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Sunday, March 27, 2022

Last; Latest; Puppy

January 16, 2022: the last picture taken of us together

I’ve been compiling mental lists of “lasts” lately, for instance, the last photograph taken of the two of us (above), smiling happily, blissfully ignorant of what the near future had in store. A last finished painting, last visit to the coffee house, our last good day at the cabin, and last hopeful day in the hospital. Since much of our life together, from the very start, had to do with books, naturally I see around me the last books the Artist was reading in his final days. 


Last Books He Was Reading


The Book of Unusual Knowledge was a Christmas gift from one of my sisters and just the kind of compilation of esoterica that the Artist loved. (Bettie, I hope it pleases you to know that your gift pleased David!) Italy Fever was something I picked up for David in Tucson when he was recovering from his January surgery. (He had always wanted to go to Italy.) Paris Was Ours, a book he loved, is a collection of nonfiction essays, one or two of which he read aloud to me and at least one I read aloud to him. Naturally, the title speaks to my heart, also, because although we never got to Italy, we had a glorious time together in France, so we will always have Paris.

David and I have always been happy to re-read Jim Harrison’s books, and Off to the Side traveled to several Arizona hospitals with the Artist in January and February. Peter Matthiessen was another writer who was an acquaintance (it would be too much to claim him as a friend), and we had – I have – two copies of The Snow Leopard here in the cabin, a hardcover and a paperback. Born to Kvetch was something David acquired very recently (maybe on our last visit to the FOL bookstore in Sunsites?), and since he kept insisting that it was a book I would really enjoy, I have now begun to read it. As he assured me, it is much more serious than the title suggests.

Born to Kvetch and Italy Fever he had not finished when he set them aside at the time of his final hospitalization, and the same was true of The Little Prince, though I was gratified by his appreciation of the opening pages of that book I love so much. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, on the other hand, he had been carrying around for years, dipping into it on frequent occasions. When I took it to him in the hospital and apologized for bringing only one small book on that particular day, he protested that it was more than enough: “It’s a whole world!” A day or two later I took him two more books, which he set aside to open on his birthday -- and then he inscribed the Tao Te Ching to me. It was the last book he gave me. His birthday turned out to be one of the five days he was in a coma, and on the following three days (his last), when he was fully present to Maiya and me, none of us gave the slightest thought to birthday presents. 


Latest Books I Have Read Since Last Listing


27.      Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 (fiction – YA)

28.      Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia (nonfiction)

29.      Siegal, Mordecai & Matthew Margolis. I Just Got a Puppy. What Do I Do? (nonfiction)

30.      Charles, Janet Skeslien. The Paris Library (fiction)

31.      Fraser, Laura. An Italian Affair (nonfiction)

32.      Muir, John. All the World Over: Notes From Alaska (nonfiction)

33.      Portes, Andrea. The Fall of Butterflies (fiction - YA)

34.      Tweed, William C. King Sequoia (nonfiction)

35.      Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul (fiction)

36.      Howard, Maureen. Expensive Habits (fiction)

37.      Howard, Maureen. Facts of Life (nonfiction)

38.      Rowlands, Penelope, ed. Paris Was Ours (nonfiction)


The Watsons and In Patagonia are books I read in Chandler, Arizona, to distract myself, first from dread, later from sorrow. I thought I would never finish the Chatwin (and that those hours would never crawl by), then wondered if I would ever be able to finish another book again in my life. Well, you see that I have, and yet there are stacks everywhere around me with bookmarks showing where I stopped before laying them aside. In at least two cases, they were books the Artist hadn’t finished reading, either. Somehow it is difficult for me to read past the point where he left off.


The Puppy


Sunny Juliet

I always told David that he and Sarah were my most popular blog topics, much more appealing to my readers than any of my musings on books or philosophy or politics or even nature. A nature walk was fine, as long as Sarah was in it, too, but the best outdoor posts were those in which the Artist’s presence also figured. Sarah, then Peasy (“Give Pease a chance!” was the cry from my readers), but always, any chance image or utterance of my husband was guaranteed to be a hit. 


