Trees and Vans, Vans and Trees

Covered in Sawdust

The week began and ended with a tree.

When I got home last Friday, the tree people had taken down the big dying oak overhanging the house. It was about 70 feet tall.

Cut Up Oak

A contractor friend doing other work up there said it was amazing to watch how they used ropes and pulleys to get the big branches down without hitting the house.

Now I have more wood to split and stack. I’ll be ready for winter 2022/2023.

It is Thursday night. I’m tapping away while the remnant of Tropical Storm Elsa has trees swaying and windows being splattered outside my bedroom.

I left work expecting to go home a little early and maybe do some chores. I’ve got piles of paper and ephemera and books from the Catholic University Rare Book Room I need to sort through. The house is a mess. I’ve committed to entertaining two Egyptologists and their sister next week. All are master gardeners now. And vintners. They’ve put some 500 or more vines in.

The guys will return to Luxor for 6 months in the fall. She will stay and happily lived the hermit life in the country and watch and work the seasons’ changes at the Manor.

I need to put things in order to receive them. I need to relearn how to have guests post-COVID.

When I pulled onto my dead end road and got to entrance to the private lane I share with 9 others’ homes, I was stymied. A huge tulip poplar had fallen across the road.

Fallen Poplar

There was no getting by. My saws were a mile away, straight up the mountain. I texted my neighbors. It was pouring rain. No one was home. No one would be getting home. Everyone was on the wrong side of the blockade.

I kept looking up for more branches to fall. On me.

I backed my truck to a safer spot.

Then a neighbor—a stranger—a flatlander—not a mountain dweller—up our lane—backed his pickup to the tree coming from the other side of the fallen tree. He pulled out a saw and began cutting.

I hopped out in my work clothes and clogs (heel spur footwear—not a political statement) and started dragging off chunks of wood he cut to the sides of the road.

It was pouring rain.

We both got soaked.

Cleared Poplar

When there was a clear path through to the roads (his fork and mine), I went and shook his hand (post COVID) and introduced myself. Our hands were wet and covered with sawdust.

Covered in Sawdust

“Thanks a lot.”

“My wife will need to get home.”

I don’t know if I’ll take any of that wood or if someone else wants it.

Country life. Neighbors and strangers helping each other out.

Up at the house, I opened the last Pliny the Elder I brought back from California. I put the wet sawdusty clothes into the washer. Then I crawled in to bed to write. I’ll peck away at this until I get hungry enough to heat the leftovers from Red Hot and Blue. Maybe I’ll put on some Johnny Carson tonight—Greatest Of… 8 discs.

One episode was his return to his hometown in Norfolk, Nebraska. It was in 1982. In his late 50s, he was at top of his fame and influence in the US. It was a very evocative show. The hometown boy going back. A lot of friends and teachers and shopkeepers were still there. It was a kind of epic Nostoi. I guess many people would like to go “home again”—and especially as a hero.

Sometimes fame is fleeting. Carson was a giant. GIANT. But who remembers him now?

The phrase of the week:

“We need a swap.”

Books are pouring into our three stores.

Last Saturday, Hagerstown needed an empty van. Sunday, Gaithersburg. Weekend swaps are very unusual as Frederick and Gaithersburg start the weekend with 2 empty vans each. Hagerstown gets one empty.

Come Monday, we needed to go to Gaithersburg twice. Frederick twice, and Hagerstown once.

It is Thursday, and I’ve done 4 swaps at Frederick myself.

We have collected 8 vans and one big box truck over the years. They have all been in almost daily action this week.

I guess it is time to get another. Or two. But vans are hard to find just now. COVID.

I don’t know why this is happening. Even before COVID, one weekend van swap was very unusual.

Are we the only ones left taking in books?

We have charities bringing us books almost daily as well. From what I can tell, many are not saving stock for their semi-annual book sales yet.

The building is full, and we are scrambling for space.

Situation normal…

We have 5 sorting stations, and they can’t keep ahead of the incoming.

They keep creating more and more carts of old or unusual books for me to review.

More. More. More.

My weekend… 8 hours Saturday. 8 hours Sunday. Seated on a stool before the 6-shelf, 4-wheeled metal book carts.

I sort through one side and then rotate it 180 degrees and work on those three shelves.

I certainly didn’t get ahead of things last weekend. Maybe I broke even.

Maybe not.

I left Sunday evening exhausted. Drained mentally and sore physically.

But what else would I do?

There were some interesting finds—although no homeruns (that I’m aware of anyway.)

