Due to time constraints, the images were not included in last week’s story. They are up now if you want to scroll through them.
There are so many memories of this week in the context of the bookstores. It used to be such a big deal. We’d plan for Black Friday specials. The stores would open early. There would be special deals in the hour or two before the regular opening.
The story I always heard was that “Black Friday” was traditionally when retailers might finally show a profit for the year. i.e. Be in the “Black” as opposed to “Red.”
I remember it being a lot of work but also a lot of excitement. We’d often have lines at the stores. For many years, it was for video rentals. The novelty of being able to actually choose what to watch meant people would take home 4, 5, 10 movies to watch over the long weekend.
Sometimes, it would be a crowd because a big new comic book was released. The Death of Superman release had us inundated with people looking for copies that had sold out in minutes. We only kept back enough for the subscribers.
To my recollection, we only opened once on Thanksgiving Day. I figured it might be worth a try. I had a volunteer. Smitty. I wrote a blog about her long ago. She was big, heavy, smoked constantly. She was tough. Had a sort of drill sergeant aspect about her. But she had a heart of gold. If a child were looking for a book, she would help them ever so gently and friendly. When health forced her to quit sometime in the late 80s, I didn’t know if I could replace her. Would Wonder Book survive?
She volunteered to open on Thanksgiving. She had no family. (“Thank God I’m an old maid with no issue.”)
It was a failure. We never tried again.
When she passed away, I was tasked with buying her book collection. She had some great titles she had bought cheap in the 50s and 60s. Arkham House and some wonderful vintage mysteries.
“No book is worth more than $5,” she would tell me.
She lived in a condo apartment. When her “executrix” (her term) let me in, I was a bit shocked. Everything was tinged with a dull yellow brown film. EVERYTHING. Cigarette smoke. One round white spot was on the wall in the kitchen. It was where the clock had hung. I bought all her books. She had wrapped all the dust jackets in Brodarts. When we removed them, the jackets were pristine. We had to let the collection sit for about a year until the smell dissipated.
So, we have (almost) always been open every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. (And COVID. And the occasional snow day.)
Thursday was always a family day.
My parents died in the mid 70s, so I would go to my fiancée’s house. Her mom was a brilliant cook. She had every single issue of Gourmet Magazine. Over the years, I filled in issues she didn’t have going back to 1947, I think. Lillian died in early 2020—prior to COVID. She was 104.
Then my kids came along, and Thanksgiving became a lavish “home” thing again. Now both boys are grown and married. They rotate families. This year both are with the spouse’s family. So, I’m not sure anything is going on. Maybe I’ll buy a turkey. It can cook while I go to the warehouse and play with books. I think there will be an “our family” Thanksgiving on the weekend sometime.
It is Monday morning. Travis is driving us to the Gaithersburg store. I haven’t been for a few weeks because of my—too long—trip to central Europe. I need to check in, show the colors, make sure things down there are straight and narrow. There’s a small Books by the Foot order. 12 linear feet of well-worn art books. “Well-worn” means they look like they have been used. We liken the look to a comfortably broken-in pair of blue jeans. That will be a therapeutic cull. Old generic art books don’t sell. I wonder who sends that junk to the stores?
We are on the way back now. Travis culled General Fiction dupes. The hardcovers will go back to Frederick for BBTF. The trade paperbacks we left to go outside at the store.
Books outside the stores are now $1.59 or 5 for $5. There’s good stuff out there if you have the patience to go through them. Frederick and Hagerstown have huge selections of 5 for $5 books, DVDs, CDs… Gaithersburg has 6 or 7 cartloads. That store doesn’t have a sidewalk overhang like the others, so we can’t leave stuff out overnight.
People used to ask if we were worried people would steal stuff over night. Book people are generally honest. We probably wouldn’t be able to tell if someone had because there’s so much out there on numerous shelves and tables. The problem would be if they tried to sell stuff back to us. But we could tell because they are all stickered.
You could find lots of cheap gifts out there—hint, hint.
You can also help us by buying inexpensive gift cards to give to friends and family etc. A $5 gift card could equate to 5 books or DVDs. And you’d be introducing a new potential customer to the stores—hint, hint.
It is a brilliant day. Not a cloud in the sky. Temperature will get into the high 40s later. 50s the rest of the week.
The weekend was brutally cold. Damp. Gray. The radio said we have had 11 days of unseasonal cold weather.