Labor Day 2021 - walking in the meadow - a beautiful day

Now there is Sunny, one of the Artist’s last gifts to me. (There – another “last” or, in this case, “almost last,” as those squeezes of the hand during his last days were really the last and most precious gifts he gave me.) “Leave the gun, take the cannoli!” became “Forget the motorcycle, get the puppy!” So I am not absolutely alone, because Sunny Juliet is here with me, night and day. 

The puppy and I visited a friend in Tucson last week.

Every day is an outdoor day.

Whether or not Sunny will be a bookstore dog remains to be seen, as she has a lot to learn and is not at all the “easy” puppy that Sarah was, by any means. For starters, unlike my last three dogs, she is a barker, with a very sharp, insistent little yap. I am hoping to train her out of the barking but have my work cut out for me and only hope the nipping and chewing is a teething stage and will, with continued encouragement, cease and desist as she grows up. And right now I have to be on the alert every minute she is awake and not crated, because the books on my shelves draw her like a magnet!

She is smart. She has almost unlimited energy. She is not a cuddler but does greet each day and each reunion with me or friends, after a night’s sleep or a quarter-hour’s separation, with happy, wiggling, kissy enthusiasm. She is a good dog. And come what may, she is my dog, for keeps. We are a pack of two. One other thing is certain: a puppy does not let a person live exclusively in the past. However tempting the memories of happy days gone by, a puppy has needs that must be met now! Yes, Sunny, mama sees you!

Monday, March 21, 2022

Banning, Protecting, Supporting, and Curating Books


The American Booksellers Association (ABA) is wrestling with an unwieldy and difficult issue these days, and, like any other ‘community,’ finds itself short of clear consensus. Let’s start with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: 


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Recently a decision was made by the ABA Board (I hope I have the correct attribution here) to qualify the organization’s support of free expression as follows:


ABA does not favor the protection of free expression when it comes to speech that violates our commitment to equity and antiracism, i.e., racist speech, anti-Semitic speech, homophobic speech, transphobic speech, etc.


Response from members has been strong and mixed. I should mention here that I am not an ABA member only because my bookstore’s inventory is tipped more in the direction of used than of new books, and I found myself during the year I was an ABA member drowning in shipments of brochures, posters, banners, and other promotional material for new books, almost all of it designed for larger, new-only bookstores with dozens of employees. That being the case, I let my membership lapse with the explanation given here but have continued to follow in my daily e-mail Shelf Awareness newsletter news of the bookselling and publishing world, including political issues impinging on that world.


I have written on the subject of censorship before and have given: my general position; my response to one very specific brouhaha; and my take on what has been called  

financially-induced self-censorship,” or what I called in my post “indirect” censorship. 

In response to ABA’s recent qualification on protection of free expression, one bookseller from Utah, Betsy Burton, is horrified. She writes: 


Who decides which books to protect and which books not to? What standards do they employ to decide? What does the ABA intend to do with books that they have deemed unfit?

a. Ban them?
b. Burn them?

This might seem an Orwellian sort of reductio ad absurdum. And in one way it is. Because there is no rational answer, at least if one believes in the First Amendment. Either protect all books or throw the First Amendment out the window. 


Forgive me for repeating myself here, but I am not a member of Congress. I am a bookseller. When I choose not to stock a particular title, I am not calling down U.S. (or even state) law to forbid the publishing, selling, buying, or owning of that title. Constitutional protection remains in place.


What, though, about the bookselling organization’s statement? Had I been on the board and required to vote on the substitution of a qualified statement for the First Amendment statement, I honestly don’t know how I would have voted, but what is clear to me is that the ABA statement has no force of law behind it. Even members of the organization -- and, as I have explained, I am not a member, for purely nonpolitical reasons -- certainly retain Constitutional rights to order, stock, support, publicize, and sell whatever books they choose.


The owner of any bookstore (and this would apply to large chains, as well) must always make choices, because no bookstore can stock every existing title. The smaller the bookstore, the more carefully such choices must be made. And, generally speaking, the more personal such choices will be. 


