Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Door Closes, Another Opens

Yesterday afternoon, we left our younger son with college friends at Ball State. He is planning to transfer there next fall, and we had gone to attend an informational program for transfer students. It's a bittersweet time when your last child is teetering on the edge of the nest. I had a hard time leaving him there, even for a couple of days, and
I was anxious about him driving all the way back alone on unfamiliar highways.

So there we were, the hubby and I, driving home. Just the two of us, each wrapped in silence, exploring the empty space that our children occupied for 25 years.

We had passed through a little town called Wabash on the way down to the school, oohing and ahhing over the wonderful old buildings along the way. It was still early afternoon when we passed that way again, and my husband suddenly turned to me and tapped the brakes. "Wanna stop?"

Well... sure. Why not?

We got off to a rocky start, turning the wrong way into a one-way street, but managed to tuck ourselves into a parking spot before hitting anything. I grabbed my camera and off we went to see what we could see.

Turns out, there was more to see than we could get around to. I snapped a few shots of the downtown and some architectural details before heading for Jack Francis Antiques store on the corner. Three elderly gentlemen sat visiting just outside the door, one of whom turned out to be Jack Francis himself.

His clothes were comfortably rumpled, and his standing shock of gray hair seemed confused as to which of several directions it ought to go. His clear eyes twinkled, and his face creased in a smile as he stood to shake hands. "Welcome to the biggest junk pile in the county! I see you've been taking pictures of my buildings," he said. "What do you think of them?"

Thinking he was simply taking a proprietary interest in his town, I told him I loved the place. "Five of 'em are mine, you know." He proudly pointed out which buildings he owned, and over the course of the next hour regaled us with local history (Did you know that Wabash was the first American city to have electric lights?), family history, and ties to people and places we knew in common. He ushered us through two of his shops -- one for junk (he was right about that) and one for coins. He runs the coin business on eBay. Not bad for a guy over eighty.

He collects everything, but especially bottles and books. "Do you like books? I have over 40,000 books. Most of 'em are over there." And he waived us across the street to The Reading Room bookstore.

The Reading Room is a bibliophile's paradise. The place is absolutely bursting with books. Old books, new books, common and rare. Books packed into a dozen wall-width, mile-high shelves, books camping out on the floor where the shelves can hold no more. Books stacked in teetering towers on every surface and peeking out of bulging boxes, plotting their escape.

We were met at the door by the proprietor, who is a dead ringer for Kurt Vonnegut and has probably forgotten more about books than you or I will ever know. He too was eager to talk history, especially Native American history of the area, and kindly provided us with a walking tour map.

I came away with copies of Wicked and The God of Small Things, two books I've been wanting to read. Had I not been in shock over the financial part of the Ball State presentation, I would have needed a wheelbarrow to get back to the car.

Sunday came, and our son made it home just fine. He had a wonderful time with his friends, and he's eager now to be on his own. The house was awfully quiet without him, and I'm sure my husband and I will grieve a bit when he goes away in the fall. But thanks to the kindness of new friends in lovely old Wabash, we're also looking forward to the freedom of being a couple again, on the road and out for adventure.

If you're in the area, don't miss Wabash. And if you're looking for a rare or out of print book, try The Reading Room.


sallyacious said...

Oh man. If I went into that bookstore, I'd probably never leave. I bet it's got that wonderful old bookstore smell too.

Anonymous said...

I remember leaving my daughter at college. It was such a strange feeling to drive home with just the two of us...You had a good idea to stop off and have some fun....

MyMaracas said...

Sally, it did have that smell! Not new paper, not lattes, not plastic as in the chain stores, just books. Musty, dusty, wonderful books.

Michelle, the side trip was just what we needed, for sure. Still, I know when we drop him off for real I'm going to be a basket case.

CJ said...

I don't go to bookstores anymore because I can't leave without spending more than I can afford. We already have way too many books for the space we have to hold them. Luckily we can order books videos, DVDs, audiobooks) from a huge library system to be delivered to our local library. Now I buy only reference books that I will use frequently. But if I ever win the lottery, I'll build my own library and fill shelves from floor to ceiling.