Books in Brewster, MA... and everywhere else...

...Mayhem at the little book shop in Boston’s South Station. Here, no one can sit on the floor or window ledges to read a book. “We could last time! They just don’t like kids!” Hand-written signs on every potential kids’ seat. I tried to explain. “This isn’t a normal book store; they want you to buy the book and get on the train, not just read books and leave.” My explanation did not squelch their frustration. In New York City, we visited an amazing exhibit of LEGO sculptures by Nathan Saway. The last exhibit room funneled us into a small, quiet gift shop where Will and Liam read LEGO books. Undisturbed for 20 minutes.

Book shops bring on a simple giddiness. They are one of the very few places where I’m not overwhelmed by choice. Perhaps it’s the freedom to choose or not to choose, unlike the overwhelming necessary choice of toothpaste and canned tomatoes at the grocery store.

On a summer morning day-trip to Brewster on Cape Cod, we scooped the kids into the van and were on the road by 6:30. I was ecstatic to be up and going so early. I was the only one experiencing early morning joy in the car… To cross the Sagamore Bridge, which connects mainland Mass. to the Cape, the Brewster Chamber of Commerce suggested timing our trip to cross by 8:00 a.m. Otherwise, with thick Cape traffic, it could take hours to cross.

An unfettered journey meant we were across the bridge a little over an hour from leaving our house north of Boston. Knowing we would be early at the Cape, we planned a stop at Brewster's Coffee Shop for breakfast. There were no lines at 8:00 a.m. We had breakfast alfresco at picnic tables. Families with dogs were particularly keen on this place. The food was good; patrons and dogs were friendly.

With time to kill before meeting up with friends late morning, we set out to explore after breakfast. Just a few minutes before it opened, we found The Brewster Book Store. Even from the outside, I could feel it was a place that welcomed drawn-out perusing. Perhaps even floor-sitting?

“Mom, look bean bags in the kids’ section!” And with that, I knew where Liam would be firmly anchored. The shop was a converted house: a room at every turn with books, stationery, gifts, and cards, including a birthday card that perfectly captured us book addicts:

“I do not want to just read books; I want to climb inside them and live there. – Anonymous.”

Yes. Like the little-remembered little people who lived behind the books on Capt. Kangaroo's book shelves. I think of those little people every time I arrange books on our shelves. And, sometimes I want to put a thimble and thread spool behind the books... just in case.

Riding the Strands of Fireworks

A single fuse is lit. A gust of gun powder soars into the sky as one and pops into a sprinkling of sparkling, bright fireworks. It’s not a vision of the 4th of July. It’s the explosion of everyone’s spring activities. Post spring break. Well choreographed are the questions. “Where are you supposed to be tonight?” “Who should you send these pictures to?” “Is this a practice or a game?” “What day does your flight leave?” “Where is your uniform?” “Which baseball shoes are mine?” “Do you have a white shirt and black pants for me?” “What time do you need to be there?” “What you do you want to do for Mother’s Day?” “How many more days are left of school?” And it’s me asking that last question. 21.

Families who have kids in elementary school are riding on the same combustive fuselage.

After a few crazy splintered mornings, I try to get up early enough to have a cup of coffee alone. I play some calm music in the morning. Or, I sit down at the piano for 10 minutes, letting my right hand lead the melody while my left hand struggles for the harmonious chord. I need 6 beats to a measure for a song in 4/4 time – finding the chord always take me a couple extra beats.

Will and Liam have their own morning routines, usually looking something like this. Although Liam can’t play Minecraft every morning, he can read about it.

On this particular morning, Will put down his Ranger’s Apprentice series and read my “story spinner” – what Liam so aptly named my spiral-bound manuscript… gulp… of the Staying Strong stories I wrote some five years ago.  The breast cancer year.

As we leave for school, the rocks call Will and Liam’s names.  And I do not, do not, do not want to herd them into the van.  I want to let them sit there and read, and read, and read.