My bookstore is a reflection of my values, which doesn’t mean that every book on my shelves is a reflection of my own opinion, because yes, I do value a diversity of opinion, but no, I do not feel obligated to support within my doors opinions that I find morally offensive. A bookstore is, of necessity, either a curated collection or an impersonal hodge-podge, and I like to think that mine is the former. I have, for instance, more books on agriculture and natural sciences than I have science fiction and fantasy, and that is solely a reflection of my personal interests, not a decision made on principle, but every new book I order is a choice I make. For me, it’s personal, and as long as I’m in business my choices will be mine to make, and they will continue to be personal.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Keep Breathing

I have not blogged since my husband, the Artist, died, but have been writing and just can’t seem to stop most days. As I look through old digital photo files on my laptop, memories have washed over me in waves, and sometimes I posted only images on Facebook, but other times I put together a themed group and a paragraph of the thoughts that group of images gave me. “Keep writing,” a few friends said in their comments. Saying that to me is kind of like saying “Keep breathing” or “Keep remembering.” One dear friend of mine said in an e-mail that I may be a graphomaiac. Can’t help writing. But blogging? That’s been tough even to think about. 


So while I’m not ready to come up with a new blog post, here are some memories and a few, though not all, of the photos that have turned up along the way and found their way to my friends on Facebook, with a few small changes here and there and once in a while an amplification. It’s the best I can do right now.

Above: Grand Marais, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, was to us what Leelanau County is to annual visitors from, say, Grand Rapids. It was our home away from home, a place where we didn't work but went every year to catch our breaths again after a fast-paced summer of work, to breathe deeply, and to revisit old haunts and friends, not needing anything fancy, only to immerse ourselves in the dear and familiar: the Superior Hotel (Room 11), the West Bay Diner, the agate beach, Coast Guard Point, the Sucker River flowing cold into even colder Lake Superior, the serenity of the harbor, and boats, boats, boats. We walked the shore and the alleys and were always happy there, doing almost nothing after a busy tourist summer in Northport.

Above: In Northport, at any season of the year, David was always rearranging his gallery space. It was one of the constant joys of his life. The big red rug, lights over the paintings, the guest book presided over by a rubber rat bought at David Chrobak's shop, and other treasures on display were all David Grath. 

Below: Over the years, many friends visited and spent hours talking and laughing, and often if I wandered in David would say, "Take a picture of us." His friends were his treasures, also.


Another Northport artist, Bonnie Marris, sent me a couple of old digital photos from her archives. I know they were taken in the yard at our farmhouse because I recognize the blue and yellow tablecloth bought at an outdoor market in France when David and I were there in September of 2000. We had started out in Paris, of course, where we stayed at the Hotel Recamier, and then after a week or so we took the TGV (le Train de Grande Vitesse) south to Avignon, from which point we drove back north in a tiny rental car, traveling without reservations, as the spirit moved us. After a flat tire in the rain, we ditched the car in Fontainebleau and caught a train back to Paris, happy to be in familiar surroundings with great public transportation. But except for that flat tire day, the drive north from Avignon was heavenly, most especially the evening, night and morning we spent in Blesle, one of the (officially) prettiest villages in France and, to me, the French version of Glocca Morra, an almost unreal place of beautiful dreams.

To many friends and even oftener to people who didn't know all the aspects of his personality, David was known as a "car guy," and he certainly loved these big showboats -- besides the Lincolns, a beautiful yellow Cadillac that had belonged to another dear late friend. In 1986 David wrote an article called "86 Cars" for Automobile magazine and was a featured guest on the television "Today" show. When a crew came to Leelanau County to interview him and film the show, his houseboat on the Leland River made that show, as did the view looking north on Setterbo Road towards St. Wenceslaus church.

Back when Sarah was a young dog and Donny's dogs Weiser and Ida often came to spend the night (Donny, brother of David’s dear friend Michael, had lived in the house until his death, when Michael made it available to us for a few winter months), David loved his roomy studio space in Aripeka, Florida. From Aripeka we also enjoyed water adventures with with other members of the Seuss family, and David treasured his morning coffee times at Carl Norfleet’s store by the island’s north bridge.

Always messing about in boats (his own or other people's) or designing them or dreaming of them (because David always was a dreamer, as one of his grade-school teachers wrote to his parents on a long-ago report card), the Artist was very much the Rat of Wind in the Willows legend. Not surprisingly, that classic was one of our household’s all-time favorites.

