New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book – Simon’s Winthrop Bookshop, Winthrop, MA


One of the most attractive features of moving to the town I live in was that many people, even Massachusetts residents, reply ‘Where’s that?’ when they ask where I live and I answer them.

Despite being named after the second Governor of Massachusetts (who was amongst the founding fathers of Boston), the town enjoys relative obscurity (read this as not a whole lot of traffic or crowds). Once considered a ‘resort’ destination for those looking to escape city life and enjoy a salty summer breeze, at the tail end of a narrow gauge railroad branch that ran nearly to the ocean, which surrounds three sides of the town, and Winthrop Beach.

Nowadays people access Winthrop via bridge on Route 145 which is the one way into the town (from East Boston) and the same way out (via Revere), which is the one way out of town. I often tell people that Winthrop is like Pompeii – there’s one road in and one road out and if Vesuvius ever blows, we’re all screwed.

Sometimes people laugh at that.

Often not.

Winthrop is a small town. Also, to me, an attractive feature of living here. There’s a small grocery store, a couple of small pharmacies (one a chain, one not), small restaurants with small bars (though no businesses that are just bars, small or not), the requisite (small) ‘House Of Pizza’ no town seems complete without, small schools, a library (not really ‘small’, per se, but not as big as say Boston Public), small public safety buildings, and various and sundry other businesses, mostly contained in the (small) town center.

Hidden on a side-street that runs from Winthrop’s Main Street all the way to the tip of the town’s peninsula is a (small) red building attached to an (equally small) cedar shingled house.  There is no sign out front – save for the faded ‘Books’ placard in the left-hand corner of the front window and the conspicuous plastic totes on the sidewalk under the picture window  (filled with books) – to advertise the business. There’s nothing visible from the street to tell you what hours they might be open, no ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign hanging in the window, and no indication of what type of books they offer  for sale (new or used, fiction or non-fiction, etc.), or anything to otherwise beckon you inside to look around.

Similarly to the way people, when told I live in Winthrop, respond, ‘Where’s that?’ – Simon’s seems to beg a response of ‘What do they sell?’ from anyone who notices it in their travels – which really takes some work to notice it at all. It’s almost as if you have to already know where it is to find it and patronize it, rather than be a novice seeking it out for the first time.

Nevertheless, seek it out I did, and despite having to drive past it for months before I found it to be open (which I recognized solely by the fact that the inside door, behind the outer storm door, was open and a light was on inside on a gloomy, overcast afternoon). When I saw this, I immediately parked my vehicle (parking is limited to on-street availability), abandoned my plan to go to the grocery store, and went inside, despite my long-time belief that the entire place had to be some kind of literary witness protection program.

The books are plentiful, lined from floor to ceiling, and laying about in stacks here and there and everywhere as well. There are separate sections for fiction and non-fiction, and mystery novels even have their own segregated shelving from the fiction. There is a children’s area as well, and if you are curious enough to venture through the doorway that connects the bookshop to the attached ‘house’ you will even find an assortment of very recent releases – so recent they still qualify as ‘new’.

The contents of the store are a treasure trove. But entering the store to browse is not for the faint of heart. The building (once a neighborhood grocery, according to the shop owner, Lee, a lovely woman who often inquires what made me choose a particular novel or classic work that I have brought to her desk to purchase) holds a lot of books in a small area, and the shelves are very close together – so close in fact that in order to use the ‘reading’ section of my progressive bifocals to see the top shelf offerings I need to tilt my head all the way back, which results in rubbing my head on the shelf behind me. The floors are sloping (more so in some places than others) and the walking paths between the shelves and sections are not always clear of boxes of books waiting to find either space on the shelves or on the shelves of their new homes once purchased.

But don’t let any of that deter you. If you are hale of heart and hearty of a desire to find a good book at a great price (I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than four dollars for a used fiction selection), and if you can not let your joy of finding a good book deter you from paying at least some attention to the floor you are walking on and be mindful of your step, then this is a great place to go. It may not be the only game in town for used books in Winthrop, MA, but it certainly has the largest selection.

On a final note, the store does have a ‘website’, although the information there is as Spartan as the store’s exterior in terms of what it tells you. The hours are listed as 1pm to 10pm Monday through Thursday, 1pm to 6pm on Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.

But don’t quote me on that. I have driven past the store in the afternoon and found the door closed, the lights off, and the plastic bins in the front covered over with blue tarps (what I assume is the anti-theft system employed as the bins never leave the sidewalk) in hours they are supposedly open.

The website can be found at – but don’t quote me on that either, because I tried to copy the link and paste it, and could not.

Again – like a literary witness protection program.

But, like many other New England book stores, definitely worth the trip.

If you can find the town.

Happy Reading!

If you can find the store.





