Ephemera: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Ephemera 2Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont.

Details about the novels are at the end of this story. And I encourage you to subscribe to my website so you won’t miss out on anything Carding.

Today’s story is about recycling. Folks in Vermont are, generally, passionate about reusing and re-purposing, and that’s definitely true in Carding. It’s that impetus that led the town’s favorite eccentric, Amos Hardy, to lobby for space at the town’s solid waste site for a Swap Shed. It’s a place where folks can leave good stuff to be reused as well as rummaging about for free stuff to bring home. The most popular items are used books.

Why don’t you come along? You’ll never know what you’ll find in a book.


Amos Handy smiled at the calendar hanging on the inside of his closet door as he slid his arms into the sleeves of one of his many tropical shirts. It was the third Thursday of the month, Edie day at the Swap Shed.

Before the Swap Shed was built, Amos cursed every time he saw books thrown in the landfill (along with other good stuff that he used in his funky sculptures). One day, he finally got mad enough to lobby the town to set aside a little money to establish a shelter where people could exchange old books for new.

It didn’t take long for the book-swapping business to get too big for Amos to handle by himself. Fortunately, Carding has a number of voracious readers, and lots of them were happy to help Amos sort the good from the musty, dusty, torn and tortured volumes that arrived in cardboard boxes and plastic bags.

After a while, they chose to make Thursday the weekly sorting day with a revolving cast of volunteers. Edie always showed up on the third Thursday.

Amos would never admit it out loud but he’d developed something of a sweet spot for her. He’d never met anyone else who could discuss the finer points of Mary Oliver’s poetry, whether A.S. Byatt’s Possession deserved the Booker Prize, and the misogyny inherent in the Nero Wolfe mysteries.

They debated which Shakespeare dramas had the right to be called great. He was partial to Othello while Edie swore by Macbeth.

It was still quite early in the morning when Amos stopped at the Coop for the whole milk and honey that Edie liked in her tea while she picked up muffins from the Crow Town Bakery. Not long after that, the two of them converged at the Swap Shed’s front door.

“Oh jeez,” Amos muttered as their movements triggered the motion-sensor light on the outside of the shed. Its glare revealed a pile of ragged book-filled boxes damp with morning dew that someone had dumped after closing time. 

Amos took book abuse personally. “The least they could do is put them in plastic bags. We’re gonna end up throwing most of these away.”

Edie’s nose twitched, and then she sneezed hard enough to fumble the muffin box, barely rescuing it before it hit the ground. “From the smell, I would guess we were going to throw most of that stuff away no matter what. How many years do you suppose they’ve been in someone’s attic?”

Amos peeled up one of the box flaps up so he could look inside. “Hmph, there’s nothing here but 1950s hardcovers printed on that horrid paper that turns brown. But look at this.” He reached inside to extract a bookmark from the topmost novel. It was a faded Red Sox ticket stub.

The two book sorters grinned at one another. “Ooh, ephemera,” they cooed together.

As a reader, I’m sure you’ve used all sorts of stuff to mark your place in a book—greeting cards, paper napkins, dollar bills, ribbon, cloth scraps, string, grocery lists, letters, coupons clipped from newspapers, toothpicks or whatever.

When Amos and Edie first started sorting together, they tossed that stuff into a pile that was pitched in the wood stove at the end of the day. But occasionally, one or the other of them found an interesting postcard or photograph that was just too good to simply reduce to ashes. They nicknamed these finds “ephemera,” and found a small wooden box to keep them in for other readers in need of a bookmark.

It didn’t take long before the ephemera box developed a cult following. A summer resident named Theresa, who billed herself as a mixed media artist, regularly plundered it for collage materials. She was especially fond of postcards that had been used, oohing over descriptions of long ago travels or expressions of devotion.

She even brought one of her pieces into the Swap Shed to show Amos how she used her finds. He later told Edie that he wasn’t too impressed but at least the woman recycled.

Other people tried to coordinate these lost and wandering bookmarks with their reading finds, choosing black and white photos to go with Victorian classics, for example, or ribbons with romance novels.

As time went on, Edie and Amos put together a motley crew of reference books that they used to learn more about their finds. One of their prizes was an ancient atlas that they used to track postcards. Another was an amateur genealogy of the United Kingdom, and a third was an art history textbook whose authors, as Edie often remarked, didn’t seem to know that women existed.

Over time, Edie and Amos became vigorous in their ephemera hunting, shaking every book by its spine to be sure that nothing remained unfound. At the end of the day, they’d debate whose find qualified as “the most unusual” and the winner treated the loser to lunch.

“Does anyone believe that someone would actually read these things?” Edie asked as they unpacked the damp boxes. All of the books were spotted with mildew, and every time they shook them, she sneezed.