We have been getting in a collection of early 20th century Ivy League and other top schools’ Yearbooks and other alumni publications. These books are certainly a slice of life for the times and venues. They are printed in very limited numbers—as the only audience are the class members and maybe a few others.

Stanford in 1904. Can you imagine?

Unfortunately, despite the very localized history—the haircuts alone should be studied—they don’t sell very well. Most we wholesale to a guy who does—something—with them. I think we get $2-3 apiece for high school and college yearbooks.

The Karux 1925

This one caught my eye, though I’ve seen many editions before. For some reason, I opened it. The dedication page was to Calvin Coolidge Jr. I don’t think I ever heard of him. I didn’t know the boy had been a student at Mercersburg Academy. My two sons went there in the 21st century. I also didn’t know he died tragically.

The story of President Coolidge is that he was an icy, emotionless New Englander. Reading about the devastation he felt at the loss of this boy paints a very different picture.

A blister on a toe from a tennis match could kill you before antibiotics…even the son of the President wasn’t exempt.

Why did I open this book? I don’t know. My two sons graduated from Mercersburg. That may have been part of it. But I see copies of The Karux pretty often.

Why did it fall open to this page?

An ancient tragedy for many people. People now all gone and most long ago forgotten.

Flipping through it further, I found an entry for James Maitland Stewart. He was an underclassman that year. I did know Jimmy Stewart graduated from Mercersburg. I didn’t dig through looking for photos of him.

Jimmy Stewart

Sigh…so much history flows through my hands.

So much to learn and know. My mind is constantly bombarded with images and words. I enjoy it and realize how lucky I am. But it is overwhelming sometimes. Rather, I am OFTEN overwhelmed. No, well, constantly.

And more books pour in. More and more and more.

A great group of SciFi publications from the early 1950s were on a cart for my attention. Those with stories by H P Lovecraft will certainly get snapped up. He and Phillip K Dick are generally instant sales when they come in.

Lurid covers sell books!

Those two authors sell themselves. They have stood the test of time far better than almost all the Golden Age scifi and horror authors. They’ll sell better than Asimov, Heinlein—even Bradbury.

Although, compared to Tolkien’s enduring legacy, those two are just footnotes.

There was a pallet I’d cut open early in COVID. It had been sealed for many years. It was mostly paper—maps, prints, old newspapers, framed items, magazines, photos.

It was beginning to slide apart. It needed protection from traffic passing by it. Clif had left me a Gaylord with a gate cut into it.

I began gently lifting the material and setting it in Gaylord flat. Some things jumped out at me.

These two old Lotos Club Menus from the 1920s. I’d acquired these in the 90s and then we lost touch.

Stunning lithographic color.

I found duplicate copies of Life Magazine with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton on the cover. Finding them were homeruns in the old days.


Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris baseball cards are bound in.

Sports Illustrated Issue #2 also has Yankee baseball cards bound in.

There was baseball mania in the 90s—books and cards and “commemoratives.”

A lot are worthless now. But the blue chip has held its value.

I pulled out some maps and art…but most of it got “stacked for the future.”


I had made arrangements to drive down a load of boxes to Crozet, Virginia. If you remember, I went down there a month or so ago to look at a huge collection of books. The setting was lovely. The books were average in general. I was taking a pass on them because transporting them that distance would far exceed any value. The daughter doggedly sought a solution for her beloved father’s books.

I agreed to pay for their transport her in PODS. $4000-5000 is her estimate. She agreed to pack the books and load the PODS.

$4000 is a lot more than the books are worth to Wonder Book—even delivered. But we will do all right. Most will go to the stores as reading copies, I think.

I told I’d give her 500 or so boxes even though that meant another 6 hour round trip to southern Virginia. We’d started cutting down and flattening viable boxes—the kind people actually “buy” from UHaul and Home Depot…

Flattened Boxes

We crush thousands of boxes every week for recycling. If you ever need any (and can come get them), let me know.

I wanted to do this “mission” for a few reasons. I enjoyed getting away for a day. On the road, I can just dream as I drive and not be pulled constantly by people and their wants and needs at work. It is generally a pretty drive down I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and then across I-64 toward Charlottesville.

Plus, she cares so much—it is infectious.

And I would hope to see some touristy stuff and perhaps have an exotic meal on the way home.

When I arrived, she and her brother met me. I was directed to a narrow break in the hedge where I could squeeze the big van into the front yard and back to the porch.

House Call

The three of us unloaded the boxes.

