Every once in a while, the stars line up just right and provide a real treat, usually when one isn’t looking for it. I was incredibly fortunate this weekend, one of those nice coincidences that make me eager to see the sunrise each morning.
It all started with a need for some quality adult time with my wife. We have a 17 month old, so there aren’t huge amounts of adult time. Not that I don’t love the little guy to death and spoil him unmercifully, but any parents out there know what I’m talking about. Also, work’s been an absolute bear lately — one day off last pay period, two days the one before that. So we prevailed upon grandma and grandpa to babysit (which unsurprisingly required absolutely no armtwisting) so we could go to lunch and goof around town for a couple of hours.
My wife wanted to have lunch at a place she was very familiar with downtown where I hadn’t been. As we walked up to the place, I noticed a used bookstore right next door. I mentioned that we’d have to stop in after lunch. We had a very good lunch (she’s nearly always right about restaurants), and she reminded me as we were leaving that I wanted to look in the bookstore before we went home. It’s small, independently owned store, and has only been open for a couple of months.
As we walked in the door, I noticed some volumes of the Official Records along the top of the bookcases across the room. I’m enough of a Civil War junkie that my wife even recognized them on sight and asked, “Are those what I think they are?” I agreed that they were and strolled over to take a look while she chatted with the owner. Once I reached the shelf, I saw that they were volumes 1-20. Curious. I turned around, and there they were down the tops of the bokkcases on the other wall. It was an entire set, well over half of them still in shrink-wrap. Definitely not something I ever expected to see in Colorado.
The OR’s something I’ve always enjoyed, in an abstract sort of way. I’ve used it extensively in college libraries, and my wife bought me a cd version a couple of years ago for Christmas. But I like books. I like the feel of them, the smell of them. Being able to pull up reports from the cd is nice, but it’s not the same as being able to open a book and look at them in print. Call me old-fashioned. One way is faster, the other is more fun to me. But I digress.
I never thought I’d own a full set, didn’t really think it would be practical. I’ve collected a few individual volumes that specifically interested me such as the ones on Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and Wilson’s Creek, and always have an eye out for others that might help my research. particularly on the Western Theater. But the whole thing? 130 volumes? Where would you put them all? And it would be price-prohibitive. $3,500 plus shipping from North Carolina? Not going to happen. But this is, after all, what libraries are for.
So we looked around the store, found a couple of books (for some reason I’ve never read Sears’ Gettysburg, but I have it now), and went up to the counter to check out. I asked him idly how much the volumes of the OR that he had on display were.
“Well,” he said. “I resolved when I moved from my last location to this one that I was going to be a book seller, not a book collector. Now that is a complete set, and it’s a lot of books, but I’ll sell it to you for $x.”
My wife looked at me. I very carefully did not look at my wife. We talked with him some more and then left, promising to return. The Civil War section was small but pretty good, and he has a really good collection of westward expansion books (my undergrad concentration). Trying to encourage return visits, the owner gave my wife a 20% off card for her next visit.
So we get into the car to drive home, and my wife asks, “That was a really good price, wasn’t it?” Carefully watching the road, I replied that it was an extremely good price, and how much the set would cost new. She mulled this over for a half a block or so before telling me to turn around, that I’d better appreciate this, that it would be my present for Christmas, anniversary, etc. And back we went.
After telling me to check and make sure the set was complete, she talked to the owner. Veteran shopper that she is, she not only got the set at the already low price, she talked him into giving her the 20% off as well. So I am now the proud owner of an entire set of the OR for the price of just over $500 including tax.
Yes, my wife is pretty wonderful. Not only has she tolerated my time and space-consuming hobby, she has aided and abetted it. This is truly above and beyond the call of duty. And she even thought it necessary to ask if she’d spoiled my Christmas because I knew what I was getting!
My son will get to learn about the Civil War from the OR, from the comfort of his own home. Between these and the copy of the Golden Book I found last summer, I figure he’s a lock for a Civil War scholar. And I plan on spending just a little bit of time with them in the meantime. Now I just have to figure out where to put them all.