Stand up

I am traveling.  Currently traveling without the bookstore as I am on the other side of the ocean.  Regardless of where I am, there are opportunities to meet good people, to have thought provoking encounters.  Recently a juxtaposition of conversations pushed me to examine the expectations I hold and the impatience I often feel these days.96FFE953-152D-4015-87AF-E268C380881F

I met a social activist in Brno, Czech Republic.  She is heartedly involved in local politics, searching out how to improve services for older people, and helping with ways to feed the homeless in her city among other causes she is involved with. During our conversation I was inspired and relieved that this person was trying so hard to improve the quality of life for people in her extended community.

There are others I conversed with on this trip.  Some people teach school, others raise families, or are artists, or work in IT, or are retired.  Some volunteer at summer camps and others help in prisons in their spare time, while some put together community theater after day jobs. Is there any particular work or community service that is better than another?  Surely there is a need in every place for carpenters, cooks, shop assistants, musicians, doctors, welders, and teachers.  And thus there must also be a need for the various ways people freely contribute to their community.  Scout leaders, hospice volunteers, parents who help at schools, individuals who donate to the arts, drivers for Meals on Wheels, people who write letters to elected officials, and those who take to the streets to counter injustice.

I want every individual to give to their community in a meaningful way.  Some religions encourage tithing a percentage of income. Is it unrealistic to ask people to tithe a percentage of time? And what age should we begin?  In one conversation recently, a young man told me he didn’t volunteer but tried to live a caring life helping his friends.  Another person said she didn’t volunteer but was working to raise her children well.  That her contribution to the larger community would be these two children who grew up polite, creative, thoughtful.  These answers challenged my hope we can be caring to those in our immediate circle and help improve the greater community as well. Is this expecting too much?  Can a parent who has skills to raise children give four hours a week to help other children in an after school program or work towards improving state or federal education policy? Can the man who cares about his friends donate time at a homeless shelter or become involved with NAMI? Over the last few years, a number of individuals and groups began to provide accessible ways to make a difference without leaving home.  Jen Hoffman’s Americans of Conscience Checklist is one.

Yes, we can have meaningful conversations, care for our children, help our friends. But these are very much within the context of our community, our state, our country.  Our efforts need to include this context if we truly care about anyone.

 

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Mixt

That time of year.  So much going on.  A few bookstore events, a note about bookstore tshirts and a bit of literary nonfiction.

November 24:  Shop Small Saturday! The bookstore sets up next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka.  Perfect location for a Textual Apothecary.  9am – 3pm

December 1: Holly Faire! The bookstore sets up at the Creative Arts Center for their holiday bazaar.  9am – 5pm.  1st Ave West in Eureka.

Bookstore tshirts People send inquiries about purchasing traveling bookstore tshirts.  As this isn’t an online business, it is a small challenge to find the ideal way to fill orders.  If you send a check with your order (size, men or women’s style, mailing address), the tshirt you want will be mailed.  $25/shirt.  St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore  PO Box 2036  Eureka, MT 59917. But of course it is better to meet the bookstore while it is on the road and get your shirt at a discounted price as well as conversation.

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My name is Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller. My friends call me Martin. As with most of us who reach the sixth decade, many things touched our lives over the years. Many things – some tender as a delicate blossom in spring, some strong as a tank pushing through barbed wire into war. Some we barely notice like the first time I walked into Rosenstein’s store to buy a bottle of ink. One is on my body forever.

My father was a minister and my mother was a very sweet woman. They raised me in the Lutheran faith, a strict German family, quite conservative and yet I felt loved by my parents while growing up. After completing high school, I entered the Navy and eventually served on submarines and U-boats. Unfortunately or should I say fortunately depending on where you stand on such matters, Germany was in the First World War at that point. By 1918, I grew to know beyond a doubt military life and war were not for me. I considered following in my father’s footsteps, to become a minister.

But before starting down that path, I had the wonderful fortune to meet Else and we married in 1919. Who could have asked for a better woman and wife? We decided to try farming as I envisioned a bucolic life together tending the fields, raising children, sitting by the stove on snowy winter nights reading to each other. But it was difficult for us to get enough money to buy a small farm so we decided I should pursue becoming a minister. Finally I was ordained in 1924  and received my first placement as curate at Münster’s Church of the Redeemer.