Beginning in 1993, we were always a pack of three except for short stretches between dogs. On one trip to Florida, we were exploring Plains, Georgia, and, feeling as if our poor old Nikki might not make it any farther down the road, we asked a pleasant young policewoman to take a family picture of us. Nikki rallied, and we had her for much longer, in Florida and back in Michigan. Sarah was the dog of our life, the practically perfect puppy we adopted at four months and the charming hostess at Dog Ears Books for years. She was as happy with us on the road and in Florida and in the Arizona desert as she was in Michigan, summer and winter. Queen of the Snow! David and I loved our nightly pack times with her -- and also with Peasy, the dog we had for only 13 months.


Sarah on the road

Peasy, always ready for a ride

Sunny Juliet

I'm so sorry David never had a chance to meet Sunny, the puppy he had me purchase with cash he’d set aside for an Italian motorcycle (before coming to his senses), but when my sister and I went to the coffee house in Willcox -- a place David loved! -- the owner recalled the day I went to see Sunny, up north of Tucson, for the first time and put down a deposit on her. David drove into Willcox that day and visited the coffee house and told everyone at Source of Coffee about the puppy we were getting! He looked forward to us being a pack of three again (and she already has the makings of a good traveler). David was looking forward to so much -- making sculpture again, seeing friends in Michigan, making another trip to Minnesota to see children and grandchildren there. He lived right up to the end, and what more can we ask? Just more time, I guess, but sooner or later time runs out….


David Grath loved music, listening to it and making it. Playing bongos with Newt and the Salamanders was a favorite in his memory chest, and in his last weeks of life (though we didn’t know they were the last) he couldn’t resist a cello found at a thrift shop. He loved books, an incurable addiction we shared, and so he loved my bookstore, too, opened when our combined collections threatened to crowd us out of house and home, the bookstore that became, like his gallery and studio, a place for us to welcome friends old and new over the years. He loved beautiful things. Objets de virtue. And old soulful things of all kinds. He loved handsome shoes (especially Italian), beautiful hats, Harris tweed sport coats, leather bags, and cowboy boots (all things leather). He liked looking good. Especially, above all else, he loved painting. He looked at the world as a painter, always. And — my great good fortune — he loved me, and our life was rich and full.

One dear friend (who perhaps has not known me long enough to identify me as a graphomaniac) asked how I can write about losing this dear man when my grief is so new, but it's how I live -- by writing. It's how I think and sort myself out. And looking through my old photos reinforces my deep, strong gratitude for the life we shared for so many years. It's when I'm not writing or talking about David or looking at his paintings or my photographs of him and his paintings that the loss is unbearable. 

But here is a lovely story from a friend back in Leelanau County. He said that one recent cold day in Michigan, cold but very bright and sunny, he was sitting in his living room, sunlight pouring in through the windows, looking at Grath paintings on the wall (he owns several), and "Umbrous Pond" was glowing in the light. "It just glowed." That was in the afternoon, and only later, in the evening, did Tom learn that his artist friend David had died. But what would have given David more joy than to know that someone was looking at and loving one of his paintings? It was the best thing I heard all day.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Throw Out All the Rules


In Willcox, Arizona, 2021

Since my last post, life has brought more very difficult change, and it is with unspeakable sorrow that I write today to tell you that the Artist, David Paul Grath, the love of my life, died on Wednesday morning, March 2, just before 4 a.m. "Unspeakable" because unbelievable -- and yet I can't stop speaking of him and writing about him. You have read for years of our adventures together, and you have seen examples of his beautiful art. Here is the story of his last days. Some of you have already seen it on Facebook or received news from me in e-mail, but the Artist has been such an important presence on Books in Northport that it seems only fitting to post here, as well.

Following surgery in January at St. Joseph Hospital (Barrow Institute) in Phoenix, which followed a mild stroke and a COVID diagnosis earlier in the month, David had a second surgery at Chandler Regional Medical Center two weeks ago, on Wednesday, February 16. We expected, as did doctors, a fairly straightforward hiatal hernia repair, but the full story turned out to be much more complicated, surgery much more extensive. On Saturday night he became confused and finally unresponsive and was put on a ventilator and moved back to ICU, where I stayed with him all night Sunday-Monday, holding his hand. His daughter Maiya flew in late Monday.

