Bringing the Iron Range home

A used bookstore in Washington is a strange place to discover a little Minnesota Iron Range history, but there it was in a discount bin last week.

Jen and I were looking for breakfast on a quiet, zigzagging, residential street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood when we stumbled upon Twice Sold Tales. After a plate of eggs and pancakes at nearby Glo’s Cafe, we retraced our steps back to the bookstore.

Found in Seattle, returned to Minnesota.

“This looks like your kind of place,” I said to Jen. Multiple cat silhouettes were featured on a sidewalk sandwich board and a grinning neon feline looked down from a sign above. Two of Jen’s favorite things: cats and books.

Of course, there were friendly cats inside. Of course, the place was jammed with books. Rooms and rooms full of books. Handmade wooden shelves everywhere. Duplicate books on the floor.

Jen talked with the cats stationed on a scratching poll. I found the owner behind the front counter.

“I’m looking for a book by Terry Southern,” I announced .

“I love Terry Southern,” said the woman. “I always buy him. Which book are you looking for? ‘Magic Christian’?”

Honestly, I didn’t know much about Terry Southern. I had written his name on a list years ago. I don’t know why. Maybe it was his association with the classic counter-culture road film “Easy Rider.” Anyway, the big, hip, indy book store a few blocks away didn’t stock his work.

“Let’s see what we have,” said the lady. She raced through a maze of bookshelves like she was perched on a scooter.

Somewhere in the non-fiction section she found Terry Southern. There was one “Magic Christian.”

“That would be a good book to start with,” said the lady, and then she disappeared.

I took her advice and pulled the book off the shelf. Then I had to explore the rest of her store. There’s gold in here somewhere, I thought. I wandered from room to room, browsing the sports section, the war history section, the biography section, the music section. It went on and on.

I dug through several discount book crates near the front door and discovered my gold – or at least a bit of pure grade iron ore. It was a large paperback history book about the Iron Range called “Minnesota’s Iron Country: Rich Ore, Rich Lives,” by Marvin Lamppa.

I paged through the book and made yet another discovery: An old receipt. But not just any receipt. It was a Dec. 15, 2007 gift receipt from the Miller Hill Mall Barnes & Noble bookstore in DULUTH.

How did this book find its way from Duluth to Seattle?

An old Christmas gift for a displaced friend or relative? Who knows.

Upon check out, I showed the owner my discovery.

“I’m from Duluth so I have to bring this book back home,” I said.

She didn’t seem impressed by the coincidence.

“It’s marked down,” she said. “You got it for half price, that means it’s been in the store a long time.”

She pulled my backpack from under the counter and asked for the claim check.  An 8 of Clubs playing card cut in half.

I couldn’t find it. “Did you give me one?”  I asked.

She shrugged and handed me my bag.

Back at the hotel I found the playing card in my pocket.

A few days later, I mailed the claim check back to Twice Sold Tales…from Duluth.

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