Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Ephemera

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, SH-ephemeraThe Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week’s subject is ephemera and it takes place in the Swap Shed at the Carding landfill and recycling center.

Kind of an odd place for a story, don’t you think?

Enjoy!

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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 whole milk and honey for Edie’s tea while she picked up muffins from the Crow Town Bakery. Then 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 boxes damp with morning dew. He 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 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, a faded Red Sox ticket stub.

The two book sorters grinned at one another. “Ooh, ephemera,” they said 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 thrown away 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 throw away. They nicknamed these finds “ephemera,” and found a small wooden box to hold them that was kept on the counter for 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 their 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, the two book sorters collected a motley crew of discarded reference books that they used to learn more about their finds. One of their prizes was an ancient atlas. Another was an amateur genealogy of the countries 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..

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.

She was just about to toss a spoiled copy of Peyton Place into the dumpster when a fragile letter dropped out. 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, concentrating hard, and then 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 called, became a star attraction at the Swap Shed, commanding pride of place between two panes of window glass pressed together in a discarded mirror frame held aloft on a stand.

Edie declared it one of Amos’s best finds ever.

At first, purists tried to argue that it belonged in the historical society. But judging by the reaction of most people who came to read the spidery hand, Amos’s choice 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.

Book Sorting

Hi folks,

There’s a new Carding Chronicle in store for you tomorrow.

This week, Edie Wolfe and Amos Handy share book sorting duties at the landfill’s Swap Shed, indulging their love of the strange stuff readers use for bookmarks.

Most of the time, their finds are postcards or bits of scrap paper. But this week, there’s a letter from the past that touches their hearts.

Here’s a sample of what’s to come. Hope you can stop by!

SH-ephemera

Mrs. Shakespeare

SH-masksYou 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, we find Faye Bennett back in school taking an unexpected class in improvisation. The problem is, Faye likes her life a little more ordered.

Enjoy!

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Faye Bennett did not like masks. It unnerved her when she couldn’t see the ripple of emotions across a face.

Suffice it to say, Halloween was not her favorite holiday, and as for acting and drama classes, well they came in dead last in any competition with any other subject.

So why was she sitting cross-legged on a mat in the high school gym on the first day of school facing a teacher whose last name, don’t laugh, was Shakespeare?

As in Beverly Shakespeare.

Because if there’s anything guaranteed to make Faye Bennett do something she does not want to do, it’s a dare. And this dare had come from her older brother, Wil, which made it especially potent.

“Look Faye, Intro to Improv fulfills one of your humanities requirements, you’ll learn more than you think possible, and Mrs. Shakespeare is really fun,” Wil had said as he watched his sister puzzling over her schedule for the coming fall.

“Nope, no thanks.” Faye picked up the list of optional choices, and scanned it once more, hoping to find some acceptable humanity for her third period slot. But as a budding historian and a (secretly) wannabe writer, she couldn’t find anything she hadn’t already taken.

Except Intro to Improv.

“Why don’t you want to take that class?” Wil asked as he sprawled across their kitchen table in order to watch his sister’s face with greater ease. Wil thought it an important brotherly duty to make her squirm from time to time.

Faye rolled her eyes at him. “It’s hardly useful, is it, learning to be silly in front of a bunch of other people. I’ll just end up feeling stupid.”

“Look, Mrs. Shakespeare…”

“Did she make up that name?” Faye interrupted him. “Or did she decide to go into theater to take advantage of it.”

Wil shrugged. “Does it matter? She’s really cool. Are you afraid you won’t get an A?” Wil asked.

“Hmph, as if.” Faye scooped up her scheduling paperwork. “I just don’t want to waste my time on frivolous stuff like ‘Intro to Improv.’ I’m surprised the school even puts it on the schedule.”

Wil leaned back in his chair. “So you are afraid of not getting an A. Man, wouldn’t that just ruin your report card?”

Faye stormed off toward her bedroom, unwilling to let Wil see the tears in her eyes that his truth-telling had prompted. She slammed the door behind her, and wedged a chair under the knob to keep him out.

Wil tilted his head so he could watch the minute hand spin around the kitchen clock, counting one, two, three. Then he stood up, and quietly padded down the hall until he stood outside Faye’s door. He’d expected to get a rise out her. Otherwise his teasing would have been a waste of time. But her vehement reaction troubled him a little.