The following Friday evening David woke from his coma, opened his eyes, nodded and wiggled his toes on command. I was so happy! Saturday and Sunday he was awake, aware, very responsive, and completely present. He was allowed only one visitor at a time, only two per day, so Maiya and I took turns. He loved holding hands with both of us, and every time he would squeeze my hand, I would tell him, “Thank you, sweetheart!” and he would nod. It looked as if things were going in a positive direction.

Monday was arduous, however, and that night he had a serious setback. The next morning he made it plain to me and to Maiya that he wanted the ordeal to be over. Since he had had conversations with his doctors before surgery, they understood clearly what he considered a bottom-line acceptable life, so while the ICU doctor had hoped to get him back to that level, he agreed after Monday night’s setback, given David’s clear communications to me and to Maiya and to nurses, that David could be taken off the ventilator and everything except pain meds stopped. Maiya and I never left his side, from 2 p.m. until 3:56 a.m., when he drew his last breath.

I deeply, truly feel that David woke from that coma for me and not for himself — and that he stayed as long as he did for Maiya and me. So many gifts! He had encouraged me, before his surgery, to get the puppy I’d found online, and to get her he had me take cash he’d set aside for an Italian motorcycle that had been tempting him for weeks! (“I don’t intend to ride it; I just want to have it,” he said, but finally he changed his mind and voted for the puppy instead.) The day following his surgery, when I took him a book of poems and another wrapped book for his birthday (which, as it turned out, he never opened, since he was in a coma by the time his birthday rolled around), he had me bring him his duffel bag so he could find a book he had been reading and inscribe it to me. The inscription is practically illegible, but he told me what it said. "Love returns always." I now think that love never leaves....

Best gift of all, though, were those squeezes of my hand, from Friday evening through Tuesday morning. So many times he would squeeze my hand and my eyes would fill with tears, and I would say, “Yes, yes, thank you, sweetheart!” and he would nod. Once I told him how sorry I was that he had had to suffer through so much that neither he nor I would ever have chosen, had we been able to foresee consequences of the surgery, and I asked, “Are you mad at me?” And he shook his head no and patted my hand in a comforting way. There was nothing but love between us. The greatest gift —

My heart is broken, but I have been blessed to have my life with David, so while I can’t stop crying and don’t know how I will go on without him, at the same time I know that I have been -- and in many ways continue to be -- a very lucky woman. Besides having the joy of each other for so long, David and I have also been blessed with famiy and friends, too, all along, and it means the world to me, especially now. So many of you have loved him, I know, and join me in both sorrow and in gratitude. It is unbelievable, all of it.

An outpouring of love and sympathy and support, the sharing of beautiful memories, meaningful conversations, and laughter has been filling my Facebook page. Since early this morning I have been sending messages and reading messages with tears streaming down my face, not knowing how I'll go on without the love of my life and at the same time -- it feels so strange! -- awash in gratitude for all the blessings he brought into my life, blessings that continue now, along with our love. I had not anticipated that I would feel gratitude in a time of such sorrow and grief. It is yet another gift from my beloved David, who has given me so much.

One Leelanau County friend, Mari Lee Raphael, shared a poem with me that I want to share here with all of you. 

Walking in Beauty Navajo Blessing way prayer In beauty I walk With beauty before me I walk With beauty behind me I walk With beauty above me I walk With beauty around me I walk It has become beauty again Hózhóogo naasháa doo. Shitsijí’ hózhóogo naasháa doo. Shikéédéé hózhóogo naasháa doo. Shideigi hózhóogo naasháa doo. T’áá altso shinaagóó hózhóogo naasháa doo. Hózhó náhásdlíí’. Hózhó náhásdlíí’. Hózhó náhásdlíí’. Hózhó náhásdlíí’ Today I will walk out, today everything negative will leave me I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body. I will have a light body, I will be happy forever, nothing will hinder me. I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me. I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me. I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful. In beauty all day long may I walk. Through the returning seasons, may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With dew about my feet, may I walk. With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful…

Dennos Museum Center, Traverse City, 2017

As David and I liked to say of others who had gone before us, he himself "paid his rent in the universe" and "got his work done." The paintings will live on, as will the memories and the love.