Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyRobbie

  • Mon, 06 Oct 2014 08:28:15    Permalink

    I'm up in Cape Breton working on the last of the Ledyard essays, clearing land, and hauling gravel for the foundation of the writer's shack that, time and $$ permitting, will some day be sitting at the top of my field. Aside from a few email queries, there's not much business going on at Ten Pound Island Book Company, so I thought I'd give you a little sample from the current Ledyard piece.
    As you may recall, the project centers around my walk from Hanover, New Hampshire to Hartford, Connecticut, tracing a canoe voyage made by the famed “American Traveler” John Ledyard in 1773. It's a long walk, and it has taken place in fits and starts over a period of four years. Each year I send out my most recent walk-based musings in a booklet that serves both as Christmas card and Christmas present, thereby absolving me of having to do anything else for anyone else during that foolish season – except, of course, for the kids.
    Many things bubble up over the course of those solitary miles. The bit below is just a fragment of the strange (but they're all strange) last day of my walk - from Windsor Locks, Connecticut into the city of Hartford. 

    It concerns the momentary recollection of a rare book dealer who mined libraries in the Hartford, Connecticut area...
    The Ahlstrom Mill buildings fronting Route 159 rival the expanse of Six Flags Amusement Park a few miles north.

    I pass a groggy trucker, an insomniac gangbanger in his pimped out ride, and two young men wearing wifebeaters and carrying a 12-pac of Bud Lite to some place I am perfectly happy not to be going. It is 6:00 a.m. on the morning of July 9, another beauty. South of Windsor Locks the road reverts to sweet country lane. Birds and fields, the river through trees on my right, morning sun behind it. 

    At 7:30 I come upon an intersection called Hayden Station and a street sign informing me that I am now on Palisado Avenue. 

    I know from Stiles’s History of Ancient Windsor (Hartford, 1891) that this part of the road was so named for the fort or “palisado” erected by early settlers:
    Upon the breaking out of the Pequot war in 1637, the Windsor People, as a precaution against surprisal by the Indians, surrounded their dwellings at this spot, with a fortification or palisado. This consisted of strong high stakes or posts, set close together, and suitably strengthened on the inside, while on the outside a wide ditch was dug, the dirt from which was thrown up against the palisades, and the whole formed a tolerably strong defence against any slender resources which the uncivilized Indian could bring to bear against it.
    And that, furthermore, this very road, Route 159, known locally as Palisado, was laid down about the same time, giving it primacy in the hierarchy of state roads:
    The following order of the court of April 5th, 1638, marks the first highway in Connecticut : “Whereas there is a desire of our neighbors of Hartford, that there may be a public highway, for cart and horse, upon the upland between the said Hartford and Windsor, as may be convenient, it is therefore thought meet; that Henry Wolcott the younger, and Mr. Stephen Terry, and William Westwood, and Nathaniel Ward, shall consider of a fitting and convenient highway to be marked and set out, and bridges made over the swamps...
    These are the delights of history. But I am not thinking about history. I’m thinking about Cedric Robinson.
    Robbie was a stereotypically gruff but kindly old book dealer who worked from his house on Palisado Avenue. He had a well traveled schnoz, owlish, thick rimmed glasses, a grown son named Bill and a wife named Mrs. He was the southernmost stop on one of one of my book scouting loops - a route that included a minister's house in Southborough, a book store in Worcester, and a book barn in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Cedric would escort me to the side porch, in which, shelved roughly according to category, were his most recent acquisitions. He'd do his gruff thing then leave me alone to puzzle and wonder and pick. When I was finished I'd carry my selections into his office, where he'd rummage through papers on his big oak desk, less gruff now, until he found a billhead on which to tote up my purchases while I sat patiently, looking around his office.
    I wanted an office like Robbie's. It was lined with shelves containing hundreds of reference books - bookseller's tools. Books that told him about other books. Cedric Robinson was the first bookseller I met who had a clear and concise idea that surpassed mere accumulation. He knew what he was looking for, and when he found it he knew how to learn more about it. And he used what he learned to help him sell it. I wanted a big cluttered desk and an office crammed with reference books, just like his. I wanted that idea, that sense of what he was about that made Cedric Robinson seem so masterfully engaged in his trade.
    I suppose it came to me eventually. But by that time, sadly, Cedric Robinson was gone. He got sick and the good books stopped coming in. Then Bill got sick and died. Then he died. Then Mrs. Robinson sold the remaining stock to a couple of dealers, and they ran the stock through the auction rooms and then it was gone, and Cedric Robinson might never have existed at all, except as an idea around which I organized my professional conduct. Now, try as I might to reconstruct my early visits, to picture that house exactly, I cannot remember where he lived, except that it was in Windsor, on that oddly named street, Palisado...

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