I spent my weekend working on carts. I got through all but one. I just ran out of gas on Sunday and couldn’t face it.
Many of the carts were the tough ones. Laden with very problematic books and other material that had accumulated and been placed on carts under my name. It is kind of stressful. For many items, there is no really good thing to do with them. That’s when I make the tough decisions.
Sometimes, I take the easy route and make easy decisions.
“Send it to Annika!”
And I didn’t feel very good. Stuffy nose. Big sneezes. Tired, sore muscles.
But I pushed through til 5 on Sunday. Then I headed home with Merry and Pip. I stoked the fire. Actually turned on the furnace in the big room that the woodstove’s heat doesn’t reach. I heated up the eggplant leftovers from Modern Asia. It was my first meal at home since returning last Tuesday.
Wednesday was the dog swap. I owed a dinner.
Thursday was a fancy holiday bank soiree. It was at the Manor Country Club in Rockville. I grew up a couple of blocks from there, but we weren’t inside the geographical border of the “club” community. That’s where the rich kids lived. I’d occasionally get invited to the pool. One of the Wonder Boys lived there. But his family wasn’t very social. The clubhouse has been totally renovated. My memory is that it was an old white clapboard building with lots of additions added on. Maybe it was a farm/manor house that had been expanded upon over time. The food was great. Carved filet. Open bar. My son accompanied me. I thought he should get to know some of those people. I was still jet lagged, and 7 p.m. felt like midnight or later.
Friday was with my Egyptology friends. They’re moving! Why?! Now I won’t really have anyone to hang out with.
Saturday was the Washington Caps hockey game. The first one I’ve been to since 2019. My son drove. We were in a corporate suite with free food and drinks.
It was good to have a quiet night at home.
The stores have a different vibe during Thanksgiving week. Anticipation. Preparation.
Wednesday is always busy. People unloading books—selling us stuff in preparation for guests. We get a lot of buys. Some people need a little spending money as well. Others come in buying books or movies. Many have this day off now. We treat it like a Friday and make runs to all three stores. I took a van to the Frederick store. It was bustling with customers and employees helping them or working on projects. The van I was taking was full with buys overflowing onto the pavement around it. I had cut through town. The ancient streets would be far faster than the Interstate. I-70 and I-270 merge in Frederick. As I approached the underpass, I could tell it was backed up at least a couple of miles. People heading west for their Thanksgiving and their distant families. Yep, cutting through the old city with all its stoplights would be much faster.
The store was running like clockwork. Everyone happy to be there. That was heartening. There have been many ups and downs over the decades.
I left the van I’d brought at the curb to be unloaded when they could get around to it. I pulled myself up into the driver’s seat of the full van and headed out. I turned right on West Patrick Street—a.k.a. Rt 40—a.k.a. The Old Pike—a.k.a. the National Road. 42 years of pulling out onto that street in a vehicle full of books…
Back at the warehouse, there is a different vibe. Closing on weekday only happens once or twice a year. I passed people chatting about their plans for tomorrow.
“He always cuts down a tree…”
“My brother is coming over…”
“I’m going to sleep in…”
Clark and Staci are planning a big online sale. Friday will be a busy day. Monday will be monstrous.
I headed across the building to work on carts. I carried my laptop with me, so I could listen to the World Cup soccer match. Belgium versus Canada. I can look up at the screen if anything exciting happens. That’s another time marker. Every four years, much of the world stops and follows the progress of the tournament. It starts with the Group stage. 32 countries in 8 Groups. 4 matches a day for 12 days after which 16 teams are eliminated. There’s a lot of soccer on during the World Cup. I stayed til 4 and then slipped out. I tossed the stalks of the sunflowers into the back of the pickup. I’d chopped them down earlier with a machete. Many were so tall they needed to be chopped in two. Goodbye summer.
I’ll toss them onto the big brush pile I’ve built on the mountain. It is a haven, a small habitat for small birds and other creatures. There’s plenty of seed left on the heads. They will like that as well. The overpopulation of deer has stripped most of the plants on the forest floor.
I need to start planting the flower bulbs! It is almost December. But by the time I got home, it was almost dark. Sunset is at 4:49. So, I turned on the outdoor lights and planted in the dark.
The new garden beds behind the just built wall made planting easy. The planes of smoothed fresh soil are like a blank canvas. (The fresh soil is actually composted manure from a “green” dairy farm just across the Mason Dixon Line. They “squeeze” the methane out of the poop and use that to power the farm. The by-product is like peat moss in texture. Any weed seeds have been killed by the heat. And, no, it doesn’t smell.) In the “fresh soil”, my little hand adze would open a hole. I would push the bulb in and smooth it over. I only got about 100 in before I quit. 1900 more to go.
