Scrupulous (part two)

365-70The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story will be delivered to your inbox every Friday. Please tell your friends about the Carding Chronicles.

Previously on the Carding Chronicles: Mild-mannered Jane Twitchell, Carding’s longtime librarian, has discovered a disturbing literary secret among the books of the Carding Public Library. She’s sworn herself to secrecy about it. Will she keep her promise?

It all began with Martin Chuzzlewit, that bleak, rather boring novel by Charles Dickens in which the great British author skewered America as a backwater best ignored and deplored. While Dickens had his adherents among Carding’s readerly population, none of them liked “Martin,” as they called the book.

(Actually, to give Mr. Dickens his due, his negative attitude toward America and Americans is easy to understand when you know that 19th century publishers in our country were printing and selling copies of his most popular books without paying him royalties for his work. The Chinese are hardly the first people to sell pirated books.)

Anyhow, back to our story. Jane Twitchell’s uncomfortable secret began when with her annual culling of the library’s shelves in preparation for the used book sale held each year before Christmas. She’d never considered eliminating any of Dickens’ novels from the collection before but the space needed for new books, movies, and audiobooks was so great, she thought it a good idea to be more fierce in her discarding duties.

Her decision about Martin became easy once she looked to see how often it had been taken out. She was not surprised to discover that the yellowing book hadn’t moved from the library for more than 20 years.

“Hmph, time for you to go,” Jane said, being no fan of Martin Chuzzlewit herself. She gave the book a little toss into her discard box, and an envelope slid out from behind the back cover.

Now, Jane loved what she called “oddments,” the strange and sometimes puzzling items that people tucked between the pages of books. In fact, she kept a small collection of her favorites in her top desk drawer. There was a 1939 ticket to the movie Gone with the Wind when it opened in New York City, a 1950s Disney Land memento of Dumbo, a bookmark featuring a psychedelic zebra painted by Jasper Johns, and a small image of John Lennon wearing a T-shirt that read New York City.

So she dove to the floor after the old envelope with delight and many expectations.

The short note inside was penciled on a piece of erasable bond, a crinkly paper once widely used in typewriters, and Jane recognized the obsessively small, neat handwriting immediately. It was from her predecessor, Agatha Norcross.

“Dear Jane,” the note began, “for I assume it will be you who follows me, please forgive me for not telling you about this matter in person. I had always hoped I would have the fortitude to destroy the last copies of Hanson Willis’s ‘D-H‘ books myself. But I must confess to you that I fell under their spell like so many before me, and I could not bring myself to do it.

“While he was still alive, Mr. Willis said these books were just his overactive imagination at work. To the best of my knowledge, the only copies ever printed were done by Daniel and Kitty Wolfe, the couple who started the Carding Chronicle newspaper in 1912. But after reading all the stories and tales (more than once, I blush to say), I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Willis described truths about Carding that we might be better off not knowing.

“You and I were born here so we’re used to the town’s odd ways. But did you ever ask yourself why crows are always around the female descendants of the Cooper family, and why the women of the Wolfe family are wiser than anyone else or why dogs never go into the caves at the edge of Half Moon Lake?

“I think Mr. Willis discovered those secrets, and more. But he didn’t think anyone would believe him so he put them in books to fool people into thinking they were just strange stories that he made up.

“Maybe that’s all they are. I cannot judge any more so I will leave it to you. Start with Martin Chuzzlewit—the shorter D-H tales are found here—and then move on, if you dare.

“My dearest Jane, read with care and beware of where you place your personal beliefs. I cannot give you any more guidance than that.

“Yours—Agatha Norcross.”

Jane’s hands shook so hard, the paper rattled from between her fingers. Agatha Norcross was the most sober human being she’d ever known so for the former librarian to claim that the inexplicable eccentricities of Carding were more than odd behavior unnerved Jane to her core.

It was a rather uncomfortable—but not altogether unpleasant— sensation.

Who could resist such an invitation? Not me, and I dare say you couldn’t either. Let’s explore together, shall we?

Join us next week for the next installment of the Carding Chronicles. If you enjoy these stories, consider telling your friends.

Scrupulous (part one)

365-33The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story will be delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Since Jane was the younger of the two Twitchell sisters (the other being Isabel) her parents held out hope that she would marry way past the expiration date for that sort of dream.

