I’m a binge reader, when my husband started job interviews in New England his senior year in vet school, I began reading everything I could find in the Fort Collins, Colorado library about Maine and New Hampshire, our likely destinations. Novels, memoirs, travel books – everything was grist for the mill of possibilities.
Our Way Down East by Elinor Graham particularly intrigued me. A city girl who married a Maine farmer, Ms. Graham delighted in her new surroundings while she struggled to adjust to a quiet rural life after New York City. Her experiences struck a kindred note; I was going from an active, high-energy job directing the Larimer County Visiting Nurse Association to being a stay-at-home mom riding herd on a rambunctious two-year-old. Most of the time, my husband had our only car, limiting exploration, my recreational drug of choice.
A few months after we moved to New Hampshire, my husband asked if I’d like to go to Maine with him for a day-long vet conference. I said yes before he had quite finished the sentence. I dropped him off at the University of Maine in Gorham and restrained myself from leaving rubber as I bolted for my day of freedom. I had no set destination, just a road map and a time I had to return that afternoon. Winding my way through country lanes lined with maples and beeches in full autumn gold and scarlet, I passed a road sign with a familiar name: Flying Point. Elinor Graham had written she lived on Flying Point. Her book had been written thirty years earlier, but just possibly . . .
I recognized the farmhouse, perched overlooking a rocky inlet and unchanged from her long-ago description. I gathered up my nerve and chugged up the steep driveway, excepting a noisy warning from a protective farm dog. Instead, Mrs. Graham, white-haired but thoroughly modern in jeans and a polo shirt, greeted me from her granite doorstep. Far from being annoyed at the intrusion, she was pleased that her book was still in circulation. Over coffee and home-baked cinnamon stars, she grilled me about my adventures in Colorado and commiserated over the difficulties of fitting into a new lifestyle. I never visited again after she waved me goodbye, but I’ll always remember her warm welcome and the pleasure I gave her by seeking her out.
Beyond all reason, I had equally good luck in meeting Gladys Hasty Carroll, another Maine author whose books I’ve collected and still re-read. Her novels star farm families in southern Maine, just over the border from New Hampshire, so buoyed by my success tracking down Elinor Graham, I wrote to Mrs. Carroll asking if she would autograph my copies of her books. She wrote back that she would be happy to inscribe them. She was in her eighties, living with her daughter on the farm that had in the family for generations. Again, I was welcomed with enthusiasm, and we enjoyed a lively discussion of her novels (her favorite was the one I like least). And yes, she inscribed my books. She died not long after I met her, and I bought at her estate auction lovely small pine dresser and a hooked rung dated 1906 in the border.
Sadly, I missed meeting a third and possibly my favorite Maine author, Elizabeth Ogilvie. She wrote a number of free-standing novels, but her best, in my opinion, are the Bennett’s Island series. Miss Ogilvie spent much of her life on the Maine coast. Her descriptions of the sea and islands can make a reader smell the salt air (actually the smell of seaweed at low tide) and hear the growl of waves on a gravely shore. Her characters, generations of lobster fishermen and women, are so real I expect to meet them when I visit Down East.
When I met these authors, either in person or through their books, I only dreamed of someday writing something readers would enjoy and even praise. I’m deeply grateful to all the writers I’ve met for their gracious encouragement.