He remembered how anxious he’d been in his first Improv class, how he avoided looking at anyone else as they settled on their circled mats in the gym. But his nerves disappeared as soon as Mrs. Shakespeare asked her first question: “Okay, how many of you are cringing inside because you don’t want to make fools of yourselves in front of one another?”

Heads snapped up, and then a few hesitant hands rose in the air.

“Okay. How many of you have known one another for more than a year?”

Lots more hands went up. In fact, Brian Lambert’s hand was the only not raised because he was the newest kid in school at that moment in time.

“So of all you sitting in this circle, the only one who should be nervous is Brian because he hasn’t known any of you for very long.” Beverly then pointed at Wil and Brian. “I see you two walking together in the hallways quite a bit. Would it be correct to say you’re friends?”

The two boys nodded. “Yeah. Totally.”

Beverly looked around, and then said: “Here’s the thing that’s really bothering you—the word no. You all walked in here just like every other class that’s ever walked in here carrying the word no in your heads. No I can’t do this. No I don’t want to look like a fool. No, no, no, no.”

She indicated that she wanted Brian and Wil to stand. “The key to improv is in these simple words—yes and then what. Let me demonstrate.”

She held her hands up, palms facing each other about nine inches apart, and cupped them. “I am holding a basketball.”

Then she moved her hands in and out a couple of times. “Hmm, seems to be soft. What do you think Brian?”

She handed him her “basketball” and Brian took it, moving his hands in and out. “Yeah, I think it could use some air.” He stopped moving, and looked at Mrs. Shakespeare. “Now what?”

She grinned. “You’ve got a basketball that needs air. I know you’re on the school’s team so what do you do with a deflated ball?”

Brian shrugged a little but then turned to Wil. “Hey man, can you hold this while I go get the air pump?”

Wil took the ball, saying “okay” in two long, doubt-filled syllables as he looked at the teacher for clues about what to do next.

She grinned, and said: “Yes and then what?”

With a twist of his face, Wil pushed his hands together as he held the “ball” up to his ear. “I think it’s got a leak.”

Brian leaned in close to listen, and Mrs. Shakespeare let her eyes slide quickly around the room to note that all of her students were now attentive, waiting to see what would happen next.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Brian said. “Who’s got the keys to the supply locker so we can get another one?”

A girl named Patty stood up at the back of the class. “I do but let’s see if we can fix this one first. Anyone got a patch kit?”

Wil grinned as he stood outside his sister’s door as he remembered that first class, and how much they had laughed as they tried to fix the deflated “basketball,” creating more and more ludicrous scenarios. He didn’t want Faye to miss it. She could be so rigid sometimes, and he didn’t want her to pass up the chance to learn “the power of yes,” as Mrs. Shakespeare called it.

He knocked softly. “Hey Faye, why don’t you give it a try even if it’s to prove me wrong. If it doesn’t work out, you can drop it and take some other class. They’re always looking for people to fill the seats in physics.”

Wood Warms You…Once?

SH-autumnal windYou 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This week, there’s no escaping the change from summer to fall. Folks are getting ready.

Enjoy!

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Edie Wolfe’s cocker spaniel, Nearly, was the first to sense the change. He was particularly well-placed to do so from his perch at the top of the steps on his human’s back porch.

As he stretched out on his favored side, he began his morning survey in his characteristically casual fashion, moving his gaze slowly from right to left. The chipmunks, wise to the spaniel’s ways, made sure to keep their seed gathering out of his sight behind the wood pile. Otherwise, they’d have to play tag with the dog all morning, and never get anything done.

Now dogs, being built much closer to the ground than their humans and having nothing like books or meetings or exercise classes to distract them, are particularly in tune with the details of life, stuff that the rest of us never notice. Nearly was an especially attentive canine so he noticed the sun and its location vis a vis his preferred spot on the back porch.

For weeks, the sun had been his constant companion during this ritual, warming the mat where he liked to lay, and seeping down through his fur to the skin beneath. At this time of the morning, even when the weather promised to be too hot by noon, the sun was welcomed as an old friend.

