Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

The cycle of dreams

Community, Schwartz Bookstores

This morning, the house is strangely silent. The dishes are washed, finally, and the sports pages lie unread. The kids have gone back to school, and I am alone again with my thoughts and these headlines: Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops to close and, anticipating the inauguration of a new president, Sights and sounds of hope

One dream comes to an end. Another set of dreams begins. It's always that way, but some days we notice more. And noticing can be painful. The collapse of corporate giants hasn't moved me to anything but anger. This brings me to tears.

Like Heinemann's, the name Harry W. Schwartz has always been a part of my personal geography. I started visiting the shop on Wisconsin Avenue when I was in junior high school, taking the bus downtown for the adventure and the pleasure of looking at books in the presence of other people who loved them.

Later, my then-husband worked there for awhile, so I got to know the business and Carol Grossmeyer, who later married David Schwartz and became an owner, a little. As a young couple, we lived in Shorewood, and as soon as the store on Downer Avenue opened, it became my home away from home.

A few years passed. Jobs changed, children arrived. We moved to Wauwatosa, and I transferred loyalties to the Brookfield store.  I even picked up a job application there once. Unlike any other form, this one asked probing, penetrating questions and wanted essay responses. Filling it out was an exercise in reflection, and I learned a lot about myself completing it. Never turned it in, though: something less noble but better paying turned up.

Thanks to the Schwartz bookstores, I've met Anne Lamott, Studs Terkel, Jane Fonda, and others. When I'm in need of company and there's none about, I sometimes go there for the comfort of books in a beautiful setting and the fellow-feeling of other readers, anonymous though they may be, that I've known since adolescence.  

With less money and time, I've come to rely on libraries more and bookstores less, but even in this season of no Christmas presents in our household, I found a little to buy books from Schwartz. Not enough others were able to do that, and another part of our history that is different from the history of people in every other place is lost.

I turn to the rising of spirit and hope so many feel with the Obama administration, to the reminder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that dreams come before a new reality. The Schwartz family created community gathering places that fed the free and open exchange of ideas and the dreams of generations of dreamers. New owners will make those dreams their own on Downer Avenue and in Mequon. I'm hoping another bookstore dreamer will dream new life into the Brookfield store.

And I thank the booksellers for making so many of our lives, minds, and hearts better.

And now it's back to work. For our leaders and all of us, I pray for the wisdom and divine guidance to build a world shaped by our better dreams. We're going to need all the help we can get.

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