If you collect antiques–or anything, really–you probably remember the “one that got away”—that item you narrowly missed at auction or decided was too expensive for your budget at the time. Maybe it was Pete Rose’s autographed rookie card or a chair you knew was a Chippendale. As the years pass, you kick yourself. I should have bought that _____ when I had a chance, you say to yourself.

For me, “the one that got away” was a stack of local history books a guy was selling out of his garage. I did not appreciate their significance or value at the time. (How could I know I would one day write stories set in British America?)

The man offered books on forts, an entire, beautifully bound series of the PA Archives, the huge two-volume set of HISTORY OF THAT PART OF THE SUSQUEHANNA AND JUNIATA VALLEYS, EMBRACED IN THE COUNTIES OF MIFFLIN, JUNIATA, PERRY, UNION AND SNYDER IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, and every edition of JONES’S JUNIATA.

I bought the JONES’S JUNIATA books, but only because the title contained the word “Juniata.” I had no idea what the book was actually about. I also bought a two-volume set called FRONTIER FORTS, because at the time, my artist-father was in the middle of painting a scene set at Pomfret Castle Fort. I thought it would make a nice birthday present. I walked away from the rest.

I didn’t realize what a giant mistake I made until I started researching SCATTERED SEEDS. As I struggled to scroll through and bookmark digital records, I kept thinking, Oh, if I could board a time machine and go back to that man’s garage… I needed those books—actual, physical books—the kind made with paper. Badly.

You can imagine, then, that when I walked into a bookstore and saw these, my lower jaw hit my sneaker laces:

Realms of angels praised God in perfect ten-part harmony as I picked up a volume and caught the acrid scent of history. They were printed in the 1830s. Some have been rebound, but many of them still have their original covers. A few volumes were previously owned by Byrle Fraley MacDonald MacPherson of Gettysburg. If that’s not a stiff Scots-Irish name, then I don’t know what is. Don’t be surprised when you find her name featured in a Julie Doherty novel.

I’m not going to lie: I can’t afford the series.

Another truth: I don’t give a shit. I bought the books.

I was supposed to take a vacation this year. In a way, I still am. Instead of sipping mulled cider at a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine, I’ll be journeying to Colonial Pennsylvania. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather visit.

Do you collect anything? Did you ever pass up a purchase you later regretted?

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