Yes, we are ready for summer.  When mornings can start with the bean bags being dragged to the fort by the boys.  With a book tucked under each of their arms.

Book Draggin'

Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas,  I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself?  I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one.  I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan.  After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full.  Elation!  That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.

I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city.  What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris.  Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.

The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!”  The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs.  “Merci, Madame!  Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that.  Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.

After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.


Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England.  I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases.  Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best.  He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them.  It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases.  Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.


On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me.  I flinched.  After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat.  I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head.  When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand.  I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor.  Yuck!  “Sir!  Excuse me!  I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.”  In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.”  I tried not to look at the titles.  That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings.  Serious reading.

My generosity sparked conversation.  “What do you do?” he asked.  “I’m a writer.”  “Really?  What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog,”  “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.”  With all those books.  I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”

Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write?  And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board.  It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.

A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."

(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry?  That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read.  Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")

4th of July. Fireworks. Reading. Fishing.

Last night in Gloucester, we took in the traditional fireworks display.  Driving around the loud and crazy festivities at Gloucester Harbor, we found a small, quiet park on the opposite of the harbor.  Space for the boys to run around while we waited for the first bang.   Far enough away that the bangs, swizzles, whistles, and chasers didn’t force the guys to watch with hands over their ears.  We named the fireworks: gold waterfalls, pyrite rocks, spiders, and whistlers. This morning, giving ourselves permission to simply sit and read.  (OK, there is one Leapster whispering beside me…)  Only fidgeting enough to scratch the combined 50 no-see-um bites we have from early evenings outside.  No-see-ums are flying teeth.  Tiny, tiny bugs that you can’t see or feel until they bite.  The choice is go inside or spray on a thick coating of Off at 6 p.m.  I prefer nightly baths to feeding flying teeth.

With threatening clouds overhead, the river is quiet and the tide is in.  After meeting a retired commercial fisherman earlier this week on the beach, Liam was ready to throw in a hook.  Liam didn’t flinch as he watched Ed work the hook through the eyes of an 8-inch herring he was using as bait.  Ed missed a couple good bites while chatting with us, so we didn’t actually see a fish from the river.

The next day, we had a lesson from a very knowledgeable and patient Dick’s Sporting Goods manager on rigging up a fishing pole and what bait to use.  The Malcolms now own four fishing rods.  The boys cast their first lines later that same day.

Apparently, there are 28-inch striped bass – “stripers” – and blue fish in the Annisquam River.  I fear catching a fish, particularly since I can only identify Caribbean reef fish and Iowa bull-heads.  According to Ed, blue fish are swimming teeth – they should be easy to ID.  Ed showed me the needle-nosed pliers he uses to remove hooks from the mouths of blue fish.  Consequently, we bought a multi-purpose tool at Dick’s: needle-nose pliers/line cutters.

On the first visit to the dock, it was soon apparent that nothing would be hauled in: it was a casting, reeling, and untangling session.  I was relieved.  While this practice was going on, a small boat pulled up to the dock and we met the neighbors across the street.  Rich information was gathered during this brief introduction:  the woman who has lived here 50+ years knows how to clean and fillet fish.  So…

On the second visit, Bill and I lugged a big blue bucket with us.  I also took a heavy beach towel to use as a lid, should we catch a big fish.  With a cast on one hand and a pick-line-low-weight-lifting restriction on the other, Bill was not going to be the one to haul it in or take it off the hook.  (Actually even if he had two fully-operating hands, there’s a good chance I would still be the one to fight the fish.)  On the walk to the dock, I checked out the shade tree where I could leave the bucket of fish as I dashed up to the neighbor’s house to plead for help.  All for naught.  Yet again, a practice session with a lot of boat traffic.

Today, with a quiet river and high tide, I’ll take the bucket again.  And hope there is movement across the street at our neighbor’s house.

Fireworks.  Reading.  Fishing.

A quiet 4th of July.

Unless we catch a fish…

(More about Liquid Farming: Fishing & Problem-solving.)