Once upon a time there was a young bookseller. He had opened his bookstore with $1000 and a blind leap of faith. He had no idea how to run a business. Fortunately, there was an old bookseller who became his mentor. Without the help of the old bookseller the young bookseller’s “leap” would almost certainly have resulted in a rapid crash. The $1000 covered the first and last months’ rent and a load of #2 1 inch pine boards. His weekly draw was $150. He mowed the grass for the landlord to supplement that income. There were many weeks in the beginning when the $150 checks couldn’t be deposited. They would have bounced. That was September 1980.
Those first months were especially mysterious and magical…and memorable.
If you ever had a baby, you will remember the early months are full of surprising growth and changes. It seemed like every time I came home the child had achieved some new landmark.
It was that way with the baby bookstore. New bookcases were built and stained each week. Categories were expanded. The stock of books increased almost daily. Sales improved from near zero to frequent days that were “over.” “Over” meant the young bookseller had sold more than $100 worth of books that day.
I learned so much—so fast. Much of it was trial and error. Much of it was like touching a hot stove. Don’t Do That Again!
By the fall of 1982, the young bookseller felt confident the store would survive. He began to negotiate with his mentor, a silent partner, to acquire his share of the bookstore. The old bookseller was happy to let his novice go; to let the young bookseller fly on his own.
That Christmas, the young bookseller wanted to thank his customers. How could he do this?
The old bookseller had taught him that giving each a customer a bookmark with the store’s name, address and phone number on it was very important. It was permanent advertising. The customers also saw the bookmarks as a bonus, a little gift.
“You should put a bookmark in EVERY book you sell. Have it stick out about an inch. Whenever your customer gets around to opening that book, he or she will see your bookmark. It could be years from now. Don’t just toss bookmarks into the bag loose. Your customer might just toss them out unseen when the bag is disposed of,” the old bookseller had advised him.
Christmas was a complicated time for the young bookseller. As a child, the season had been a magical time. Anticipation began many weeks before the holiday. The excitement built more and more every day. The tree stood in the same corner of the living room as always. For several weeks it glowed as a beacon; a lighthouse. Even in the dark. A few presents from relatives or neighbors rested beneath it. Christmas Eve was impossibly tantalizing. Christmas morning was a several hours long crescendo.
Then his mother died in a hospital on Christmas morning just a few years before the bookstore opened. She had been admitted some days before. She had been ill for many years. Still, it was a shock when the night surgeon had called at 4 in the morning. Going to the hospital’s morgue on Christmas morning to say goodbye and snip off a lock of hair was life changing. For many years thereafter, Christmas had a dark memory added to it. That memory offset so much of the bright memory of all the years before.
So, in the fall of 1982, something made the young bookseller think of getting a new batch of bookmarks printed in red and green. They would be little gifts—Christmas cards if you will—for every customer who found a book at the little bookshop. Each would get at least two. One red. One green.
He scratched out a primitive design. He found a copy of Bartlett’s Quotations and browsed through it for Christmas quotes. The George Wither poem—A Christmas Carol from the 17th century struck a bittersweet chord in the young bookseller’s heart. So began a tradition of red and green holiday bookmarks that would last many years. The first year, the bookstore still bore the name of his mentor’s shop.
So Christmas 1982 stands out in the not-so-young-bookseller’s memory. The little shop’s image stands out; its borders shaded like an old-time Victorian photograph. Is it actually sepia-toned in my mind’s eye?
After a couple years, the bookmark quotes changed to Shakespeare. And by that time, the bookstore’s name had changed too.
Subsequent years saw the invention of “Wonder Man.” A character and logo that appeared in many ads—print, radio and even television. Here are some examples.
Then sometime in the late 1990s, the not-so-young (any longer) bookseller stopped having those red and green bookmarks printed.
I wonder why?
Maybe they should be printed again in 2019. What do you think?
I wonder what happened to Wonder Man as well? Maybe it is time to bring him out of retirement? What to you think?
A different tradition began in the 1990s. The Wonder Book refrigerator magnet calendar. That is a tradition that continues to this day.
