It wasn't even 3:30 p.m. when the booksellers at R. J. Julia looked outside to see two young women standing outside the front door, holding their copies of Gabrielle Douglas' autobiography, "Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith.''
Falyn McQuarrie and Aryn McQuarrie from Clinton were the first in line to meet Douglas, an Olympic Gold medalist, who was not scheduled to arrive until hours later at 7 p.m. at R. J. Julia.
By the time the clock hit 4 p.m., there were seven people in line from Madison, Norwich, and Wethersfield. Some were young gymnasts like the McQuarrie sisters, and the young women second in line, Hannah Lewis and Meghan Lewis from Madison. The young women introduced themselves and quickly established their common ground, offering to hold the prime spots in line while others in the group ran inside to warm up.
Also on line was the mother of a young gymnast from Wethersfield, who was sitting inside the car staying warm. This mother confessed that her daughter skipped school Thursday to make it to R. J. Julia on time. Another mother laughed about how her daughters were waiting impatiently for her to arrive home from work and then rushed her into the car. Then she confessed she was excited too. "I couldn't sleep last night," she said.
There were also adults on line, who had purchased books for themselves. Clearly, Douglas' biography resonates not only with pre-teens and teens gymnasts, but also with anyone who might have suffered from a harsh childhood, or who has faced significant adversity in their lives, or really anyone who appreciates the dedication required to excel. In her biography, Douglas writes not only about her success, but also her difficult childhood--at one point her family was homeless and living out of a van--and the father who was absent from her life.
R. J. Julia sold out of all of the 480 books it had available, and the estimate for how many people eventually turned out to stand on line during the chilly evening was 800.
Upon seeing the young children, and a few adults, standing on line so early, some of them shivering and jumping up and down to stay warm, Grace Driscoll of Madison, who works as a waitress at R. J. Cafe, hurried back to the cafe and started making complimentary hot drinks "samples" for them.
The bookstore's reputation for being a magnet that benefits other businesses in town was proven true when people in line, after asking others to hold their place, ventured out and checked out some of the other places to shop and dine.
The McQuarrie sisters went over to Willoughby's, got themselves some hot drinks (hot chocolate for Falyn and Earl Grey tea with agave nectar for Aryn), then went back to the front of the line to chat with their new friends, while together they waited for Douglas.