Inside, I chopped up the last two tomatoes. The warehouse gardens are dead now. Frozen. I put them on two tortillas. I added chunks of cheddar and feta cheese. Sprinkled some spices atop it and baked them til the cheese melted and the tortillas were crunchy.
Long ago, I’d go to parties or a dinner at a neighbor’s home on Wednesday night. Single guys don’t get invited to those kinds of things. But I don’t miss them.
I chopped up some romaine and drizzled some of the olive oil I imported from the organic farm outside of Lecce, Italy earlier in the year. I’ve never tasted better olive oil.
It has been a busy year. Luxor, Egypt. Sicily. Scotland. London. Quebec. London and Oxford. Central Europe. Am I forgetting anything? And there’s a whole month left.
It is Thanksgiving morning. I opened the dampers on the woodstove. The big pot of water atop it is softly hissing as it heats to boiling. The horizon turns a dusky red. Dawn’s beginning.
It was a reflective night. I’d wake and think of my parents and brothers now all gone. And the kids when they were little. Others as well. Those long ago Thanksgivings with the 6 of us. Warm. All I needed to do was watch the Macy’s Parade on the big black-and-white TV. And stay out of the way. I’d wander into the kitchen and watch my mother doing ten things at once. My dad would probably be off to the hospital doing experiments and laboratory stuff. Maybe that’s where I got my habit of working on weekends and holidays.
Then my brothers began bringing spouses home. Then nieces and nephews. Then sometimes they wouldn’t come.
I’ll go into the warehouse before too long. I’ll plant some more bulbs before I go. There will be World Cup soccer on all day. I’m not sure what the plans are for later. I’ll play it by ear. I’ve been invited to my younger son’s in-laws. But there’s a hospice thing going on there, and I think they’ve got their hands full.
I’ll be the only one in the warehouse today. Like old times. Until COVID, I was almost always alone in there on weekends.
Well, Merry and Pippin will be with me. It will get up into the 50s, so they will have the whole dockyard to frolic in.
Yes. Time slows on Thanksgiving. Memories float up.
How delicious my mom’s mashed potatoes and gravy and dressing and turkey were. We’d all dress up. Hot buns. I’d wipe up the gravy and mash with the bread. I had a pretty idyllic childhood until my mom got perennially sick.
When the table was set, my mom could finally take her apron off. She would dress up fancy. My dad was a camera buff. He had a German Exacta 35 mm. He’d have to test the light with a meter. Then set the f-stop. He’d screw the camera onto a tripod and set the timer.
“Lean in, everyone.”
The flashbulb would explode light with a loud “POP!”
Then another shot.
“Joe, it’s going to get cold.”
“Just one more.”
“Dad, I’m hungry.”
So many Thanksgivings in a lifetime. Many came back to me last night.
So many things have not turned out as planned.
So many missing pieces.
So much good fortune and hard work. A life filled with paper and words. Gardens. Dawns.
My cup runneth over.
“Living the dream…” one Irish friend wrote to me last week after reading the blog.
Well, there’s two sides to every coin.
And the “coins” don’t mean much anymore.
I can hear the birds alighting on the window feeders in the next room. They land with a soft “thump.” Some take a seed and fly away to eat it. Others pound on the sunflower seed husk open on the roof surface.
“Tock, tock, tock…”
Mostly chickadees and titmice now. The varieties will increase as the weather worsens.
Poems. Prayers. And plans.
And put one foot in front of the other and see where they take you.
I awoke way too early. Again.
I can’t still be on European time.
I had half dreams about a big bear looking in the window at me. It was impossible. My bedroom is on the second floor. And it was pitch black outside. And the bears are already hibernating. So, I lay in the dark and continued half-dreaming, half-waking. It is very unsatisfying on either front.
Total silence. Total darkness. Sensory deprivation except for touch. I like that.
Eventually, I got up and went out to the side porch for wood. It is raining. So much for any plans to plant flower bulbs before going in to work. That’s a relief, actually. I’ll put some in this afternoon and evening.
The gray morning light just began a little while ago.
“POP!” “POP!” “POP!” …
Distant guns firing out in the forest. Hunting season begins with the first light. That’s when the deer begin moving.