Try as the parents might, both girls regarded the male half of the human race as a mere curiosity, preferring the company of each other, their books, and their work.

Except in one way, the sisters grew up to be so much alike, it was difficult to see where Isabel ended and Jane began. The difference lay here: Isabel developed a taste for travel while Jane didn’t care if she stirred beyond the borders of Carding. Accordingly, Isabel followed the toes of her shoes from one international school to another, teaching English to students that probably would have preferred to be left alone. Jane followed her mentor, Agatha Norcross, as the keeper of the Carding Public Library.

Jane considered the care of a library a sacred trust. While she did not like all books equally—science fiction bored her and she would be content if she never read another memoir—she regarded all words on paper with the affection of a doting aunt.

She started working at the Carding library when she was still in high school, left town to get her degree in library science, and then returned to take charge of the books at Carding Regional. Then, when Agatha retired, Jane took command of the public library’s card catalogue and sat behind the great wooden desk that had once belonged to Senator Danielson Wolfe.

Before she took the job, Agatha and Jane held many long discussions on the importance of librarians, their responsibilities to their patrons and to literature.

“Truth is all,” Agatha used to say. “Remember, the books we give space to on our shelves are there to illuminate life. It could be something as small as how to build a birdhouse or as large as what happens when we die. But it’s all truth, and we must honor that in our lives as well as our work.”

Agatha could not have asked for a better pupil or follower than Jane Twitchell. When anyone in Carding talked about her—which was infrequent, given her quiet life—the word they used to describe her was “scrupulous.” So everyone in town would have been shocked to learn that Jane had a secret.

Not a deep, dark, wretched secret, you understand. No. No. Nothing scandalous like that. (Why would you think that about Jane Twitchell?)

No, this was a secret that exactly suited Jane’s temperament for she had uncovered a literary treasure in the Carding Public Library.

And she had no intention of telling anyone else about it.


(Continued on November 20.)

The Delicate Dance

365-36The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Chronicles will be delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Ruth Goodwin pulled back the curtain on Edie’s front window to peer across Carding green.

“Are you sure they’ll come?” she asked again.

Edie smiled as she fished a set of heavy wine glasses from the deepest regions of the most seldom-used cabinet in her kitchen. Though not to her more simple taste, Edie treasured the gaudy stemware. They’d belonged to her grandmother, Kitty Wolfe.

Edie always thought of her grandmother as a no-nonsense kind of lady. Oh, Kitty baked her share of cookies, hosted Thanksgiving dinners, and tended cuts and bruises with solicitous care. But Kitty preferred things in her life to be rather stripped down and practical.

So why in the world did she own a dozen fluted glasses in swirls of deep autumn gold and overripe eggplant? They were so unlike her.

“Do you know if everyone got everything done?” Ruth called from the living room while Edie rinsed the drinking vessels under the tap then wiped them dry.

“I believe so,” she said. “I saw Lydie in the Coop yesterday, and she had just the one small garden by her front door left to cut down.”

“What about Agnes? There was still a lot of wood in their front yard when I drove by yesterday afternoon,” Ruth said.

Edie craned her head around the doorway so she could see her best friend. Of the two of them, Ruth had always worried more about…about everything, really. Agnes often teased her about being the lady with the permanently puckered brow.

Ruth caught the glance, and laughed at herself. “I know, I know,” she said. “But at my age, I’m scarcely going to change, am I?”

“Do you want to get your cake out on the table?” Edie suggested.

Ruth grinned. “So that I’ll stop fretting by the front window?” she said. “Sure.”

While some of the younger families in Carding relied on oil-burning furnaces for winter heat, and the shelves of the Coop for fresh veggies, the majority of Carding-ites loved the deep warmth of their woodstoves, and smothering their pancakes in applesauce that they’d canned themselves.

But participation in these Carding rituals meant stacking wood, gardening, and picking fruit on local farms in season.

And in the fall, these activities inevitably led to what Edie called “the delicate dance of autumn.”

“You have to hit it just right,” her friend Andy Cooper advised first-timers to the tradition. “If you start putting your wood up too early, you’ll die of the heat while you’re doing it. That’s definitely something you want to save for a cool day. And let your gardens go as long as you can because, you know, we spend a lot of time looking at white ground up here.”