But today, instead of lighting up Nearly’s space, the sun angled up the steps at a sharper degree, and the dog had to readjust his position to accommodate it. He sighed with resignation mixed with hopefulness because winter meant evenings by the wood stove sharing popcorn with his human.

Nearly loved popcorn.

Across town, Charlie Cooper was out in the garden with his partner, Agnes Findley, excavating the waist-high (and now bitter) last of the Romaine lettuces and exhausted beans from the soil. He could still smell the basil on his hands from yesterday’s marathon pesto-making session, and the thought of the pizzas to come made him smile as he wheeled over to the compost pile to make a deposit.

Agnes was grumbling, as she always did in the garden (she considered weeds one of nature’s offensive weapons like mosquitos and stinging nettle) as she tugged stray stalks of goldenrod out of her beds.

“I wish this stuff wasn’t quite so successful,” she told Charlie as she did every year. “I love its color and it doesn’t fall over like so many other tall plants. But if it goes to seed, it will take over, and I’ll never get it out of the garden.”

In the center of town at Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, Andy Cooper was checking in the morning’s produce deliveries when Lee Tennyson’s largest dump truck arrived, its tires a lot less than round because of the load of firewood he was hauling. Andy sighed, and shook his head.

“It can’t be that time again already,” he called.

“I know, I know,” Lee said as he pulled on his work gloves. “Is the bulkhead locked from the inside?”

“Nope, I felt the wind change yesterday afternoon, and figured you’d show up today so I unlocked it earlier. Just give me a minute to finish up here, and I’ll give you a hand with the slide,” he said.

The conventional philosophy about heating with wood—that it warms you twice—is not commonly accepted among folks who actually heat with wood, especially not by Andy Cooper. By his calculations, wood has at least six opportunities to warm you on its way from tree to furnace.

1. Cutting the felled trees into log lengths.

2. Splitting the lengths into firewood.

3. Stacking the logs to dry for at least a year.

4. Moving the dried logs inside so they’re accessible during the winter.

5. Stacking those same logs so they don’t take up so much space.

6. Stoking the wood stove.

When he was a younger man, Andy was involved with all six steps, helping his father and brother fell trees then cut, split, and stack the beech, oak, ash, and maple they needed to get through a Vermont winter. Even now, when asked, he refused to calculate how many cords of wood he’d handled in his lifetime because the total was staggering.

And because of that early experience, Andy has spent some time figuring out how to pare his wood-warming list down from six to one.

He took care of the first three by paying Lee Tennyson for the cords of dry, cut and split wood needed to heat the Coop for the cold months of the year.

In the spirit of eliminating number four, Andy enlisted Lee’s help in constructing an oversized slide out of three-quarter inch plywood and 2 x 6 lumber. The result is so rugged, it easily bears the weight of Lee’s wood deliveries as they hurtle from his truck into the Coop’s basement.

Eliminating number five took a while to perfect but in the end, it was a remarkably easy change that has the extra-added bonus of serving two purposes simultaneously.

After Lee brings his wood delivery to the Coop, Andy hires a team of high schoolers expressly for the purpose of neatly stacking the logs in the store’s basement. Not only is this a boon to Andy’s back, it gives him the chance to audition potential new hires because, in his words, “some kids work and some kids don’t.”

Which now leaves Andy with only number six on the list of ways wood warms you—stoking the enormous wood furnace that heats the Coop and its customers.

“Sorry that I had to raise my price per cord this year,” Lee said as Andy handed him a check.

But the older man just grinned. When wood warms you only once, it’s well worth the price.

In the Mood

SH-still dancingYou 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, Coming Up for Air, will be out later this year.

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

Please share these with your friends, co-workers, and all the family members you like best. I understand they go great with morning coffee.

This story was inspired by the many wonderful outdoor concerts my husband and I enjoyed this summer throughout the Upper Valley, the area where we live. We hope your summer has been filled with music as well.

Enjoy!

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By the middle of August, the grass on Carding green showed the marks of many feet around the gazebo on its western end. Paula Bouton smiled at the town common’s trampled condition. It was, she believed, a testament to the best concert season the town had ever had.

“That was a job well done,” she told her assistant, Tim Yu. “I do believe you scheduled something for everyone.”