The deer are a plague around here. They damage the ecosystem by eating all the undergrowth and many of the young trees. They cause a lot of car accidents. The rule of thumb here is that if you see a deer cross the road in front of you, put the brakes on. There will almost certainly be others following. They wreak havoc on farmer’s crops and people’s yards and gardens. Their overpopulation creates health problems for them and, in the winter, starvation issues.
Many hunters donate the meat to food banks.
It will be a busy day.
“POP!” “POP!” …
The stores are having a Buy 2 Get 2 free sale on most items. There are freebies in addition to that at different spending thresholds. The Wonder Book website is offering 25% off 4 or more items. Shipping is included in the USA. You get an additional discount if you pick your orders up in one of the stores.
Maybe that will help thin our “herd.”
When I put more wood in the Vermont Castings Defiant stove, I left the dampers open. It is good to burn the stove hot sometimes. It helps keep the flue from building up creosote and stuff. A few years ago, I had the chimney lined with a solid stainless steel “tube” for added safety.
“POP!” “POP!” …
Wednesday afternoon as I approached, there was lots of smoke on the mountain not far from my place. A house was on fire. 60 firefighters, I read. The homeowners weren’t there.
The pot of water atop the stove is softly hissing as the heat gets it boiling. It adds moisture to the air that the woodier dries out.
Yesterday, I put a big plastic footbath in the shower.
It will catch some of the hot water and also add a bit of moisture. I hate to see all that hot water just go down the drain.
I didn’t buy the footbath. Someone sold us books using it as a container.
People bring us books in all kinds of containers beyond cardboard boxes. Plastic tubs. Milk crates. Tote bags. Those reusable shopping bags you pay a buck for at grocery stores. Leaf bags… Beyond that, things can get pretty exotic. We get suitcases. Pillowcases. Drawers (wooden or metal.) Buckets… I bet someone brought us books in a kitchen sink at one time or another.
“POP!” … the shots become fewer as the day brightens. The deer become skittish and disappear into the deep woods.
Yesterday was like a dream. As I drove to work, all the parking lots I passed were empty. There were very few people out on the streets. The industrial park containing the warehouse was completely deserted. Well, not quite. When I pulled into the construction site to inspect the progress, I was surprised to hear engine noise. There was one lone construction worker operating a backhoe. Odd. I guess I’m not the only one working Thanksgiving morning. I climbed out of my pickup and walked onto the vast concrete slab that will be the floor of one of the buildings. The other slab is about ten feet lower than the other because the land is sloped. The road slopes too, so the buildings had to be positioned that way so the entrances would be level.
At the warehouse, I let the dogs out into the big dockyard. It is fenced and gated, so they can’t get out. There won’t be any groundhogs for them to fight. Those are hibernating in their burrows.
Then I set to work on carts of old books after I’d positioned my laptop where I could look up at the World Cup soccer should anything exciting occur.
It was strange being alone in the vast warehouse. Prior to COVID, that was the norm.
I did end up going to my son’s in-laws for a traditional dinner. It is a big family. 3 grown daughters. Husbands. Little children…
It was so nice to be included. I felt like I have a new family in addition to the old.
Connections… the stepdad had been my dentist from 1980 until about 2013. We played golf together, and the families socialized. He had a heart attack on the golf course, and though he survived, he has been severely weakened since then. He can’t do dental work anymore. The girls and my sons attended the same Montessori school in Pennsylvania for a while as well.
It was delicious, and I felt so heartened to be included.
I’m at work. I’ll drive a vanload of books to the Frederick store soon.
When I had company a month ago, they wanted to see my Nuremburg Chronicle. It is a huge book documented the history of the world to 1493. Printed before 1501, it is an incunabulum. There are many, many woodcuts of cities and historical figures.
It is an important book, and I’m proud to own it for a while.
Some day, it will get passed on to someone else.
I hope that is a long time from now.
The store was packed! I’d say there were 40-50 customers in there. They were all so excited and happy to bear there.
I wandered through the store I’d built after two smaller incarnations on the same street.
I smiled. Pride welled up in me. I’d done this—with plenty of help. Some people who were there with me are still with Wonder Book. Two were in the store. Clark and Madeline.
No one recognized me except the staff.
I went out and climbed into the van full of books I’d be driving back to the warehouse.
I surveyed the parking lot.
It was packed.
Thank you for coming back to Wonder-Land.
Happy holidays, everyone. The next month will pass like a blur.