The trouble with this timing issue is hitting the sweet spot of daytime temperatures cool enough to stack wood but not getting stuck cutting back your gardens in an early snow.

Locals knew that you could usually ignore the first swirl of frozen precipitation because “it wouldn’t stick.” But one year, that first snow came on October 15th, and it was deep, about ten inches. Then  it stayed cold.

“Froze my picnic table to the ground,” Andy said. “And I still had half my wood to stack.”

But this year, Vermont basked in a magical reprieve. Not only had the foliage been spectacular, the trees kept their color far longer than usual. In fact, Edie thought it rather too warm during the day to rake leaves.

No matter. Now was the time for the annual celebration with her friends, the moment when all the wood was in for the winter, all the gardens were cut back, all the summer furniture and boats were tucked away, and the snowblowers were primed to go.

Hence the gaudy glasses, the ones that looked like harvest to Edie’s eye and, she suspected, to her grandmother’s as well. They’d fill and refill them with wine or sherry over their traditional supper of roasted chicken, squash from Andy’s garden, potatoes from Lydie’s, onion dressing courtesy of Agnes’s dirt digging, and applesauce made from the fruit of the trees in Edie’s backyard.

She held one of the glasses up to the fading November light, admiring its rich color. Ready for winter.

At last.

Stick Season

The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Chronicles will be delivered to your inbox every Friday.
The bus slowly pulled out of the Coop’s parking lot. Every tour driver knew about Carding’s tight turns, its determined lack of large parking lots, and the town’s collective decision to keep it that way.

So there really was no choice but to move and turn slowly.

Its large tires did their best to embed more sand into the asphalt oasis surrounding the legendary general store, making a sharp, crackling sound as the driver guided the bus onto Meetinghouse Road. Andy Cooper stood among the shopping baskets and carts in the Coop’s large front windows, watching the last wisps of diesel disperse in the morning air.

He sighed with satisfaction as he saw it go. He looked forward to November every year—the month of gray and gloom—because it was his respite between the hordes of leaf peepers and the hordes of skiers that would descend on Mount Merino when it snowed in December.

He studied the landscape of the hills rising from the center of town. The maples were naked now, except for a few straggling yellow leaves that would disappear with the next good wind. All that remained were their skeletons.

Early November was the time of the oaks and beech. They were bunched together here and there, their leaves making clouds of deep red tinged with smudges of yellow. In a few days, any leaves that remained would be leathery brown.

Andy felt something press his shoe, and he looked down at the dog pawing his sneaker. He stroked her soft ears, the part of her responsible for her name, Sable. He’d been dog-less for many years—and determined to stay that way—when this girl trundled out of a humane society van parked at the Coop for Pet Adoption Day. Something about the way she looked at him—and her sadness at not-belonging—had re-awakened Andy’s desire to share his life with a dog.

“How about a walk, girl?” he asked. She was at the store’s door before the last word passed Andy’s lips, silently encouraging him to move faster. He sighed. Had she been a mistake? Was he too old for this?

Outside, he clipped on her leash while they threaded their way through the parking lot. He had to admit she was pretty good about not pulling but he could see it was a strain for her to resist the impulse to run. When they reached the top of the path that cut through the woods to Half Moon Lake, Sable quivered as he let her off the restraint, bolting to explore the leaves for signs of chipmunk and squirrel.

The path was ankle-deep in crisp brown leaves, and Andy deliberately scuffed through them, enjoying the rustle that accompanied his steps, and breathing in the almost-spicy aroma of death and renewal that marked this time of year. He stopped to zip his jacket around his neck then picked up his pace.

The slant of the light came through the bare trees at a low angle, all golden and sated with autumnal hues. How long has it been since I’ve walked down here, Andy wondered as he stopped to admire the stained-glass effect of sun behind the oaks.

Sable circled him, snuffling, running, and nosing among the rocks of an old stone wall. When Andy turned to watch the dog’s investigations, he saw the slightly raised furrow of leaves that marked his own passage through time and the woods, and he smiled.

At that moment, Sable looked up, and Andy realized she was no longer afraid, no longer lost, and he was content.