Amos shrugged. “I remember before I started sorting that I kinda looked at books as sacred objects that I just couldn’t throw away. Now,” he pinched one of the offending volumes between his thumb and forefinger, “I can see them as just so much ink and compressed wood pulp.”

The book landed in the recycling barrel with a resounding thump.

Edie was just about to do the same to a spoiled copy of Peyton Place when a fragile letter dropped out of the book that once scandalized America. She and Amos both lunged at it but he got there first.

The paper was thin, crackling with age, and covered with a spidery hand that had faded from black to gray. He carried it like a delicate Fabergé egg to the counter, turned on a bright light, and the two ephemera aficionados examined their prize.

“Oh my, look at the date.” Edie pointed to the top of the page where they read “November 13, 1864.”

“This was written during the Civil War,” Amos said. “This is the oldest thing we’ve ever found.”

The letter was short and they struggled to make out the words that had receded with time.

“‘My darling,’” Edie began to read, “‘A woman who helps at the hospital writes this for me as I am unable.’ I can’t make out the next words, can you?”

“Wait a minute.” Amos yanked a drawer open, rummaged around for a bit, and then came up with a magnifying glass worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

He re-angled the light, found the right distance from the paper in which to hold the glass, and then, concentrating hard, he read: “‘I don’t think I’ll be back to see our new baby. I am glad it’s a girl, and I know she’s as pretty as you.'”

“Oh dear,” Edie murmured. “This doesn’t sound good.”

“‘I’ve got the water fever,’” Amos went on. “Water fever? What’s that?”

“Typhoid maybe?” Edie said. “Though nobody knew back then that it was caused by bacteria in unclean water.”

“‘I want you to know, my darling, how dear you are to me.’” Amos cleared his throat, passing the letter and magnifying glass to Edie.

“‘I hoped to see the green hills of Vermont once again but that is not to be.’” Edie flipped the paper over. “‘I love you, my darling. I always will.’”

The two of them stood silent for a moment before Amos asked: “Is there a name at the end?”

Edie raised the paper closer to the light, straining to make out the last marks on the page. “I think it says Samuel but I can’t be sure,” she said as she carefully folded the sheet.

They stood as silent witnesses to the long-ago grief released by the words on the delicate paper.

“What do you think we should do with it?” Amos finally asked.

Edie shook her head, searching in her heart for the right answer. Was there a right answer? “Well, it seems a shame to give it to the historical society because hardly anyone will see it there.”

Amos raised a finger. “I’ve got an idea. I’ll be right back.”

And that’s how Samuel’s letter, as it came to be known, became a star attraction at the Swap Shed, commanding pride of place between two panes of window glass pressed together in a discarded picture frame held aloft on a stand.

Edie declared it one of Amos’s best finds ever while he maintained that she deserved the credit.

At first, purists tried to argue that the letter belonged in the historical society. But judging by the reaction of most people who came to read the spidery hand, displaying it in the Swap Shed suited most folks. Parents read it aloud to their children. Older people argued about who could have written it.

And somehow, it made the past feel a little closer, a little more human.

Because love is never ephemeral.


You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, has just been published! You can find them all on Amazon or you can order them through your local independent book store.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

Ephemera

Tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle is about recycling. Folks in Vermont are, generally, passionate about reusing and re-purposing, and that’s definitely true in Carding. It’s that impetus that led the town’s favorite eccentric, Amos Hardy, to lobby for space at the town’s solid waste site for a Swap Shed. It’s a place where folks can leave good stuff to be reused as well as rummaging about for free stuff to bring home. The most popular items are used books.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s story. Hope you will stop by and please share it with everyone that you enjoy sharing with.

SH-Ephemera 2

 

Haven Hats: A Free Crochet Pattern

SH-Haven hatWe have a number of wonderful nonprofits here in the Upper Valley, lots and lots of folks doing wonderful work.

One of the best-known is the Upper Valley Haven, a homeless shelter for families and individuals with a full array of after-school programs and a food shelf and a clothing program, among so many other activities.

A few years ago, when I was dropping off a donation, I got into a conversation with one of the organizers about winter clothing needs for the children they serve. That’s when I found out that schools around here—for good reason—do not let kids out for recess unless they have the proper warm clothing to deal with our winter temperatures.

“We can always use hats and mittens,” the woman said.

Now, I love to knit and crochet (simple patterns only please) and I’d been developing a hat pattern that would allow my fingers to move while I watched DVDs with my husband in the evenings AND would take advantage of the smaller portions of yarn in my collection.

I have to tell you that I made a few abysmal hats on the way to the Haven Hat pattern haven-hats-pattern-11-23-2016.

But I eventually put together something I like and you can see the results below.