If you would like a 2019 Wonder Book magnet contact us and we will mail you one with our compliments.
And although we no longer have the red and green Christmas bookmarks, a few years ago we created different bookmarks for each month like this one for December. And they still come free with any purchase—whether in our stores or online!
A Christmas Carol
George Wither, 1588—1667
So now is come our joyful feast,
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is dressed,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine,
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
Now all our neighbors’ chimnies smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury it in a Christmas pie,
And evermore be merry.
Now every lad is wondrous trim,
And no man minds his labor;
Our lasses have provided them
A bagpipe and a tabor.
Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
Give life to one another’s joys;
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.
Rank misers now do sparing shun,
Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things aboundeth.
The country-folk themselves advance,
For crowdy-mutton’s come out of France;
And Jack shall pipe and Jill shall dance,
And all the town be merry.
Ned Swatch hath fetched his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel;
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With droppings of the barrel.
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.
Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their errands;
And if they hap to fail of these,
They plague them with their warrants.
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.
Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roisters they do play,
Drab and dice their land away,
Which may be ours another day;
And therefore let’s be merry.
The client now his suit forbears,
The prisoner’s heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that;
Hang sorrow, care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.
Hark how the wags abroad do call
Each other forth to rambling;
Anon you’ll see them in the hall,
For nuts and apples scrambling;
Hark how the roofs with laughters sound,
Anon they’ll think the house goes round;
For they the cellar’s depths have found,
And there they will be merry.
The wenches with their wassail-bowls
About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in is bringing.
Our kitchen boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.
Now kings and queens poor sheep-cotes have,
And mate with everybody;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play at noddy.
Some youths will now a mumming go,
Some others play at rowland-hoe,
And twenty other gameboys moe;
Because they will be merry.
Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller.
And whilst we thus inspired sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods, and hills, and everything
Bear witness we are merry.
It is December 20. Late afternoon. A cold dripping rain “tick tick ticks” upon the metal sill on the window behind the big red plush sofa in my office.
2018 has been a year of rain.
Frederick, Md., also endured a severe flood event in May when its downtown area was engulfed by half a foot of water in two hours. [Very many of the basement shops were completely filled with brown muddy water.] Around this time, Washington witnessed a stretch of seven days in a row with at least 0.25 inches of rain, its longest such streak ever recorded.
In all, Washington has seen 122 days with measurable rain this year, which is not out of the ordinary considering the long-term average is 116. But very often when it has rained, it’s poured. At least an inch of rain has accumulated on a record 23 days…
All the years before 2018 are antediluvian!
(Ha! I never thought I’d be able to use that word! It is Biblical! Miltonian!)
All the regional annual rainfall records around here were broken in November. Benjamin Harrison was president when the previous yearly record was set. The heavy rains predicted for this weekend will only add to the total. The fact that the two biggest annual rainfalls—outliers—are 130 years apart must mean “something.” Do I detect a trend? Should we worry about 2148 A.D.?
What will this week’s book story be?
Or will this be the Friday that breaks the streak? I could punt and rerun an old blog…
I should write something about the holidays…
I am kind of numb. The annual sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve was more intense than many before. Online sales went sort of viral for us on Black Friday through Cyber Monday and well into December. One day I counted 91 metal carts with books on them lined up across the warehouse awaiting their turn to have their books packed in the shipping area.
Almost all the carts are 3 feet long and have 3 shelves per side. Each shelf holds about 35 books. 6 times 35…interesting math…
Today things just sort of dropped off. The internet mail order branch of Wonder Book crashes about this time every year. It is just too late to order anything and expect it to be delivered in time unless a customer is willing to go to the considerable expense of last minute expedited shipping. There was a kind of sigh of relief throughout this big building as all hands were able to get back to their usual busy duties. The warehouse is now calm—suddenly. Everyone is back at their places. The frenzied weeks of everyone pitching into pulling and packing orders are over.
It was exciting.
