Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


Book collecting

How Hans Brinker skated home from Hawaii


A treasured children’s book, packed in an Marine’s kit bag as he headed off from his home in small town Emmaus Pennsylvania, to fight in the Pacific Theatre in World War II somehow found its way to a used book store in Kona, Hawaii. How Hans Brinker ended up back in Pennsylvania with the war hero’s son is much less of a  mystery.


Holidaying in Kona, weirdly home to a giant used book store (Kona Bay Used Books), browsing the packed shelves   for vintage children’s books to add to my collection I find an immeasurably valuable treasure. I spotted this very nice edition of Hans Brinker and became intrigued with an inscription inside the book that said: ‘This is my book, Norman Schantzenbach, December 25, 1933’ and on the facing page, a sticker commemorating the jubilee of a small town in Pennsylvania, Emmaus.  Tucked between the pages was a pressed leaf.

Once home in Canada, with the unusual last name, a date and the name of the town, an internet search lead me to the conclusion that the book belonged to a Marine killed in action in January 1944 at a battle at Cape Gloucester, New Britain in the Pacific.

The Battle of Cape Gloucester was a battle in the Pacific theater of World War II between Japanese and Allied forces which took place on the island of New Britain, Territory of New Guinea, between late December 1943 and April 1944.

The battle was a major part of Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the South West Pacific Area and Pacific Ocean Areas during 1943–44, and was the second World War II landing of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, after Guadalcanal.

Memorial service for Norman Sr. and the other Marines killed in the battle.

Yet more internet sleuthing lead me to connect with a relative of the Silver Star hero in Pennsylvania via a Facebook message that languished for some weeks before being discovered in the non-friend zone.

“Norman, Sr. would have been about 10 years old when he wrote his name in the book,” says Bonnie Schantzenbach, whose husband was a cousin of Norman’s. “It must have been a favorite from his childhood and he took it along to have a piece of home with him. Touching that he brought a leaf from Pennsylvania tucked in the pages. His only son, who was only three years old when he was killed, is still alive and lives a few miles from us.” Cool message to receive.

I mailed my new collectable from Kona to Bonnie in Pennsylvania, who coincidentally was working on a family tree she was planning to surprise Norman Schantzenbach Jr. with.
“I showed Norman Jr. the family tree on my laptop and then pulled out the book,” says Bonnie. “It took him awhile before he really realized that this was his dad’s book. He laid it down and then picked it up saying, “This is incredible”. He doesn’t have much of anything of his dad’s except for the Silver Star and he was moved beyond words.”

Here is the Silver Star reference I found in my research: Schantzenbach, Norman R.  For Gallantry in Action on January 3 – 9, 1944 at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

Awarded for actions during the World War II

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Sergeant Norman R. Schantzenbach (MCSN: 359043), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while with the FIRST Marine Division during combat with enemy Japanese forces on Cape Gloucester, New Britain Island, from 8 to 9 January 1944. Courageously leading his squad across a stream while subjected to withering hostile machine-gun fire, Sergeant Schantzenbach succeeded in reaching an advantageous point for firing upon enemy gun emplacements. By his cool and aggressive leadership throughout the ensuing violent engagement, his squad was able to force desperately fighting hostile units to abandon their positions. Later while fearlessly defending a ridge against a night counterattack, he was fatally injured. Sergeant Schantzenbach’s heroic initiative and selfless devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

General Orders: Commander 7th Fleet: Serial 0395

Action Date: January 3 – 9, 1944

Service: Marine Corps

Rank: Sergeant

Division: 1st Marine Division

Norman Jr. with his dad’s book.

Norman Jr. called me the day Bonnie brought him the book and could hardly get the words out he was so full of emotion. “Thanks, you have no idea in the world how much this means to me. No idea at all.”


From the marge of Lake Lebarge to Via del Parione

I can picture my dad with a whisky in one hand and this tiny book in his other large hand giving us an oration of Robert Service’s infamous poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Wickedly humours, dad could recite most of tale by heart. It’s the story of the cremation of a prospector who freezes to death near Lake Laberge, Yukon, Canada, as told by the man who cremates him.


This very rare miniature book contains two poems: The Law of the Yukon and my dad’s favourite, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Once listed on ebay for $450 US, the book measure only 2″ by 1.5″ and was published in Toronto by William Briggs in 1913. Here is a link to the seriously fun short poem that is a Canadian classic.

Dad’s big hands coupled with the accompanying libations finally took a minor toll on the little volume. When I inherited it, several pages had come loose. This is how it ended up in the hands of a master bookbinder at Alberto Cozzi, Antico Laboratorio Artigianale at 35 Via del Parione near the banks of the Arno River, (across the street from an amazing coffee shop), in Florence, Italy.


If this well-known, fourth-generation bookbinder and restorer couldn’t fix my treasure, no one could. Stumbling through with my English and bad Italian and their Italian and bad English,  we came to an agreement that they would try to fix the book, the project made challenging by its size. It would be ready in three days, just before we were to leave Florence for Venice. Bene. Molte grazie.


Success. They used Japanese rice paper for the new front piece and the book is as a good as new. With more Italian and bad English they asked if the book was meant to be funny. They read it! Perfect.

IMG_2148This 1976 stamp, just about the same size as the book, was tucked inside by my dad or mum.

“And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: ‘Please close that door. It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm — Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

Cheers dad. Thanks for the book.

Librocubicultarist or love between the covers

IMG_6909I’m a librocubicultarist and its OK. I read in bed. Lots of other places too but reading in bed is the ultimate for true bibliophiles. The Handyman has given me the most perfect valentine’s gift that I can’t take to bed with me or anywhere else really and that’s OK too. I have a work-a-day back-up copy. (I wonder if there is a latin name for reading in the bathtub too?)


Ta da. This is an unread princeps, or first edition (American) of my favourite book.

I love books about adventurous women. Out of Africa is a memoir by the Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen writing under the pen name Isak Dinesen. First published in England in 1937, the year before my American edition, about the 17 years she spent in Kenyan running a coffee plantation. (The 1937 British edition has the same richly illustrated dust jacket as mine has.)

“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early morning and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”

I  opened the brown-paper package from John W. Doull, Antiquarian & second-hand books bought & sold in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and smelled my treasure. There is a word for that too: Bibliosmia, the act of smelling books, especially as a way of getting a ‘fix’ from the aroma of old tomes.

True confessions. My love for Out of Africa was born after my first viewing of the movie, which to my horror (30 years, really?) celebrated the 30th anniversary of its release last year.  My favourite actor Meryl Streep was Karen and Robert Redford, Denys Finch Hatton.

IMG_2129Hopelessly romantic, the movie takes liberties with the book’s emphasis on her day-to-day life in Africa (although nothing was really day-to-day about it) and spins it into a moving love story filmed on location. Who can forget the sweeping scenes of Kenya from the air or Redford tenderly washing Streep’s hair on safari.The love story really happened but the book has a much more restrained telling of it.

Before I gush on even more, I’ll leave you with some of Karen’s words after her heart-wrenching departure from Africa:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air on the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

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