“Come on, girl,” he called. “There’s plenty more chipmunks to come. We have walkin’ to do.”

Jade and Slade Introduce the “S” Word

The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Chronicles will be delivered right to your inbox.
When Jade Allbright’s eyes flew open that morning, she froze in place—breath held—so she could count her heartbeats. One, two, three, four…

“It’s real,” she said aloud. And then she hugged herself. This morning, Jade Allbright would step over the threshold from being a student of the weather to being a legitimate, professional weather forecaster.

On Dirt Road Radio.

Her bare feet hit the floor—one,two—and she squealed when her skin met the cold wood so that she nearly repealed the law of gravity in her rush to the bathroom.

“This isn’t right,” she muttered. “Too cold for the middle of October.”

But just then, movement outside the small window caught her eye. Well, actually to be completely accurate, several small movements caught her eye.

Snow—squalling, bawling, barreling-in-the-wind snow. Jade rushed to the big kitchen window in order to take in more of the yellow, orange and red landscape.

“Snow,” she sighed. “In the middle of peak foliage.” She grabbed her cellphone to check the National Weather Service then tapped a few keys to check on Canada’s version of the same. When the phone rang, she nearly dropped it.

It was her boss, Kevin Slade. “Care to come in early on your first day?” he asked.

Jade glanced at the barely-light world outside her window. “Sure,” she said. You’re my boss, she thought, and it’s my first day on my dream job. Of course I’m going to do anything you ask. “Um, can I ask why?”

Jade had been hired to do the midday and evening forecasts because Slade was an early riser.

“It’s snowing,” he said. She heard the chuckle in his voice.

“Yeah, and blowing like hell,” she said, reaching for her jeans. “But why…?”

“I’m not telling them,” Slade said.

Am I missing something, Jade asked herself. “Um, not telling who what?”

“Not telling our listeners that we’re getting our first snow on October fifteenth,” he said, slurping coffee. “I thought I’d let you do that. Then when they call to complain, you can answer the phone.”

“People are going to call and complain about something I can’t control?” Jade asked.

“Yep, and loudly too,” Slade said. “Folks haven’t had a chance to put everything away for the winter yet, and they still have to rake up the leaves, and put their gardens to bed. They’re gonna want to blame somebody, and I figure this would be a good way for you to make your first impression. I’ll bet they didn’t teach you anything about this in weather school, did they?”

Jade found two matching socks in her drawer, and sat down to put them on her now very-cold feet. “But wouldn’t you be better at that than I am?” she asked. “I mean, it’s my first day.”

“Yeah, I thought about that but you see,” more coffee slurping, “I think it’s better this way because no one knows what you look like yet so you can still go to the grocery store without folks stopping you to complain. I figure it will take you about twenty minutes to drive from Tennyson’s place to the station. I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee.”

He hung up, and Jade stared at her phone’s screen for a minute. Then she sighed, and thought about her student loan payments, and the rent on the gem apartment she had found in Lee and Chris Tennyson’s remodeled barn, and how much she loved watching the way the weather turned and twisted and double-backed in Vermont.

Outside, the wind shifted and howled, shredding the thin cloud cover to the west until patches of blue bled through the gray. The sun took full advantage of the opening, beaming a spotlight on the radiant leaf canopy, and Jade caught her breath at the splendid visual gift.

Then the wind shifted again, the clouds hid the sun, and the color drained from the hillside. But it was enough. Jade shrugged into her jacket, found her keys, and opened the door.

“That’s why we live here,” she reminded herself as she stepped outside.

Let’s Do the Math

The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Carding Chronicles will be delivered right to your inbox.

New post on Carding Chronicle blog: October 15

It’s Official—Today Is a 25!
by Little Crow

Foliage has been slow to peak this fall because it’s been so warm so our trees decided to hold back on the annual autumnal display just a wee bit.

We usually hit Max Leaf Peeping the first full weekend of October but now we’re in the middle of the month and BAM!—the weather is rocking.

How great is it, you ask? Well, on a scale of one to ten, today is a twenty-five.

Don’t believe me? Let’s do the math.