One of the most inspired parts of this pattern, I think, is the topknot that froths at the apex of the chapeau. I am not a fan of pompoms (they always, eventually, fall apart). But I found this fringe alternative used on a scarf in one of my crochet books that’s simply loops made of simple chain stitches. It’s different and fun and just makes the hat splendid, in my opinion.

I talk about the Haven Hats haven-hats-pattern-11-23-2016 this time every year to encourage the nimble-fingered folks among you to dig out your crochet hooks and have at it. And please feel free to ask questions if you get stuck (Sonja (at) SonjaHakala (dot) com) or share with friends.

There are pictures of more Haven Hats below to get you inspired.

Thanks!

Red hat with Xmas topknot
HHat-gree:white stripe-closeup-1

HHat-blue on snow 2

Lights in Water, Dancing

LiWD cover March 2018This week’s publications schedule here in Carding, Vermont is dedicated to sharing the back stories behind each of my four novels about the small town that no one can find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

I’m a professional writer, after all, and writers earn their lattes by selling books. And with the holidays coming up…well…you get the picture.


Well, we’ve reached the point of talking about my “youngest child” today, Lights in Water, Dancing. In many ways, this is the conclusion of the story that started to unfold in my third novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life.

I left questions at the end of novel number three, a lot of questions, the most pressing of which was: “What happened to Boz Flaneur?”

Boz isn’t originally from Carding. In fact, what he knew about Vermont could have been contained in the dot at the end of this sentence before he showed up in Thieves of Fire.

As sometimes happens with characters, Boz was originally cast in a minor role because I needed a guy to do a job. But he turned out to be such an interesting person, I decided to explore the possibilities of keeping him around.

I dug around in his personal history and discovered that he had a family connection with the father of Edie Wolfe’s children. Then he got himself entangled in something of a three-way lover’s knot.

My coup de grace for Boz came at the end of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life when I bounced his head off a concrete floor in Logan Airport.

Well, not me personally, you understand. It was my pen’s fault.

Lights and Dazzling also share an origin story that I heard from a quilting teacher named Jessica Leger. She came to the Upper Valley a few years ago to appear at my quilt guild and we had a quick bite to eat prior to the meeting. As we chatted, I found out that Jessica had been elected to the school board in her hometown in central Massachusetts.

Now Jessica’s a sharp-eyed woman with a no-nonsense attitude, someone whose flair for fashion and love of color would make her a natural for Advanced Style. (Seriously, you’ve got to check out this website and the documentary dedicated to the beauty and flair of older women.)

Anyway, Jessica told me that while she was campaigning for the school board, she had a conversation with the town’s chief of police about the suspicious nature of the school superintendent’s finances. How could someone on an education administrator’s salary afford a second home in an upscale resort in North Carolina and a rather large boat, she asked.

At the time, the police chief brushed her questions aside. It’s nothing, he said. Probably a trust fund or good investments.

But not too many weeks later, this same superintendent was arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from the school district, something that the police department was already investigating when Jessica asked her questions.

Having sat in on countless school board and district meetings here in the Upper Valley, I know that that these budgets are regularly torn apart in search of excess pennies. So I found it hard to understand how a superintendent could get away with such a theft.

“Easy,” Jessica said. “Those board members were just collecting credits for their resumes. They never looked at anything or questioned anything the superintendent did. They just let him run the show as they rubber-stamped his decisions.”

That conversation made my head buzz buzz buzz. It made me realize that in many ways, local governance boards, particularly in small towns, are as vulnerable to exploitation by the unscrupulous as they are to destruction by the incompetent. In fact, you could argue that small towns are sitting ducks for tricksters.

So I wondered what would happen if I made Carding the target of a pair of swindlers and stocked its school board with toadies and lickspittles?

In other words, what would happen if I sowed distrust among the folks in my favorite small town?

As it turns out, skepticism and doubt are as toxic as spent fuel rods in a nuclear power plant, a state of affairs that we see played out—sadly played out—on our national stage every day.

I think—I want to believe—that Carding will recover from this blow to its self-confidence and pride but I can’t be sure.

Hmmm, would you excuse me for a moment? I think I just tripped over an idea for another novel of Carding, Vermont.


The four novels of Carding, Vermont are available for order from your local book store or online at Amazon.com. They are great gifts for everyone who loves to read.

They are, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

And if you’d like to get in touch, you’re always welcome to do so through email at Sonja (at) SonjaHakala (dot) com.

 

 

 

 

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Dazzling 2018 front coverThis week’s publications schedule here in Carding, Vermont is dedicated to sharing the stories behind each of my four novels about the small town that no one can find on a map of the Green Mountain State.

I’m a professional writer, after all, and writers keep their internet connected by selling books. And with the holidays coming up…well…you get the picture.


This is the birth story of The Dazzling Uncertainty of LifeMy third novel about Carding was born in a hurricane. Here’s how it happened.