The contrast between 1982 and 2018 is manifest. In 1982 I could do everything. In 2018 my contributions are in many ways a drop in the bucket.
All I could do this year was pitch in as about 1% of the warehouse workforce and do what I could to help get the “mail” out on time.
Now the three brick and mortar stores will come into their own again for the last few days before December 25th—least I hope so. People will actually have to go out and “shop”—like the good ole days. I will visit each of the stores in the next day or so. I will get perturbed at the annual appearance of the parcels of poor drivers. So many people who rarely get out come out of the woodwork and hit the streets. They are out of practice or stressed or distracted by the other poor drivers.
Maybe I will feel that magic I used to feel when anxious customers would come in with urgent last minute requests. I miss those days. Christmas Eve I would stay open until I really felt as if the last book buyer in the city had come and gone.
Then I would do some last minute shopping at JC Penny’s—in the mall—which stayed open later than Wonder Book.
And then I would drive home in the old beat up, once white, Ford F 150 pickup truck. There was an aluminum cap covering the bed of the pickup so I could transport books even in the rain. The logo from the manufacture on it said: “Don’t Go Topless.”
At home I’d open the dampers on the wood stove and try to get the old stone farmhouse a little warm. I hated it if the furnace came on. That would even wake me from the deepest sleep. Why? It cost $300 to fill the oil tank for the furnace. I couldn’t afford that.
Sometime before Christmas Eve, I would always take a couple boxes of new (remaindered) kids books over to the Fredericktowne Mall and add them to the Toys for Tots collection near the fountain at one end of the vast interior space. It least it seemed vast then…
The mall has been closed for many years now. There are interior drone videos on YouTube of its current derelict status. It used to be the place to go. It was always packed with people of all ages. The young people especially felt the call to be there. To see and be seen by their peers and rivals.
I used to avoid it. I would see too many customers. I’m pretty shy in public. I wasn’t anonymous enough in that milling crowd.
“Hey, aren’t you…”
Now it looks post apocalyptic… There’s another big ole “biblical” word.
In 2018 we gave away thousands of kids books to all kinds of organizations. We buy them by the truckload. If we didn’t they would all get pulped.
That sort of thing makes me feel good. #BookRescue.
December 21. 4 am. The winds roar outside in the black darkness on the wild mountain where I live. There are no street lights up there. Invisible rain lashes the windows, walls and roof above and around me. The storm woke me. When I switched on the exterior lights, the driving rain was millions of angled silver lines dashing through the spotlight before disappearing again into darkness.
I arose and opened the dampers on the wood stove about 20 feet from my bed. Soon the glass doors on it glowed like a warm orange eye in the darkness.
It is the day of the Winter Solstice. Autumn’s end. Winter will begin in the evening.
The sun will rise at 7:23. It will set at 4:49. The “day” will be 9 hours, 26 minutes and 19 seconds long. Tomorrow the “day” will only be one second longer.
I had a dream. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It just…was. I recalled enough to record it this way:
“Come sit by the bed
It is getting dark
Light another candle
I wish to see better
Speak softly, comfort me
Another blanket. Thank you
My feet were getting cold
It is nice to have you near
What is that outside the window?
Just the wind in bare winter trees?
Your words are in rhythm
A soft lilting lullaby
No. Please don’t stop
I don’t wish to sleep now
What is that outside the window?
Clouds dashing across the moon?
Light another candle please
It is getting dark
I wish I could see you better
I would know your face now
Not just in the mind’s eye
The flickering light casts shadows
Dappling, dancing shadows
Play upon your features
Bend closer to the light
I would see you clearer
What is that outside?
Rattling, clattering in the blackness
No—don’t tell me
I don’t wish to know”
If you got this far, I hope you’re ok. Sir Philip Sidney wrote An Apology for Poetry around 1580. It wasn’t an “apology.” It was defense. I offer neither.
Christmas makes me moody now. I miss having small children. I miss being a small child.
With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one
As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split
How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that
Maybe the magic will return sometime in the next few days. I hope so.
Until then, here is some unmistakable magic.