(Apologies to multimedia fans out there -- no pictures this time, technical difficulties).
Close readers of this blog may have noticed that the name of our store is O’Gara and Wilson. Wilson, needless to say, is the surname of our current visionary owner, Douglas Wilson. But what of “O’Gara”? Who’s behind those beautiful Irish syllables?
Don’t worry, I’ll give it to you quick and easy. Joseph O’Gara, a bookman of the highest order, that’s who. He inherited the store in 1937, and ran it for a long, long time. Smoked a pipe, had a cat, and argued with anyone and everyone who walked through the door. He left us for the Heavenly four-leafed clover meadows some years back, but his spirit still lingers in the bookshelves and the treasures they hold.
In fact, his spirit was in here this morning. “Alan,” it said wispily, but with a pronounced Irish brogue. “Why haven’t you gotten started on the grog?”
“Who’s there?” I asked. “What ghost haunts this bookshop? And what kind of grog does it fancy?” I added, just in case.
“Not grog,” said the spirit, materializing slowly. It was bald with a moustache and wire-rimmed glasses, and a pipe in its mouth. “Blog. Young Dougie has hired a real winner here, I see.” That’s when I knew it must be him, the legendary Joseph O’Gara.
Now, those who knew Mr. O’Gara might object at this point, if they haven’t already. “He didn’t speak with an Irish accent,” they might say, or “He never referred to Mr. Wilson as Dougie.” Fair enough. If you want the scoop on our founder, come in and chat with Mr. Wilson himself. He’ll tell you how Mr. O’Gara faked being Scottish, regaled customers with crazy tales, and made the bookshop a wonderful place to be.
But for the sake of this blog entry, please let’s power through the falsehoods until the imminent segue.
“I haven’t gotten started because I’ve got writer’s block,” I told Mr. O’Gara’s spirit. “I’m completely stumped.”
“Well, lad, write on Ireland, my homeland.”
“But why Ireland?”
“What’s wrong with you?” he said. “Are your brains addled from not enough reading? It’s Irish-American Heritage month!”
“Good Guinness!” I shouted. “That’s brilliant! But there’s a problem…”
“What’s that?” asked the spirit, and ultra-wispy smoke wafted from the semi-wispy pipe he held clamped in his teeth.
“Well—“ I hesitated.
“Out with it, lad!”
“I don’t know anything about Ireland. Not a single thing.”
Mr. O’Gara flitted over to the Ireland section.
“Start with this,” he said, and handed me the ironically titled Oxford Companion to Irish History.
“Leaping leprechauns!” I exclaimed, after flipping through it briefly. “It’s so informative and thick, just like all the other companions from Oxford that we've come to know and love. And cheap too, only $9.50! I’ll make it our Affordable and Interesting item.”
“Enough with the shop-talk,” said Mr. O’Gara. “You’ve not much time before I disappear and your deadline comes.”
“But I’m helpless without you,” I said. “All I know about is Chinese philosophy and fairy tales.”
The spirit’s moustache twitched with impatience. “And didn’t Oscar Wilde write about both?”
“Sure,” I said, “but that doesn’t help.” Suddenly it hit me like a blood pudding in the face. “He was IRISH,” I exclaimed, and rushed to the glass case and picked out one of most wonderful Collectible books in the store.
Were the blasted camera working, you'd be treated to numerous pictures from the second edition of Wilde’s famous fairy tales, illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacob Hood. You would be able to see the beautiful condition, and establish for yourself that the price of $650 is easily worth it. This book, you would think to yourself, is something one finds at the end of a rainbow on a lucky day. Instead you'll have to imagine all that, or come in to our store and see it in person.
In fact, the book is so wonderful that I began paging through it myself, before the blog deadline interrupted my reveries.
“Aiee!” I said, looking through Mr. O’Gara at the clock. “It’s nearly time, I’ve got to post this thing.” With a disdainful nod, the spirit floated back over to the Ireland section.
“This is probably beyond you, lad, but put it in there. Only true Irish-people will know what it is. But it’s one of my Favorites, from when I was a wee boy.”
He handed me (how did he do it with those wispy fingers) a book that appeared to be in a foreign language.
"But I need something in English," I said. Mr. O'Gara didn't even deign to answer. I asked the computer and found out that Fiche Blian Ag Fas translates as Twenty Years A’Growin, and it’s one of the most famous pieces of modern literature written wholly in Irish. An excellent present for the Irish lover in your life, difficult to find in a nice vintage edition like ours, and impossible for a mere $15.
As soon as I finished writing that last paragraph, Mr. O’Gara tapped out his pipe and spoke his final words to me.
“The craic was good,” said the spirit, and disappeared.
That’s right – it’s pronounced crack. But don’t go getting any ideas until you read up on the original meaning, hopefully in a book you purchase from O’Gara and Wilson. And "All for me Grog" really is a real song (just ask the Google-mind if you're an unbeliever).
Happy Irish-American heritage month!