He grinned, pleased with praise from the town manager. “And there’s still one more to go.”

“Indeed,” Paula said as she finished off the last of her morning’s second cup of tea. “We’d better get ready for the onslaught.”

The Carding Summer Concert series has a very long history, as these things go. Its advent stretches back to the early 1980s when Ted Owens and Diana Bennett and Bruce Elliott decided that their band, the Belmont Street Irregulars, was good enough to perform publicly. Though originally planned as a one-of, it was such as success, the town decided to make it a tradition.

During that first summer, a high school band concert followed the Irregulars, and they, in turn, were followed by a jazzy swing combo. Then the Coop set up an ice cream wagon, lawn chairs appeared, and young families showed up with strollers, picnic suppers, and blankets.

As a general rule, the adult audience members stay in their seats during a concert, tapping their toes or nodding their heads in time to the music. The children, however, are an entirely different story.

Freed (mostly) from hovering parents, they take full advantage of the empty space in front of the stage and the gaps among blankets and chairs, running, twirling, and tumbling to their hearts’ content.

Young teenagers gather near the sycamores in the center of the green, all of them way too cool to dance. Instead, they eye one another, boys checking out girls, and girls aware of the male stares as each side speculates what the other is thinking. Further back, the older teens participate in elaborate-though-unrehearsed rituals that precede coupled retreats into the green’s darker corners.

As the years have passed, the air of the green has been filled with classic rock, reggae, celtic music, country bands, salsa, an annual appearance by a local pops band, different varieties of funk and folk, and once, to everyone’s great delight, a polka band that managed to get everyone on the green to dance.

Paula was especially excited about this concert. Ever since her engagement to Ted Owens, she’d tried to persuade his father, Robert, to break out of his assisted living apartment and come home for the music. She’d seen pictures in the town archives of Robert dancing on the green with Ted’s mother, Anna, and she’d found a big band to play the last Carding Concert.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, the older man finally agreed, and Paula wanted everything to be perfect. So to relieve her anxiety, she got in Tim’s way as he organized the food vendors who had become an intrinsic part of concert nights. He heaved an enormous, though inaudible, sigh of relief when Ted finally picked her up to get Robert.

If Robert had had any misgivings about the effort needed to return to his hometown, they disappeared as soon as his feet touched the green. So many friends and former neighbors stopped to greet him, it took Ted nearly forty-five minutes to guide his Dad to a seat close to the bandstand. Paula brought him dinner from one of the vendors, a plate of stir-fry with chicken and noodles. His granddaughter, Suzanna, proudly towed her best friends over to meet him, and Robert thought it all perfect.

When the musicians showed up, a murmur of anticipation rippled through the crowd, and Robert leaned forward in his seat. “Is that a big band?” he asked his son.

Ted nodded. “Yeah, Paula found this one special for you.”

Robert looked around the green, noting the number of gray heads mixed among the other colors. “It will be special for several others, I can guarantee that.”

When the music started, the band showed its versatility as it moved seamlessly from “Take the A Train” to “Stompin’ at the Savoy” to “Tuxedo Junction.” The kids swept through the crowd, squealing as they chased one another from one corner to the next. Some of the teenagers peeked out of the trees, their interest piqued. A couple of women started dancing with one another off to one side while the rest of the audience nodded and clapped.

At first, Robert swayed from side to side in his seat, a big grin stretched over his face, his feet keeping time. Ted reached over to take Paula’s hand.

“I think you have a real hit on your hands,” he said. Paula nodded. And then her eyes widened and she pointed over Ted’s shoulder.

“Look, look.”

Robert had risen to his full six-foot height, towering above his walker. He raised his hands above his head to clap. Then he began to sway his hips in time to the music.

At first, no one else followed his example even though you could hear folks saying “Look, look” all over the green.

And as they watched, Robert held his hand out to Paula. “I can’t swing the way I used to when I danced with Anna but I can’t sit still when this music is playing,” he said. “I think I can take a few steps. What do you think?”

“I think you’re wonderful,” Paula said as she matched his small, uncertain steps. His grin widened. And then, as the first bars of Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood” drifted through the summer air, a waxing moon pierced the edge of the mountains, and the people of Carding danced.