We did well in those years. I was able to do what the church and congregation needed and expected of me. Eventually we moved to serve a larger church outside Berlin. With Else and my vocation, life settled into a pattern I enjoyed and appreciated. Evenings after dinner when there weren’t church events, Else and I sat in the parlor. Sometimes I would have a small glass of schnapps, smoking my pipe as I read. Else worked on her sewing. She sewed christening outfits for infants. She had a way with delicate stitches on those tiny clothes.

During quiet evenings at home we might listen to the radio. There was quite a lot going on in the early 1930s. Adolf Hitler was about to become Chancellor. I thought he had good ideas how to strengthen our country and improve the economy. Once in 1932, I actually met with the man as I represented the committee of Protestant churches. When we spoke together that afternoon, I believed he had our country’s best interests at heart. He had a vision that inspired me. He solemnly promised he would maintain the laws of the Church. There might be some restrictions against Jews but nothing serious. I saw he truly wanted our country to be strong and good. He was looking for the best way to accomplish this and I had faith in him. When I left that meeting, I nearly ran I was so excited to get home. I wanted to tell Else how fortunate we were as Germans to have this leader, to have this future for our children.

I will always remember that evening. Else and I talked of our plans for the next year, how I might apply to a larger church. We even drank a small toast together after the children were in bed. Our family was growing and with the little ones, it would be prudent for me to find a position better suited for a large family. There was such a glow that evening. There was such a glow.

But the glow didn’t last. Within the year it became evident Hitler had other plans, which were not in keeping with Church laws. His government took over churches, dictating what was allowed. It was a difficult time and I didn’t know what to do. Else looked to me for answers but what could I tell her? Members in my congregation had growing concerns. Should they be worried? Could this government be voted out?

One afternoon I struggled writing a sermon, trying to find the right words to calm people’s fears. I remember it was an early Thursday afternoon. The children were quietly resting following lunch. I needed ink for my pen and appreciated the opportunity for a short walk to the stationary shop a few blocks away. I looked forward to chatting with Mr. Rosenstein about pens and papers because we both appreciated quality in writing supplies. The afternoon weather was brisk but warm enough. The blue sky with a few random clouds put me in a better mood. Surely we would weather this government and move on to something better.

Arriving at the shop, I was surprised to find it locked. The blinds were drawn and I immediately thought something must have happened to Mr. Rosenstein or his wife. I went to the newspaper kiosk a few steps away to ask the gentleman there if he knew. He winked and told me the Rosensteins had moved. Moved? That didn’t make the least bit of sense. What about their shop? The man looked at me as though I was a dunce. “They’re Jews, for godsake! The government is finally taking them away.”

I needed to do something. But truth be told I didn’t know what to do. You might think a man of the cloth would pray and ask for guidance at a time like this. But it was as though some dark heavy wool settled not only on my country but on my faith and my mind. I met with other ministers who were also troubled by the increasing violence and propaganda. We formed a group to oppose these anti-Christian governmental policies. We asked for meetings but Hitler’s regime had no use for us by then.

We still tried. I could have tried harder, but I didn’t know then how terrible it would become. I truly didn’t know. On a hot July morning I sat with Else in the garden’s shade as the children played. There was a knock at the door. Else went to answer. How could she know it was the police there to arrest me? We were a good German family. I was a minister. Yet they took me to a prison. Eventually they sent me to Dachau.

Dachau was the first camp the Nazis built. It grew over time into what they called sub camps. There were so many prisoners being brought in they needed to continually expand the complex. Tens of thousands of Germans, Austrians, Poles, French and Czechs. And yes, there were many clergy imprisoned at Dachau along with Jews. The Nazis thought clergy whether Catholic or Protestant would persuade people to fight against the insanity of the government. So they locked us up, used us as fodder along with the others. Seven years I was at Dachau. Seven years living in a hell only humans could create.