Unpacked Flattened Boxes

I told her I would take back any boxes of books they had already packed. There were about 120 full boxes on the front porch.

Packed Boxes on Porch

We made short work of that.

The branches of bushes and trees scraped the sides and roof of the van as I drove out the long gravel driveway.

I felt I was doing a good thing—meeting her halfway on rescuing her father’s collection. Dr. Kavanaugh would be proud of his daughter, I’m sure.

I also picked up the 4 juicy Jules Vernes in exotic publishers bindings.

Jules Verne

Those I’m paying $500 for on top of the other costs.

I AM hopeless when faced with beautiful books.

I also asked about some plants in the 1850s home and a set of Icelandic Sagas. Then a few inquired about framed things, including a Dante medallion.

Other Stuff


I like rescuing plants from house calls. If I can keep them alive, they remind me of those times and places.

I have the Folio Society Sagas at home—somewhere. But getting these worn copies would save me hunting for them.

I’m going to Iceland late in July. My first international trip since Rome in December 2019.

I am taking a tour around the perimeter of the island. A different hotel every night.





The land of fire and ice.

I’d left early from home for this house call. The delivery and pickup went quickly. I wanted to stop at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Museum in Staunton. It is on the way back. I checked on my phone. It was closed til next weekend. COVID. I decided to drive by anyway. I’d never been to Staunton. It is a charming small southern city. I found the Wilson house and figured I’d walk around. I pulled into the parking lot, and there were a few cars and some signs of life. I walked up the hill to the house and stuck my head in the door.

“Are you open?”

“Certainly. The next tour is in five minutes. Would you like a ticket?”


I was given a mask. I thought we were done with those—if we’ve been vaccinated.


The tour and the museum were very interesting.

Wilson is certainly not my favorite president. And the tour didn’t mention certain interesting anecdotes such as this:

In 1916, Wilson purchased by treaty the Danish West Indies, renamed as the United States Virgin Islands.

Nor was there mention that Edith Bolling Wilson was likely the first woman president for two years following Woodrow’s severe stroke.

Health collapses

To bolster public support for ratification, Wilson barnstormed the Western states, but he returned to the White House in late September due to health problems. On October 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a serious stroke, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in the right eye. He was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife and his physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. Dr. Bert E. Park, a neurosurgeon who examined Wilson’s medical records after his death, writes that Wilson’s illness affected his personality in various ways, making him prone to “disorders of emotion, impaired impulse control, and defective judgment.” Anxious to help the president recover, Tumulty, Grayson, and the First Lady determined what documents the president read and who was allowed to communicate with him. For her influence in the administration, some have described Edith Wilson as “the first female President of the United States.” Link states that by November 1919, Wilson’s “recovery was only partial at best. His mind remained relatively clear; but he was physically enfeebled, and the disease had wrecked his emotional constitution and aggravated all his more unfortunate personal traits.

Throughout late 1919, Wilson’s inner circle concealed the severity of his health issues. By February 1920, the president’s true condition was publicly known. Many expressed qualms about Wilson’s fitness for the presidency at a time when the League fight was reaching a climax, and domestic issues such as strikes, unemployment, inflation and the threat of Communism were ablaze. In mid-March 1920, Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-treaty Democrats to pass a treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to defeat ratification. No one close to Wilson was willing to certify, as required by the Constitution, his “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office.” Though some members of Congress encouraged Vice President Marshall to assert his claim to the presidency, Marshall never attempted to replace Wilson. Wilson’s lengthy period of incapacity while serving as president was nearly unprecedented; of the previous presidents, only James Garfield had been in a similar situation, but Garfield retained greater control of his mental faculties and faced relatively few pressing issues.

The tour did mention that Wilson’s parents had “three enslaved persons of African descent” in the house where he was born. But I didn’t see anything about his record on race. I’ll let you do your own Googling for info on that.

But then, Wilson was a product of his times and the geography he grew up in. Is it fair to judge him by today’s standards?

History can be ugly. But as Churchill said (paraphrasing earlier writers such as Santayana and Burke), “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

The museum devotes a display case to Wilson’s printed works including his A History of the American People. It has some very uncomfortable and inflammatory statements. Google it. It is too inflammatory for me to quote. I don’t want to get “canceled.”

We have a set online:

4 or 5 signed limited sets have passed through Wonder Book over the years. I may have one hanging around somewhere now.


And here are some other potentially collectible Wilson items:|desc

We have many, many more in the general internet stock as well.

The museum and the house tour are well worth the ten-minute drive off I-81.

Virginia is the “Mother to Eight Presidents.”

