem.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is a beautiful story.
      I gave my son a copy of it in the Sliver Pennies book this weekend.
      I hope it “takes” as your mother’s did with you.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  3. Ken Jacobs commented on

    Finally made the trip up north and stopped along the way at Hagerstown. My daughter has taken over my office with the built in bookcase I had made so I only bought a couple of books. It’s a hard habit to break. As if I ever wanted to! But she and I both enjoyed browsing the LP section and bought several each (vinyl for all of you young folk).

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That’s great Ken!
      I’m glad you introduced your daughter to wonder Book and were able to find something.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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