So many deaths. So much senseless torture. So many lives torn asunder. We rarely had news from outside the walls. I tried to picture Else and the children around the table eating dinner together or out in the garden. But mostly all I managed was to survive, to do whatever I was told. And then one day, one which had dawned like so many others, life changed when US soldiers opened the gates.

Did I know what to do? No. I managed to find Else. The children, well, they were no longer children as seven years had passed. Two had died. I wanted so badly to go back to the days when I was a minister and the children were small, when life had a rhythm I understood. Now I understood nothing. My life had become something I never could have imagined. Would I ever feel love for my country again, this country which committed such atrocities?

With other German ministers, I compiled a document that testified to our guilt, admitted our shame in not doing more. But the document was a flimsy piece of paper compared to the millions of innocents lost. It meant nothing.

Recently I met a scientist who explained in detail the type of bombs the Americans dropped on Japan. Again I felt the black horror men are capable of committing. I cried as the scientist described the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the shadows etched on sidewalks where people were incinerated by those bombs. And I knew I must act. I began working for peace. I talk with anyone I can. I tell them the mistakes I made and how this time we must stand firm against the worse parts of humanity.

4 February 2017, West Point Cadets tour the Permanent Exhibition.

 

 

 

 

My Oh My

As a traveling bookstore based in northwest Montana, I take winter seriously.  Travels slow down this time of year and most events are closer to home until early Spring.  Yes, there is still sorting books and ordering tshirts, reading because of course talking books is up brittanythere among favorite activities, and getting the typewriter repaired after a summer of many children trying it out with youthful vigor.  The bookstore will open for Shop Small Saturday (November 24) next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka and then on December 1 at the Holly Faire in Eureka.

But this last week there was such a flurry of activity on the bookstore’s social media I wondered what in the world was going on.  Not only ‘likes’ but messages, phone calls, emails and tshirt orders.  It took a few days to determine that an article about the traveling bookstore on Bookbub had gotten the word out to many corners of the world. A bookseller in India wrote me about the van, an author in Colorado invited me to visit, and a writer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin offered to send me copies of her books. And these are just a few of the numerous people who wrote such good things to me about the bookstore and the idea of making books available in all sorts of out of the way places.

This could be a very long post but I assume you are busy helping to get the vote out and/or thinking about the upcoming holidays.  Let me narrow my thoughts to just a few. This fall has been a challenging one for us all with the elections, decisions made in Washington, and the tragedies in Pittsburgh, Kentucky and Florida.  There are many times even within a day when I wonder what I can do to help my community, my country. When the bookstore’s social media started ringing off the wall, I assumed it was something devious but then realized there were good people out there, united around the idea of books and reading, and enthused to see someone with a new bookstore concept (albeit small).  To me, it felt like light coming through the clouds.  Not that it changed the political situation, but it was a reminder of our shared humanity in a tiny way.

Also I wanted to thank Brittany Shoot who was the first journalist to recognize the wonders of a traveling bookstore.  I found this photo from when she hung with the bookstore on a very chilly morning in Woodstock, Illinois.  It was in the parking lot of Isabel’s Family Restaurant.  Another reminder with Brittany’s cheering the bookstore on through snow and ice and Isabel’s providing awesome pie how despite the miles and countless stops, how much the bookstore needs a community even when traveling.

Thank you.

 

A different view

I can point to lots of things.  Just had cataract surgery so one eye is very clear and focused while the other lags behind until next week.  Then there is the political situation which is hard to easily capture.  Sides so divisive now some friendships are ending, there are those family members who stop communicating and various community Facebook pages are shut down due to profanity.  The aspen and larch trees have become golden.  And when I get up early in the morning to walk before the work day begins, it is dark out.  IMG_2524

The bookstore takes a break for a few weeks. Then in November we set up for Shop Small Saturday on 11/24 from 10:00 – 4:00 parked next to Montana Farmacy.  And on December 1, the traveling bookstore will be at the annual Holly Faire from 9:00 – 5:00 at Eureka’s Creative Arts Center. Both enjoyable events plus a chance to find great gifts and support local merchants and artisans.  The bookstore will offer its usual amazing selection of gently used books, St. Rita’s tshirts, gift cards, vintage postcards, and gift certificates.  And yes, the typewriter will be set up in case you want to type a poem or holiday greeting to send someone special or a letter to your representative.

