February 27, 2013 by Ray Yanek
In Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, is a bookstore, one that doesn’t sell coffee or DVD’s. It’s housed not in a strip mall, but rather in the quaint, downtown area near North Central College. The bookstore is named Anderson’s Bookshop.
Unfortunately, I live more than an hour and a half away. I haven’t been to Anderson’s in a while, not with work and all the activities my kids are involved in. This lapse in visits has happened before and it starts to bother me. I don’t need any new books; many books sit waiting to be read in my office, but what I long for is that feeling that hits me deeply when I walk through the glass doors of the bookshop. I miss the way the air feels and the scents that waft to my nose.
In my hometown, it’s snowing as I write this. Fluffy, wet flakes are falling in droves. I wish I could catch the scent of that bookstore, that scent that makes me feel comfortable, content and happy.
Safe, for some reason.
I’ve tried to conjure that scent and the feeling it brings a thousand times.
But I’ve never succeeded. My imagination doesn’t want to work, and maybe it’s because my imagination needs to catch those scents as well.
Back then, we still had a bookstore in the small town where I continue to live. It was called The Bookshelf. Actually, we had another bookstore, too. I forgot about that one until just now, and I can’t remember its name.
At The Bookshelf though, new comics arrived on Tuesdays. With money in my pocket, I would white-knuckle my way through school, then hop on my bicycle and haul-ass down to that bookstore.
Now, watching the snow tumble down outside, my fingers remember the cool touch of the wire spinner rack. I can hear the squeaks as it spins, feel the catch as it sticks half way through a revolution.
I lived with my Grandmother during that time. My mom and dad were still together then and they had a little house out in a country sub-division. The house sat on a dead-end street. Acre-sized lots separated us from the neighbors on the east and south sides; cornfields stretched to the north and west which left the house effectively isolated. Most of my comics were stored out there in the small bedroom they saved for me.
I liked it out there when things were peaceful. I liked that small room, especially at night. The quiet and darkness laid thick outside. In the winter, the wind howled over the empty fields. In the summer you could hear the swish of cornstalks.
And while that wind blew, I was safe in my castles, far away from everything, surrounded by my comics and my books.
The comics were put away sometime during high school. I stored them in mylar bags, put them in cardboard boxes. Those boxes moved from closets to basements, back to closets and then to other basements, after my Mom and Dad got divorced. Although I never read those comics anymore, I always knew where they were. Even when I went off to college, to Europe a couple of times; even when I started a career, got married, and had two children. I thought about those comics often.
A few months ago, after going to see the Avengers, I decided it was time my comics came back out. My mom’s basement had flooded a number of times over the years and as I walked down her steps I was suddenly rocked with panic. What if the water had gotten the comics? I thought I read somewhere that you needed to change the mylar bags every couple of months to keep some chemical from forming and ruining the pages.
My nerves buzzing, I pulled the boxes out from underneath a rack of old coats. The seams of the boxes were blown out, the top flaps bent and creased. Thankfully though, the comics remained in good shape. Some I hadn’t bagged or stacked properly resulting in a few creased covers, but I could fix that. Relieved, I loaded the boxes up and took them home to where my kids were waiting. They did what they could to help me haul the heavy boxes inside to my office. For the rest of the afternoon, in that small room, we stacked and sorted and talked. Comics littered every inch of the floor, spread wildly, riotously, like comics should be spread.
I wish I would have taken a picture of my office that day: Fredric Casper’s painting The Wanderer in the Mist hanging above my desk, the bookshelves lined with books, comics strewn across the floor, and my children seated among them sorting and marveling at the covers.
The old boxes were no longer viable homes for the comics and I decided to wait awhile to them a new home, so I left the comics on the floor, closed the door, and went to eat supper. Later that night when the house was quiet, I went back to my office and opened the door.
I stopped at the threshold, caught like that old spin rack. I caught a whiff of something, you see. Something that I thought at first was a memory, something that filled me with deja vu.
The scents were real. My office, with the comic books spread across the floor and books lining the shelves, smelled like Anderson’s Bookshop, which I realized smelled like a lot like that small room in the country where the wind blew through the thick darkness outside.
The comfort, the contentment, the happiness and safety came flooding back.
But there was a sadness too—a sorrow spawning from the fact that I had come into my office to get my Kindle Fire.