In Vermont, 2011 was a very, very, very wet year. On the western slopes of the Green Mountains, heavy spring rains brought Lake Champlain up to record flood levels. Since it’s a HUGE body of water, it took forever for it to drop back down to normal, doing a lot of damage along the way.

The rains continued all summer, with the kind of storms that make it impossible to drive because you can’t see more than six feet in front of you.

And then in late August, a hurricane named Irene took a look at the Connecticut River and decided to follow it upstream because she’d heard that Vermont was pretty this time of year.

By the time it reached the area where I live with my family, the storm had been downgraded to one of the tropical variety. In other words, it had no wind to speak of.

But boy, did it have rain…lots and lots of rain on top of an already soggy landscape.

At our house, which lies on the White River (the largest un-dammed river in the state), eleven-and-a-half inches of water fell in about twelve hours. The river, which normally chuckles between its banks about thirty feet below our house, rose to within an inch or two of where I’m writing this.

The last time the Green Mountain State experienced such a catastrophe was in November of 1927. In fact, it was something of an article of faith around here that all hurricanes died before they reached northern New England.

So much for Yankee hubris.

For months after Irene’s visit, my family and I teetered on the knife-edge of uncertainty. The flood waters may have missed our house but they had weakened and saturated the bank on which it sits. Could we save our beloved home? And what would we do if we couldn’t?

The trauma was, of course, widespread. Roads were impassable. Bridges were missing. Riverbanks had collapsed. We lost much of our state infrastructure when the Winooski River swept through our government buildings in Waterbury so all the folks who would normally be on the front lines of disaster recovery had nowhere to work.

As so many before us have learned, it was going to be a rough slog back to whatever normal is.

But we’re a tough old crowd up here, and the state’s innate sense of helping others kicked in while Irene was flirting with Canada.

The day after the storm was sunny and beautiful and one of the first people I saw was this wonderful guy with a tractor who showed up to clear the thick, sticky silt from our road. He was the first in a wave of folks all over the state, young and old, who pitched in to clear debris, rescue houses, and feed people.

Here’s just one example from our experience. The crew pictured below are from Twinfields School in Plainfield, Vermont. They showed up here one day in late fall to clear the flotsam and jetsam on our land closest to the river. They were amazing and wonderful and we filled the Dumpster that some of them are sitting on in the back with five-gallon pails, refrigerator carcasses, cans, bottles, swimming floats, part of a piano, etc. etc.

We still smile when we think about them.

Twinfields cleans up

In contemporary America, more and more people are having their lives shredded by natural and man-made disasters—monstrous hurricanes, wildfires, floods, volcanoes, mass shootings, and tornados. I used to think we were well insulated from “all of that” up here. Yeah, we had to deal with winter but what was a snowstorm when compared with a hurricane?

Now I recognize the hurt and fear and confusion on the faces of people who are on their own marches to survival.

About six months after the flood, I had lunch with my friend, author Ernie Hebert. He checked in with me, of course, as in “how are you doing?”

“Okay, chugging along.”

And then he asked: “Are you going to write about this?”

It was too soon to say, I replied.

“Hmm, but you will,” Ernie said. “You’ll have to. It’s what writers do.”

Now the most famous bit of writerly advice in the universe is: “Write what you know.” By that measure,  hurricanes should be good material for a book, right? So I set out to write about Carding, Vermont as if it had been hit by a big, fat rainstorm.

But I didn’t like what was coming out of my pen. (My first drafts of fiction are written longhand.)

Frustrated, I put it to one side as I re-doubled my efforts to (eventually) save our house.

But Ernie’s comment kept buzzing away in the back of my mind. He was right. I did have to write about the hurricane and the trauma it caused.

It took a while but what I finally realized was that what I “knew” from my experience with Hurricane Irene wasn’t the rain. It was the messy soup of emotions that accompanied it.

After Irene, nothing was certain and human beings love certainty (or the illusion of certainty) above all else.

I finally realized that that’s what I needed to write about.

One of my favorite minor characters from The Road Unsalted and Thieves of Fire is fifteen-year old Faye Bennett. She’s smart and feisty and blunt and very sure of herself. How would Faye react if the rug was pulled out from under her world?

The possibilities were…well let’s say that I liked the possibilities very much. So that’s where I started.

I’m not giving anything away to tell you that Faye eventually comes out of her traumatic experience all right though she is changed. Nowadays, she’s more suspicious of the world and a bit fiercer. But as far as I can tell, she’s all right.

I like Faye Bennett. I think you will too. That’s why she’s the star of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, the book born in a hurricane.

The four novels of Carding, Vermont are available for order from your local book store or online at Amazon.com. They are great gifts for everyone who loves to read.

They are, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Lights in Water, Dancing

I hope you’ll read my books and subscribe to this website so that you can enjoy stories about Carding, Vermont every Thursday.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.