See? This is what I mean.  There are truly dark moments when the days get shorter and the news out of Washington is utterly depressing.  Then I read a wondrous book (Pride by Ibi Zoboi) or watch the autumn sun come through the old school house windows as women hand quilt on a Friday afternoon.  Of course, none of this comes easily.  Ibi Zoboi, while immigrating to the US with her mother, actually had months of separation before the authorities would allow her in.  A quilt takes countless stitches (and sore fingers) to complete.  No doubt it will take even more work for us to make positive changes, to address the starvation in Yemen, the thousands of detained children still in tent camps in Texas. Despite the darkness though, we need to look at these things. And act.

Searching for truth

Where to begin? The traveling bookstore rolled into Missoula for the Montana Book Festival.  An exciting weekend with fascinating panel discussions, a wide range of readings, even some music.  Fellow vendors at the Florence building were a delight to talk with and to explore their wares – books, zines, literary postcards and pins.  I don’t think the beverage Processed with MOLDIVprovided by Whiskey Tit influenced me too much on Saturday.  I certainly recommend their selection of books which are well designed and offer an intense read.  Hope to travel with these folks some day providing a traveling bookstore for their author readings. Far Country Press was also at the Montana Book Festival which had Lincoln County’s very own Bernice Ende‘s book, ‘Lady Long Rider.’

Yes, the weather was chilly and quite windy.  The bookstore’s sandwich board blew over so many times, I finally put it away.  As it is difficult to be a bookseller wearing gloves, I came home with chapped hands.  But this is a very small grumble compared to the individuals I met and the ideas that flowed standing on N. Higgins Ave in the autumnal gusts.

As the Book Festival began Thursday, by Friday when we were well under way, it was also when the Kavanaugh hearings gripped many people’s attention.  For myself, I wondered what more I could be doing then being an itinerant bookseller set up on the street. Our country seems to be seriously slipping into a dark realm I don’t recognize.  As a nation, do we no longer champion respect for others, active listening, and women’s rights? Even as the hearings held everyone’s attention, there are still thousands of unrepresented children in detention centers, a national debt that is skyrocketing and a president who doesn’t believe in globalization in the 21st century.

I began asking customers (if they seemed likely to pause a bit in their shopping), what they were doing in these challenging times.  A man who thoroughly enjoys books and works for a firm that helped sponsor the Book Festival, told me about the volunteer work he did with young people in his community.  A woman carrying Kathleen Williams signs empathized with me and pointed out the need to stay strong.  She is involved in local voter registration.

Then there was a boy who is currently homeless searching for a book on homesteading.  I didn’t have one available that day so he got a book on growing vegetables.  His hand was bandaged from fighting. I wondered what besides books was an answer.  A woman in very light pants, sweatshirt and no socks stopped by.  She asked for cash to buy winter clothes.  A customer who happened to be taking a picture of the bookstore at that moment, gave her a contribution.  An Australian photographer stopped at the bookstore. He is doing a project on faces in Montana.  I asked how he could even begin to capture the essence of this state unless he took a million photos.  I feel even three days in Missoula presented too many individuals for me to grasp.

There were state queens from the SUPER Mrs Pageant, a poet from southern California, a man elegantly attired who spoke of places he had lived all over the world and how he came to be in Missoula on that particular afternoon.  Students from the university stopped by, some of the wonderful people connected with Humanities Montana, friends from Eureka in town for their son’s track meet, and an individual with a great smile who told me I was ‘living the dream.’  When he said that, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

 

 