The Day The Music Died – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 20

Most days I call my mother at her assisted living (virtually every day now), and we chat. Some days just for ten or fifteen minutes; other days for more than an hour.

Some days she’s still relatively present, able to carry on a full, logical conversation with little repetition and ‘error’, others she just kind of ‘rambles’ without inserting an actual subject into what she’s speaking of and without being able to recall names, places, words, etc.

Some days we joke and laugh, talking about her arthritic fingers that droop and how she at least still has the middle one working so she can still tell people to piss off. Other days she talks about how much she’s ‘lost’, her house, her car, etc., and I do what I can to turn it around to a positive.

Most days I have a pretty capable suit of armor that I wear for these conversations. I slip it on before I dial the phone or when I see her name pop up on the caller i.d. when she calls me before I pick up to call her.  I never know what kind of mood she’ll be in, how present she will be, how often she’ll repeat herself or what the conversation will be about, good or bad. I prepare myself for ‘whatever’ the conversation holds or how it goes.

Most days I do battle with her dementia and fare relatively well in this respect.

Today, although I didn’t tell her and she didn’t hear it in my voice, nor could she see it through the phone, she broke my heart a little.

I mentioned to her that last night I went out to a karaoke show and got up and sang. This is something I do almost every week, at least once, because I love to sing. I’ve told her most weeks that I’ve been out singing. I mention it to her casually, conversationally, just like saying “I breathed air” today. It’s normal – habitual – commonplace for me to go out and sing somewhere.

Her response to it today, though, was brand new.

“I didn’t know you like to sing….”

So many people talk about their life flashing before their eyes. Immediately after Mom said this to me this morning, thirty-five years of my life flashed before mine. I’ve been singing in choruses and musical theater and karaoke shows for that long. Mom has been there, front and center, for so much of it, smiling and beaming up at me, her eyes screaming out ‘That’s my son!’ with unmeasured and boundless pride. There are so many things Mom had ‘suggestions’ of how she might do something ‘differently’ (her way) in my life, but my singing has been one thing she’s never touched. She might not always have liked my song selection, but she never once had a criticism for how to do it ‘better’.

Even when I knew it sucked and wasn’t something I should have sung in the first place (and there have been a few) – even if I occasionally forgot a lyric or my tempo was a bit off – there has never been a time when Mom had anything but praise for my singing.

When I began doing musical theater as an adult, after a lengthy break from the stage in my early 20’s, Mom enlisted family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who would agree to come to my shows. She bought blocks of tickets to each performance, always positioning herself to the greatest advantage, visually, based upon where I was on the stage during any show I did. I’d look down, ever so briefly, from the stage during a ballad, and see her sitting there, eyes closed, a smile spread across her lips, knowing she was enjoying it. Knowing that if nothing else, I was making her proud of me at that moment in time. Not that there haven’t been other moments, but those moments – those were priceless….golden….and I thought nothing would ever tarnish that gold.

I still have the memories – even if she doesn’t. But that’s little consolation. Sure, the accolades and praise and acknowledgement have been wonderful over the years. After a childhood spent hearing how something might be done ‘better’, of never feeling like I measured up in any way, having that one thing that there was never a suggested improvement for – was like a personal victory for me.

It’s not about that, though, as nice as that was. That’s not what’s heartbreaking about this for me.

It’s knowing how much she enjoyed hearing me sing, how she’d move Heaven and Earth to get there to hear it – how she would (a non-drinker) sit for hours in a bar just to wait for me to get my turn in a karaoke rotation – for three and one-half minutes of fame – knowing that this has faded from her memory – and might be gone forever.

This one has hit me – right in the heart.





What Happens To A Memory – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 19

I spent an hour on the phone with my mother this morning talking about her visit with one of the boys who is in Florida to be part of a family wedding this coming weekend.

She related how much she enjoyed seeing him, how handsome he is, how loving and attentive he was, and how much she loves him.

She then told me that try as she might yesterday she just couldn’t recall any other times they’ve spent together. She knows they have spent time together (a great deal of it in the first few years of his life, before his mother died), but that she just can’t bring up any of the memories in her mind. She knows she loves him, but can’t remember doing anything important with him.

“What happens to a memory?” she asked. “How can something as important as that just disappear from your mind?”

Scientifically, there are explanations for what happens to our memories. Recent ones are stored in an area of the brain called the Hippocampus. How long they reside there is up for debate. But eventually the Hippocampus, after telling our brains how to recall that memory (the details of it that become embedded in our minds), the memory is then parceled out to the Cortex, where it lives on, although over time certain aspects of it can be revised or can even fade from our ability to recall it.