  • Temperature: 62 degrees, warm enough for strolling about with just a sweater or hiking without. Points awarded—5.
  • Bugs: None except the occasional bumblebee that’s clinging to the last flowers to be found. Points awarded—5.
  • Sunshine: Plentiful with the odd wispy cloud or two that adds charm to a crystalline sky. Points awarded—5.
  • Foliage: Deep red oaks, yellow and orange maples, flashes of yellow undergrowth that light up the woods, sumacs showing off every color of fall on each leaf, all glowing in the sun under an amazing blue sky on a day that just makes you want to walk or ride or hike or just stand and gaze at this wondrous world. Points awarded—10, because it doesn’t get any better than this.

Total score for this incredible moment in time—25.

Loving every minute of this!

Little Crow | October 15 | Categories: Vermont-in-Season

Needing a Real Map in a GPS World

The Carding Chronicles are short stories and sketches about the little town no one’s ever been able to find on a map. If you hit the subscribe button to the right, the Carding Chronicles will be delivered right to your inbox.

Overheard in Cooper’s General Store, located in the heart of Carding, Vermont.

“Excuse me,” the harried man said as he approached Brenda, the Coop’s head cashier. “Can you tell me where the Tennyson Farm is? Our GPS has sent us all over the map.”

“Aah,” said Brenda, pointing at the digital device. “That’s your trouble, you see. Those things just don’t work in Carding.”

The man looked very confused. “Don’t work? This is the latest GPS on the market. It works everywhere.”

Andy Cooper, the owner of the store, shook his head as he looked over the man’s shoulder. “Well, I think Brenda may be right. It couldn’t get you to Tennyson’s Farm, could it? What you need is a real map.”

“This is a real map,” the man said.

A young woman appeared behind him. “Honey, don’t they know where it is?”

“Oh, we know where the Tennyson farm is,” Andy said. “They are an old family here in Carding. We buy our Christmas trees from them every year. The problem is, you need a real map to get there.”

“You lookin’ for Tennysons?” Lydie Talbot asked as she joined the queue. Then she spotted the GPS in the man’s hands. “Aww, no one ever finds Tennysons with those things. You need a real map.”

The woman’s eyes traveled from Brenda to Andy to Lydie and back. “Come on, Hef, let’s go. I’m sure we can find it.”

“Not without a map,” Gideon Brown said as he joined the circle, a six-pack of Carding Cream Ale under his arm.

The harried man shook his head. “This is a real map. Could you just tell me what street Tennysons’ place is on? That’s all I need to know.”

The Carding crowd looked at one another. “Well, it’s up off of Belmont Hill,” Andy said. “Does the road up to the farm have another name?”

Heads shook from side to side.

“You mean you don’t know where it is,” the woman said, her arms making the sign of the impatient cross over her chest.

“Oh, we all know where it is,” Brenda said.

“Here, let me draw you a map,” Gideon offered. Brenda tore off a length of receipt tape from her register and laid it down on the counter with a pencil.

The man sighed, disgust thick in the sound of it. “Belmont Hill, you say.” He shoved his GPS in his pocket. “What is with you people? What century do you live in?”

Andy laughed. “You do realize you’re standing in a town that’s not been on a map of Vermont since 1731. In a way, you’re trying to find something that doesn’t exist.”

“That’s impossible,” the woman said. “Every town has been mapped.”

“Not Carding,” Gideon said, and the crowd could hear the pride in his voice. “The 1731 map was drawn by Robin Dutille and printed in Boston.”

“He was an ornery man,” Andy said.

“Always thought people were going to steal his stuff,” Lydie said.

“So he put fake towns on every map he drew so that if someone plagiarized his work, he’d catch them,” Brenda said.

“Then when the Vermont map was revised in 1774 by Augustus Chapman, he took off the towns he thought were fake so that Dutille wouldn’t catch him,” Andy said.

“Only he thought Carding was one of the fake towns, so he took us off,” Gideon said.

“And we’ve never made it back on,” Brenda said.

The man sighed again. They could feel the force of it in the back of the store. “Okay, let’s start again. Could you tell me how to find the Tennyson Farm.”

Gideon picked up the pencil. “Let me draw you a real map,” he said, wetting the tip of it with his tongue.

Creating with words, fabric and anything else I can get my hands on!