I’ve been to three of their homes now. Maybe I’ll seek out the others—although William Henry Harrison’s 31-day presidency likely won’t have much of a museum.

From there, I sought out the American Shakespeare Center a few blocks away.

American Shakespeare Center

It was closed, but Macbeth opens there today—July 9, 2021!

COVID is ending, I hope. There are vestiges though. Everyone, except the actors, must wear masks. That will be an odd view from the stage. The audience in “costume.”

I wonder how we will be judged in the future—all this COVID stuff…

From there, I headed back north. I took back roads. I thought of taking one of many cavern tours along the way. I even drove by Luray Caverns, but the parking lot looked so packed I kept on driving.

I somehow ended up on the VERY stomach churning Skyline drive. Up and down mountains. Round and round hairpin turns. A van loaded with books is not the best vehicle for such a beast. I was completely stressed by the time I got back down to relatively flat land again.

I was aiming to dine at Lightfoot’s in Leesburg. It is a stunning place—in a converted old stone bank building with soaring ceilings and huge French Belle Epoque posters.

Turns out it was closed. No, not COVID. Closed Mondays.

I opted for Red Hot and Blue. There used to be a bunch of these Southern BBQ restaurants. They were founded by, among others, Lee Atwater, who was major strategist for George Bush Sr. They still have locations in 5 states.

When I walked in, the sole hostess/waitress hopped off a barstool and greeted me. The rest of the bar stools were wrapped in yellow police tape. There was only one other lonely guy in the place. When he left, another lonely guy came in.

Just me and another lonely guy.

You better go quick. Just in case…

The food was delicious. A lot better than most BBQ. The Brunswick Stew…wow! A meal in itself.

I got home about 9. A 14 hour day. But memorable.

The rest of the week flew by. A blur.

Wednesday morning, I heard some chattering in a tree near the house. A flash of red. A Scarlet Tanager! These birds are seldom seen—in my experience. They rarely come down from the forest canopy. This one was getting two fledglings to fly from branch to branch.

Scarlet Tanager

It is lily season up here as well. The planting I did during last fall’s COVID is paying off.

There are new stunners busting open every day.

That afternoon, I met my younger son at Glory Days. He works for Wonder Book, but I don’t see him often. He’s too busy with his girlfriend—umm…now fiancée! He does a good job running all three stores.

We met in the bar at Glory Days. It is their 25th Anniversary. We would often go there when he was younger. We would order 48 wings in numerous flavors.

He LOVED wings.

It was “Wing Wednesday.” 90 cents each. He ordered 5 flavors. 3—6 piece. 2—12 piece. That’s 42, right?

We were there to watch the European Championship semifinal. England versus Denmark. Soccer is a passion in Europe. There is incredible loyalty to your country’s team as well as your home team. Whatever city or town you live in England—you will live, breathe, laugh, cry, live and die for your “club.” Big city or small town.

England won in “extra time.”

My son took the leftover wings home with him.


We had ANOTHER “emergency” order for the same TV show as last week (which I cannot name til the shows air.)

The order was confirmed and paid for Wednesday afternoon.

It was for a new set. One of the actor’s apartments.

Books must still be from 1992 or before.

The specs were:


We’re needing 21 feet of books for a new set for our show. Again, our show still takes place in 1992.

Ideally we’d like
3 feet of oversized or coffee table books of Photography
10 feet of additional photography books (can be a mix of soft and hard covered books—can include photography reference books)
8 feet of various poetry books (large focus of female poets—ideally no earlier than 1900) and classic novels large portion of female writers as well) and a small smattering of some fiction and non-fiction—all of these can be a mix of soft and hard covered books.
Bonus if we could include writers like or in the world of:
Don DeLillo
Joan Didion
Susan Sontag
Patricia Highsmith
Best of Everything
JD Salinger

We’d like to have this order of books by Friday, July 9th, I’m aware we will more than likely need to overnight these. If you could send me a quote as soon as possible so we can get the ball rolling on this order that’d be amazing.

Also, I’m nervous that the overnight Friday delivery might be too expensive. Can I also get a quote for what it would be for a Saturday delivery?

Thank you!

So, on Thursday morning, Ernest took off for Hagerstown in a van with a couple stacks of plastics tubs. I headed for the Frederick store with the same. The books had to be in the building by 1p.m. in order to be packed and weighed and labeled and entered into the computer, so they could be overnighted to the production set.

This was more difficult than I’d anticipated. The books were for a protagonist’s apartment. They needed to fit her personality. They had to be right.

