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Story pick: Remembering Carla Cohen

By Michael S. Rosenwald

I had a night pass from newish baby duty on Saturday, so I stopped by Politics & Prose. It was my first visit since Carla Cohen, the store’s founder, passed away from cancer on Oct. 11. As a writer, the move I could make next is to say that the store felt empty without Carla there. That might have provided a nice turn of phrase, but it wouldn’t have been true. The store was crowded, as usual -- holding its own, still, against the digitization of words.

On a small table near the register, there was a picture of Carla next to a vase of roses, and in the back of my mind was the eulogy her son Aaron read at her funeral. I did not attend the funeral, but thanks to all that digitization, the eulogy is on the Internet for everyone to read. Aaron posted it recently on his blog. His gorgeous eulogy of his mother, a towering figure in Washington life, is my pick of the day.

He remembers his mother’s love of food: “The Carla Manifesto would be incomplete if I neglected to say a few words about food. Food was Holly Street. Food was staff meetings. Food was holidays. Food was going on vacation and planning the next meal while eating the current one. Food was only baking, never, ever buying birthday cakes or holiday cookies. Food was love. Food was Mom and me.”

He remembers her love of community: “Frequently, she and I ruminated about the importance of community. We would brainstorm ideas for indoor playgrounds, independent movie theaters, adult education facilities and various incarnations of food bazaars. During these conversations, I learned to appreciate the thread of community organization that weaved through my mother’s personal and professional life."

He remembers her love for her husband David: “And there was no love greater than Mom and Dad’s. On vacations, they lay side by side on a hotel room double bed with a large stack of books resting on the night table, silently reading while holding hands.”

And of course there were the books: “In the early 80s, in a period of remarkable reinvention — Mom dropped everything she knew to open a bookstore. She would build a community by sharing her love of books and ideas. Her college friend Beryl told me, ‘Your mother found the perfect job for her. At P&P, she had permission and in fact was encouraged to tell everybody what to read.’ Liz Hersh said, ‘Carla either wanted to know what you were reading or tell you what she was reading. So why not open a bookstore?’”

By Michael S. Rosenwald  | October 25, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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