An alternative theory suggests that the Hippocampus stores ‘episodic’ memories, with layers of detail such as smell, taste, color, etc., while the cortex stores ‘semantic’ memories which are more steeped in factual knowledge than anything else. The Hippocampus might tell us that we lived in a brown, two story house in a row of houses with a rolling green field across the street where we spent many hours as a child running through the grass that rose up to our waists and chests and shoulders and beyond during the long summer months. We can still recall the sound of summer insects singing their songs and almost feel the warmth of the sunlight that streamed down from above and played with the tips of the grass shoots. Eventually this might be reported to another in much more general terms such as ‘There was a field across the street from my house. I used to play there.’ and little more.

Before the time when the written word became a more wide-spread form of recording and sharing events and history, people relied on the spoken word. Stories would spread from person to person, from village to village, passed down from generation to generation, so that the deeds and words of others would not wane with the passage of time. In this way, stories being passed to me by my parents, I know many things that otherwise I might not as they were never written down anywhere. I know things about myself from a time before I began to remember them and store them inside my own mind.

“I don’t remember my life before here, before coming here. I know I had a house, and I lived there for many years, but I can’t even recall what it looked like inside.” Mom said.

“Close your eyes, Mom, close your eyes and picture something in your mind and tell me what it is, with as much detail as you can.”

“I see a boy – he’s about five or six years old. He has dark hair. He’s sitting in a corner reading. There’s no one else in the room, but he’s just sitting there with a book.”

“That boy is me, Mom. You always said that when I first learned to read, anytime after that when you wondered where I was, you could always find me sitting in a corner, usually behind a chair, reading a book.”

“Yes – yes that’s right. I always loved that about you, that you loved to read as much as I loved to read – and still do. Do you?”

“Absolutely. I always have a book going.”

“Good. Then that’s something we’ll always share. Something we love about each other.”

“Then that’s your answer Mom.”

“My answer to what?”

“To what happens to a memory. Just like you said about your grandson being there and not remembering times you’ve spent with him, but you know you love him and enjoy being with him. Just like you pictured me just now reading in a corner and said it was always something you loved about me, my love of reading. That’s what happens to our memories. Even if we can’t recall them.”

“You think that’s it?”

“I don’t know for sure, but – perhaps we carry them in our heart as the love we feel for others, and that way they never really fade completely.”

“I hope you’re right, Son – but even if you aren’t, I think I like that, and I’m going to choose to believe it.”

Winnie The Pooh said, ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.’ Science might not know what happens to our memories exactly, but our hearts know what they know.

Even though memories may fade, love never will.




New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book: The Lord Randall Bookshop in Marshfield, MA


One of my favorite ways to pass time is to visit a used book store. I’m an avid reader, always in search of a literary gem at a great price. While I’d love to keep the existence of many of them to myself to mine their offerings time and again to add to my own collection; I’ve decided to share my experiences in my New England (and sometimes beyond) book buying travels with others in an ongoing series of blog posts.


I (unfortunately) do not have any photos of this first shop I’m listing, nor can I find one online, but will be sure to correct that in the future for additional posts. I’ve put a google maps location ‘photo’ above this first post in lieu of an actual photo.

This past Saturday I visited one of my favorite stores, The Lord Randall Bookshop at 22 Main Street, Marshfield, MA.

I originally discovered this small but highly rewarding shop while perusing the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers list (formerly MARIAB, now redirected to SNEAB (Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers) at

Nestled into the walls between a centuries old home and the attached garage, this ‘barn’ space retains its pre-twentieth century charm and wooden planked walls and floor. Sparse rugs, certainly as care-worn as some of the book spines standing watch over them, lay on the floor gathering the dust that the book jackets are meant to repel. Stretching down from the ceiling a few cobwebs (with nary a spider in sight upon them), while they might initially be a bit off-putting to some, only enhance the charming atmosphere, occasionally waving in the air which itself is steeped in the scent of both modern and ancient book bindings.

The shelves of the shop are stocked ceiling to floor with both fiction and non-fiction offerings sure to capture the interest of any reader. Boating, travel, history, New England Lore, true crime, and architecture are just a few of the subjects to choose from.

The children’s section, along the wall to the left when you enter the shop, while you might not be likely to find a Potter or a Percy Jackson waiting for a new owner to dive into their pages, invites children to step back in time with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and many other early- to mid-twentieth century tales.

The novels to be found in the shop are divided into two sections; fiction and literature (there is a difference). The literature section boasts offerings by James, Tolstoy,Thoreau, Wharton and the like; while the fiction shelves play host to Grisham, Ludlum, Le Carre, and many other ‘mass appeal’ authors of the past twenty to thirty years.

Pricing is fair, as I emerged from my most recent visit to the shop with two classics (King Solomon’s Mines and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, in the Readers Digest ‘Worlds Best Reading’ series bindings), for $7.50 each, plus tax. Prices range from a few dollars less to hundreds more for rare and antiquarian books, which the shop carries in plentiful supply.

