Column: Collectible books and too-short skirts

So other than sitting on the deck at a place called McSeagulls overlooking the harbor while enjoying a cool yet spicy “dark & stormy” — for the uninitiated that’s a mixture of Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer —  what else is there to do in Boothbay Harbor?

You remember Boothbay, right? The midcoast Maine town about which I waxed romantic a few weeks back? I must admit that when temps climb to or near the 90s my thoughts drift back north. Bear with me for a minute, for this isn’t an installment of a graybeard’s wistful longings. There’s a local connection, I promise.

So what else is there to do in BH? I mean other than buying T-shirts and sweatshirts, fudge and all manner of lobster-shaped doo-dads?

Well, an hour or so away there’s the state prison store in Thomaston, filled with furniture, birdhouses, ships models and all manner of wooden things made by inmates.

Then there’s a ride on the steam locomotive at the Boothbay Railroad Village and a walk through its antique car collection. There’s even a small building dedicated solely to salt and pepper shakers. Somehow, family lore has it that I only stop there for the nudie models, which are rated either R or PG-13, depending on your point of view.

OK, this obviously isn’t a spring break destination; then again, the idea is to do as little as possible.

Me and The Mrs. never fail to stop by the Boothbay Harbor Library’s used book annex. Never has she walked out with fewer than four paperbacks at a total cost of well under a dollar. Last time when I asked, “Did you find the bodice-ripper section?” she didn’t smile. Women; go figure.

I’d also come across several worthwhile titles, particularly during my Andrew Greeley phase. You know, Andrew Greeley, the Catholic priest whose novels are liberally sprinkled with, well, ess-ee-ex, mostly of the sinless married variety, or so I’m told.

Nothing on the shelf caught my eye this year, except when I went to pay for the 87 volumes — OK, a slight exaggeration — that The Mrs. picked out. Waiting for chance to unload a pocketful of change, I noticed a section I’d never seen before called “collectibles.” What’s that all about? I wondered.

Up on one of the topmost shelves there stood a forest green book with gold letters along the spine. Wait, does that say “Greenport”? It sure does; “Greenport: Yesterday and Today,” to be precise. Suddenly forgetting the lack of stories with chaste marital relations, I pulled the book off the shelf.

“Excuse me, Ma’am?” says I to the cash-collecting volunteer. “How much is this?”

“That’s $15,” says she. My Hawaiian shirt must have been a dead giveaway that I was a tourist “from away” and so ripe for fleecing. I would have started haggling, á la the guys on the TV show “Pawn Stars” trying to get $6 million for a Civil War rifle when the owner’s offering $17.38.

“Look, lady, why would anyone in Boothbay Haahbah pay that amount for a book about a little town at the tail end of Long Island that’s a five-hour drive and a 90-minute ferry ride away?”

I didn’t say that, of course. Wouldn’t have been in keeping with that “hakuna matata” vacation spirit. But more to the point, the volunteer, while silver-haired and soft-spoken, looked like she wasn’t about to take any crap from anyone, especially some floral-shirted tourist. So with that “collectible” and The Mrs. many paperbacks, I shelled out about $15.65.

Back at the cottage I discovered the book’s secondary title; “The Diary of a Country Newspaper” by Elsie Knapp Corwin and husband Frederick Langton Corwin. Not just any old newspaper — this newspaper. What are the odds?

One rainy afternoon I put aside my fascination with French-Canadian television — a strange thing considering I had just two years of high school French and can’t remember much more than “open the widow” and “is Bernard home?” — I came to Chapter III: “A Newspaper Published — A President Assassinated.” Sounds like the two are related, but there’s no evidence of that, I think.

The chapter opens with “In the early 1850s the standard work week was six days of eleven hours each and this custom was in operation when the Suffolk Weekly Times, on August 27, 1857, published its first edition.”

Wow, some things never change. OK, that’s not fair or accurate. Nowadays we won’t work more than 10 1/2-hour days; 10 3/4 max. Just a wee bit of journalistic humor there. No need for the publisher “to have a word with” yours truly.

Anyway, the book goes on to say that the paper’s founder, one John J. Riddell, who was all of 27 and who later served in the Civil War, embraced the new Republican Party’s principles. Wow, some things never change. (More journalistic humor there.)

The book gives a snapshot view of Greenport’s history, from its whaling days to rum running during Prohibition to the oyster business to the founding of Eastern Long Island Hospital.

Valuable historic info, but not exactly a beach read, if you catch my drift. I did find an August 1921 editorial saying the paper has been flooded with complaints “concerning the manner in which a number of our young ladies of the town are dressing.”

What’s that? It continues, “Main Street at noon is fast becoming a rival to ‘The Follies.’ ”

Remember, this was the Roaring ’20s. The editor said, “The peek-a-boo waists are not even peek-a-boo any longer. We realize that socks are stylish and comfortable, but it does seem that skirts should be sufficiently long to lap the sock at least an inch.”

Good lord. Honey, when does the library annex reopen? You didn’t perchance get a copy of “50 Shades of Grey,” did ya?

Ah, no, of course not. I’m just curious is all.

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