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.