While you might not initially find anyone behind the desk in the shop when you enter, owner Gail and her trusty canine companion (a sweet dog who patrols the shop occasionally to sniff at your legs and check up on your progress, but was reluctant to give up his name) will eventually descend the few wooden steps from the attached residence and patiently sit behind her desk waiting for you to bring your finds to her for checkout. She will then hand-write your receipt, present you with your change, and wish you enjoyment from your newfound treasures before you depart.

There’s nothing flashy or extravagant about the Lord Randall, from the pale-green painted exterior to the gray, ashen floors and walls of the interior, but the worlds to be discovered with the books inside more than makes up for any flaws you might find in the decor.

Well worth the forty-five minute drive for me, this book shop is one I will likely visit again and again over the years. If you live too far away to make the trip, the shop has an online presence via the ABE Books website, and does offer shipping.

The listing from SNEAB is as follows:

Gail Wills
22 Main Street (Route 3A & 139), Marshfield, MA 02050
Phone: (781) 837-1400
Hours: Wed + Fri 12-5; Thu + Sat 11-5; Closed at 4 in Winter (Nov-Mar)
General shop with Local History, Children’s, Art and Architecture, Literature, Travel

Happy Reading!


Separation – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 18

In the past six to eight weeks, Mom has been mentioning ‘all the time we didn’t see each other or have contact with each other.’ I know this is a byproduct of the dementia. In my forty-seven years of existence, I think the longest I’ve ever gone without speaking with her was a month and a half long period when I was very angry with her several years ago. Other than that – we’ve always had contact with one another – good, bad, or indifferent.

Now, for some reason, she’s convinced that most of the time I was growing up we didn’t speak with one another, or at least not very often. At times I wonder if she’s remembering that month and a half long period (that happened within the last ten years) and confusing the timeline; or if she is simply confusing me with someone else.

Either way, whenever she says, “Just think of all those years we had no contact with each other” my answer is always the same.

“At least we’re talking now.”

Most of my conversations with Mom of late (which happen virtually every day now) are made up of the same details – what she ate for her most recent meal, what book she’s reading, how she’s feeling, etc. The details of her day to day life now rarely change. Having seen this come to pass with my grandmothers and my father, I suppose in a way I’ve been prepared for it. Perhaps more prepared than she was.

The details of her past, of our past, and of the past she shares with everyone she has encountered in life, are far more ‘fluid’ for her now. Days or weeks become months, or years, that passed in between events. Moments that became memories have melted away – as if they were a story she once heard, or a movie she once watched. Details become jumbled and disconcerting and old wounds are reopened in the mind, perhaps proving that they never really healed in the first place – they just got a bandage stuck over them at the time and life continued and maybe at first you looked under the bandage to see if a scab was forming over the wound and when it didn’t you just covered it back up and convinced yourself that some day you’d attend to it – when you had time.

Whatever reason Mom has for believing that there was such a long period of time that we had no contact with one another – and as much as I might like to try to convince her that it simply didn’t happen – that no matter what differences we’ve had over time we’ve worked them out or at least put them in a place that we both could live with them and move forward – that is most likely the worst thing I could do, to ‘remind’ her that her memory is going and her mind is inventing things that didn’t happen.

Alanis Morrissette had it wrong – irony isn’t rain on your wedding day, or ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. It’s realizing that it’s kinder to let someone have a memory that might be painful to them, even an invented one, because telling them that memory is not real or incorrect is likely to be more hurtful to them in the long run.

About two months ago, Mom told me that she was feeling lonely. That she wished she had more visitors and more to do, and is feeling very separated from her family. I live 1300 miles away from her. There’s little I can do about this except what I’ve done, which is to call her more often, talk to her longer than before, listen to her tell me the same things repeatedly – listen to her lament all the years we didn’t talk, false or not, and tell me how much it means that we talk like we do now and how it’s ‘given her something to look forward to every day’.

What she doesn’t realize is that that’s exactly what I set out to do when she told me how she was feeling – to give an eighty five year old woman with mobility issues and memory issues and aches and pains galore who resides in an assisted living facility with no interest in group activities and exercise and socializing with strangers and is feeling lonely, something to look forward to each and every day that remains for her. And no matter the (imagined) separation she feels we had for years, perhaps she’ll feel better about that in the end – that it was a thing of her (imagined) past – if she even remembers it a few months from now.

Mission accomplished.

Khalil Gibran said, ‘And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.’ Right now the separation is imagined – it’s all a product of Mom’s impaired cognitive process. But, be that as it may, it’s real for her. It’s real, and regretful, and hurtful. And the kindest thing I can do for Mom about it is to let her have that regret and that hurt without questioning or challenging it – and let her think that it all worked out in the long run.

When the ‘hour of separation’ comes – really comes – at least Mom, hopefully, will have long since let the hurt and regret, real or imagined, go.