I'm glad you're on your own today, Helen--this is a glorious post! Elisabeth Ogilvie still has a big warm place in my reader's heart, and Bennet's Island is a place in my dreams.ReplyDelete
Liz, Miss Olgilvie's Bennett's Island is modeled on a real island where Miss Oglivie spent many summers. Still on my bucket list.Delete
Makes more entries on my TBR list...ReplyDelete
These are all books from the mid-20th century, but worth the effort to seek out.Delete
How great that you gathered up your nerve then had an unforgettable visit over cinnamon stars! And actually acquired that pine dresser from another favorite author. Special memories to cherish. We never know where the road will lead us.ReplyDelete
Mrs. Carroll's family turned the farmhouse into a museum and funded the project in part by selling some of the less precious antiques. I also bought two hand-braided rugs that must have been used between the cowshed and the summer kitchen; they took many soakings to banish the barnyard essence. I attended the auction on a beautiful Maine autumn day with two dear friends, now gone. The treasures I captured bring back many memories.Delete
I sense you have an adventurous spirit, Helen, and admire and envy those road trips. You’ve also given me some good author suggestions...something I always appreciate. Thanks for this lovely post!ReplyDelete
At age 74, it's a little harder to indulge my penchant for adventure, but I do my best. A few years ago, I checked an item off my bucket list by riding in an open-cockpit Stearman, considered one of the best finest stunt planes ever built. The maneuvers we executed were pretty tame -- no Immelmann's or outside loops -- but still a thrill.Delete
Those books were favorites at the Rockland Public Library--checked out again and again. How wonderful you got to meet the authors and get a glimpse into their lives. I did meet Ogilvie--she was a Maine treasure. I just love Maine!ReplyDelete
I so envy your meeting Miss Ogilvie. I visit Maine frequently and have the germ of an idea for a novel set mid-coast -- maybe the Boothbay area. I used to crew on a beautiful old ketch; we sailed her from Rye Harbor NH to summer in East Boothbay, so I'm familiar with that coastline.Delete
You wrote about Elisabeth Ogilvey quite awhile ago and I ordered a used copy of her first Bennett Island book and read it too. You know, we need to start a bookclub online because I'd love to talk about some of these together. I guess I'm off to Amazon to see if I can find a used copy of Eliner Graham's.ReplyDelete
Elinor Graham also wrote Maine Charm String, about her adventures collecting antique buttons. Very entertaining -- about Maine more than about buttons.Delete
What an amazing tribute! And how wonderful that you were able to meet with those authors and they were so welcoming. Can you imagine answering your doorbell to find a fan outside? How amazing! Of course, in today's crazy world, it is so much less likely to happen. And the pictures of New England are just beautiful. I've never been, but I hope to some day.ReplyDelete
You really should visit New England, especially New Hampshire and Maine. New Hampshire has only eighteen miles of coastline, but it's prime, and Maine looks just the way you might imagine. The towns down at the end of necks (Maine for peninsula) have escaped modern commercial pollution and look more to the sea than toward the land.Delete
What amazing adventures. I'll bet you never thought when you tagged along to Maine you'd have such an incredible day. You inspire me.ReplyDelete
I was so thrilled to have a car and a kid-free day, just exploring would have been an adventure. I love the coastal side roads, one minute farms and woods and then a glimpse of the sea.Delete
I sense a kindred adventurous spirit! I'm off to Natchez in a week or so and wish I had the courage to knock on Greg Isle's door!ReplyDelete
Approaching Greg Isle might be scary, although I'm sure he's not as violent as his books. I'd be walking the Natchez Trace -- I might see a panther!Delete
The House By The Sea (a Journal) by May Sarton fits with your desires to explore. Have you read any of her books? She is no stranger to writing novels; or poetry; or Children's books; or non-fiction.Delete
Thanks for the suggestion; I've never read any of May Sarton's work, but The House by the Sea will go onto my to-read list.ReplyDelete
Loved your story and the glimpse of Maine. It's on my bucket list of places to visit.ReplyDelete
Maine is a fascinating place with sharp regional differences within the state. The coast south and west of Portland is vacation-land, pleasant but kind of bland. You have to go much farther Down East to get a taste of the real Maine. And inland is completely different, farms and forests and lakes -- something for everyone.Delete
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Sorry, Helen, for injecting my element of intrigue into your post with my mysterious deleted comment. I echo everyone's admiration of your adventurous spirit. How else to collect memories? Some autumn I will start in Nova Scotia and wend my way southward to take in the colors and twisting paths. Best!ReplyDelete
Starting southward from Nova Scotia in the fall should be beautiful. I've been to Nova Scotia only in the summer. My woodenly sailing dinghy was built in Mahone Bay; I went up to check on its progress. The best thing about Nova Scotia is the people, so helpful and hospitable. In my experience, Canadians really are the most polite folks in the world.Delete
Such a cool experience, Helen! Loved reading this and, for some reason (maybe your vet husband and the old farm house pic and being in the NE), it reminded me of the movie Baby Boom with Diane Keaton. She moves to Vermont and meets a vet up there. For some reason, a connection was made in my writer's brain ;).ReplyDelete
I don't recall seeing that movie although I love Diane Keaton -- can't wait to see her new movie Book Club. I get a good laugh out of movie location choices: Last of the Mohigans was filmed in NC instead of the Mohawk Valley, and Message in a Bottle, supposedly on the Outer Banks, was filmed in Maine, which looks nothing like NC.Delete