Female poets from the 20th century prior to 1992…

I tried looking for a list online. This wasn’t very helpful: I didn’t think we would have any of these people. A lot from the late 20th century I had never heard of. Poetry books tend to be very thin. That was another problem.

Hmmmm….we have 6 long rows of “Literature” in the Frederick store. I started at A and began reading spines. Some authors seemed to fit. Were Emily Dickinson and Browning too old?

Dorothy Parker. Edna St Vincent Millay…

Tawn O’Connor wandered by, and I commandeered her to source the modern authors from the list. I handed her the sheet. The names were highlighted in orange.

Don DeLillo
Joan Didion
Susan Sontag
Patricia Highsmith
JD Salinger

These would likely be elsewhere in the store. General Fiction. Highsmith maybe in mystery.

I worked my way through the alphabet. Then I pulled some poetry anthologies.

Tawn returned with a substantial stack.

“Is it ok if I cleaned out everything we have of some of these authors?”

“Sure. A sale is a sale. We will send more from the warehouse to reload your shelves.”

“Can I ask you a question? It’s ok if you say no.”



“Can I give you this book I made?”

Give me a book?! Is the Pope Catholic?


She held out this small homage to the 2021 insect plague.

Tawn's Cicada Book

“That is wonderful.”

I leafed through it.

“I chose Summer Is A-Coming In.”

Tawn's Cicada Book

“It is beautiful. Thank you!”

Tawn’s application to work here many years ago was “bound.”

“I wanted it to stand out.”

In marbled paper, I think. And it did stand out.

She is an excellent and gregarious book person.

She embarrasses me quite often by introducing me to complete strangers when I visit the Frederick store, “He’s the man who did all this.”

I emailed asking if it would be ok to use her name.

She said yes and added:

“The book is for the Potomac Chapter Guild of Book Workers Cicada Swap. 13 of us are participating. Here is what I’ve received so far.”

Cicada Swap Books
Photo by Tawn O’Connor

I quickly moved onto the photography section. That was not easy. That subject has changed dramatically in the Post Digital Age when most photos are being taken by hand held phones.

I recall traveling with my big 35-millimeter film Canon slung over my neck. If I wanted to run or climb, the thing would bump against my chest. It was always under threat at the Xray machines at airports. I reluctantly switched to a Rebel SLR, which was no smaller. But no more changing rolls of film. “Chips” which could hold hundreds of images…

Now all my cameras have long been in my closet.

I sat on a stool and began slipping off titles a professional photographer might own in 1992. For most, I had to open the book and check the date on the copyright page. Others I could tell instantly by the binding or dust jacket whether they were old enough or not.

Arbus, Adams, Steichen, Leibovitz, Bourke White, Dorothea Lange.

But there just weren’t a lot of professional technique film photography reference books. The section looked thin. Neglected…

But I got my half and hoped Ernest got his.

I loaded the heavy tubs and headed back to the warehouse. Tawn’s little tome pressed against my chest in the breast pocket.

It is Friday morning.

Another book week blur.

Plenty of good.

Some dreary and dreadful.

I didn’t mention Phase 2 of the renovation of the Frederick had begun. We had more LP bins crafted and installed. Our selection will be up 40% or so before too much longer.

Next week, we may move some of the collectible glass cases down to lowest—most Western—section. That will open space for more bookcases in the book area. CDs are moving down as well. It makes sense for them to be next to LPs. Music is music. Then room for MORE books in the center part of the store.




What will I be doing this weekend?

I see I’ll be spending part of it in Egypt.

Three carts worth.

Then I’ll take a lot of time with P G Wodehouse. These will be priced quite high.


I don’t want to let them go. LOL…

Both of these are from the Ashburn Collection which has been airing out for over two-and-a-half years. They’d been over-mothballed.

I wonder how many pallets are left?

6 Comments on Article

  1. Rick Banning commented on

    Chuck, does Michael Dirda know about your Wodehouse collection? I bet he would enjoy looking at them. Though he might be on vacation. Rick of the Backwards Search Engine Co. and Lowland Song and Dance Corp.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Rick.
      I imagine he has them all!

  2. Tawn commented on

    Well, in the embarrassment category I’d say we now break even. I’m tickled that you like my quirky book.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Your book is great!
      Thank you!

  3. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    What a treat each week to read your blog. Always some new portal to enter. Thinking of Christopher Morley’s last note: “Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.” Thank you.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Kathleen!
      It is so great to hear from people reading the stories.
      Thank you so much!

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