Saturday morning didn’t start the way John Cavalier had hoped.
The air in one of the tires on his trailer had leaked during the night, likely due to the sheer weight of the hundreds of books stowed aboard.
After he put on a spare — a task made much more difficult given all the books — he tried starting his truck, but that didn’t turn out well either as wisps of smoke slowly escaped from under the hood.
While this was happening, Michelle Cavalier walked down from the mother-in-law suite above their garage to check on her husband, who said the day before he hoped to have everything set up at Train Station Park by the time volunteers arrived at 8 a.m.
Instead, he was busy resolving a set of issues that had never been on that day’s agenda.
“This morning was interesting,” Michelle Cavalier said with a laugh. “It was like anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.”
Then, still smiling, she added: “But everything turned out well.”
It sure did.
Cavalier House Books hosted the “Lost Library Book Sale” on Saturday at Train Station Park, drawing people of all ages to purchase donated books in an effort to raise money for Livingston Parish school libraries that are still recovering from the Great Flood of 2016.
For more than seven hours, children, teenagers and adults perused through thousands of books, scanning the titles for the right ones. There was something for everyone: science-fiction books, children’s books, romance novels, biographies, religious books, reference books and much more.
The book sale started promptly at 10 a.m. By that time, a crowd of book-lovers was already browsing the tables, book cases and U-Boat trucks replete with thousands of books, some used and some new, but all for the same price — $1.
To John Cavalier, owner of the seven-year old bookstore and a Denham Springs native, this was his way of helping heal a place he has spent most of his life in.
“We wanted to do something to help the libraries because all the schools I ever went to flooded,” he said.
John and Michelle weren’t alone — they had plenty of help from willing volunteers.
Aside from their parents, they received aid from both of their employees at Cavalier House Books, a few friends and local teachers and librarians. It was an all-day process for everyone involved, not to mention the weeks of preparation leading up to it.
It was pretty basic stuff Saturday: You either packed books, loaded and unloaded books, unpacked books, stacked books or sold books.
But with more than 10,000 books, there was nothing basic about it.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of books,” John Cavalier said, chuckling to himself.
There was also sponsored support.
Louisiana Lemonade and Cupcake Allie brought food trucks and donated some of the proceeds to the fundraiser. Another sponsor was unable to make it, but that turned out well for Troop 283 of Denham Springs, which sold tasty sausage po-boys and chips from underneath a canopy on the other side of Railroad Avenue.
A few local businesses even got involved in the action. The Taste of Louisiana Cafe had a “Beignets 4 Books” special, which promised a free order of beignet sticks to anyone who purchased at least 10 books.
TOLA also donated 10 percent of its earnings that day to the fundraiser, as well as Randazzo’s Italian Market, BrushFire Art Studio and Sunny Creek Lane Gift Shop.
The Livingston Parish Library also had a table set up in the corner where children could color, get stickers or take part in a puppet show.
It took a group effort to pull this off.
“Everyone’s doing something,” said Lindsay Varnado, librarian at Southside Junior High.
The overwhelming amount of books, donated from people both locally and nationally, required it.
John and Michelle Cavalier’s original storage unit off Millerville Road was wiped out during the historic flood in August, washing away nearly everything they hoarded away for their bookstore and forcing them to find another place to stow it all.
The couple started by bringing books to their shop on Range Avenue before eventually bringing them to their home once it was dried out and gutted, turning their one-story house into a makeshift library.
“It looked like a book fort,” John Cavalier said.
The donations started piling in after that as many people no longer had homes to store their books in, giving the Cavaliers the idea for a charitable book sale.
“It was more books than we could possibly handle,” John Cavalier said, thinking of the stacks of books that had filled his house for months. “It got to a point where people started bringing a truckload of books.”
John Cavalier said Varnado, whom he playfully called “an organizer by talent,” was one of the most diligent givers and volunteers for the fundraiser.
She brought the Cavaliers a U-Haul loaded with books from Texas, Colorado and Georgia that had originally been donated to the SJH library. About a week or so later, Varnado and other faculty members hauled another load from SJH to the Cavalier's home near the corner of Cedar and Pine Street.
“Every inch of every car was stacked with books,” Varnado recalled.
The result was a seven-hour book sale that exceeded everyone’s expectations. John Cavalier said they had to restock about “six or seven times” to keep the shelves and tables full. It was going so well that by the end of the day, you could buy 10 books for $1.
John Cavalier said he believes the money raised at the book sale likely exceeded $3,000, though that figure may draw closer to $4,000 once the final numbers are tallied. The money will be evenly dispersed to the libraries at Southside Elementary, Southside Junior High, Denham Springs Elementary and Denham Springs High School.
All those school participated in the book sale, whether through donations or promotion.
There was still a small crowd at Train Station Park just before 5 p.m., the scheduled end of book sale.
No one was in a hurry to leave just yet.
“It’s been a win-win for everyone involved today,” John Cavalier said as the final purchases were being made.