πόλις

I suspect with a traveling bookstore, things seem to go faster than if my business was in one place, situated in a brick-and-mortar bookstore securely settled at one address.  At least that is how it felt recently. Within the last week, there was a fantastic article about the bookstore by Brittany Shoot in Atlas Obscura.  There was a day spent canvassing for the upcoming November election that brought forth stronger opinions then I typically hear when the bookstore is set up. There was setting up at a harvest festival yesterday in a Montana town and meeting all sorts of people: an individual from a Methodist church who offered books left over from their annual book sale, a high school student who immediately fell in love with the traveling bookstore concept and is going to save Processed with MOLDIVto start her own, an author who writes about what racism feels like in small Western rural communities, a teen mom excited to find a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson because she read it as a child and wants to share it with her new family, and a lively conversation about growing old in reference to Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare. Also over the past week there has been harsh discussion on local social media about a political poster at the county fair. There are times when I am tempted to ignore things, but I can’t

Friends point out it might be better for my business to stay apolitical.  But I know after umpteen years that it isn’t possible.  Thinking about this today while reflecting on everything that came my way this week, I remembered the Greek word πόλις (polis) and how that evolved to become the English word politics.

Decades ago when first starting to support myself, I decided it was good to do work that wasn’t involved with politics. I ended up cooking at the Salvation Army. Within a fairly short time though, I realized cooking for people who came through the dinner line brought up questions about who needed food, where that food came from,  and what determined who has access to what kinds of food.  Even as a cook, I was involved in a political situation.  Some years later I found myself teaching basic skills to adults: reading, writing and mathematics to people who for numerous reasons hadn’t picked up these skills earlier in life.  Before too much time went by, I realized what brought those students into the classroom was very much a product of political decisions.  Which schools had enough funding? What quality of teachers were available? What did a school board support?

I eventually realized it is impossible to find a place in civic life that isn’t political one way or another.  Thus with a traveling bookstore – what books are on the shelves, which towns do I go to, which neighborhoods? And each of these decisions from books to where the traveling bookstore sets up says something about my politics.  I can’t be apolitical. None of us can.

 

 

 

 

Community

The traveling bookstore set up at the Lincoln County Fair over the weekend. Three days of 4H kids with their animals. Jars of jams, crusty breads and plates of fudge being sampled and awarded ribbons, a booth raffling a rifle, another raffling a painting.  There was live music and delicious pies, the most beautiful flowers people grew to enter as well as prize vegetables. A couboystyping2018nty fair in a county whose population is around 20,000.  Enough entries in Foods, Crafts and Arts to enjoy wandering through but not overwhelming crowds. A pleasure to talk with neighbors, hang with kids, visit with other vendors and, of course, sell books.

Lots of conversations over the three days about politics, about how to engage with people whose conclusions are fundamentally different from mine, about what makes a good community, about various books.  The one that still rumbles in my mind is about community.  Community is so closely tied to home that it is necessary to make sense of it.  At least for me.

When I am on the road with the bookstore, city people often ask what it is like to live in a small town.  I point out the things I like. I know my neighbors, I trust my mechanic, I can leave my front door unlocked. When there is a need I feel strongly about, it might be possible to do something about it.  Twenty years ago a group of us formed an organization to bring in an annual professional concert series.  It has continued and even grown.  This winter there will be jazz musicians from Seattle, Ghanaian performers, a classical quintet, a blues band from Vancouver, BC, and a Irish/Scottish duo from Oregon.  Living in a small town forces me to talk with a variety of people, not only those who think the same way I do.  Our local book club has women all across the political spectrum and from numerous religions with a few atheists mixed in as well.

I know that some local businesses I use are owned by people who don’t agree with my politics. And I don’t agree with theirs. But I shop in their store and they buy books from me. It is a necessity because otherwise we would each need to drive seventy miles one way to go to a bigger town.  A bit too far to pick up a James Lee Burke novel or get a can of spray paint. So we find ways to get along, some activities mutually enjoyed liked listening to good music, going to the local microbrewery. And sometimes we have to face our differences and try to have a civil discussion.  It doesn’t always work, but sometimes.

But do we have consensus as to what makes a good community?  There are diverse opinions about local schools.  Some of us want better academics, others are interested in a trophy winning football team. Should the elementary library carry books with Muslim characters?  Outside of school, where should the jobs be?  Open up the forests for more logging or train people for jobs that require other skills? I try to understand my role as a small business owner in this town, finding ways to improve the quality of life.  But whose life? The county fair gave me three days to glimpse the heart of this community.