Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

The Home and Garden Tour (Part One)

SH-pink peonyEvery year, the Carding Garden Club organizes a weekend-long “Home and Garden” tour as a fundraiser for its work beautifying the town. Most of the time, this event generates friendly competition as well as collaboration among Carding’s dirt diggers.

But this year, there’s a new gardener in town who believes that winning is everything.

This three-part favorite Carding Chronicle was first published in 2017.

Hope you enjoy the competition.


The Carding Garden Club is pleased to invite every gardener in town to participate in their annual “Home and Garden Tour” the weekend after the 4th of July.

Back in March, the little green postcards bearing these words brightened up mailboxes and community bulletin boards all over Carding. At the time, seed packets were just starting to appear on racks in Cooper’s General Store, and Lee Tennyson had barely accepted delivery of the compressed peat flats in which he would start everything from lobelia to geraniums, begonias, pansies, petunias, coleus and back again for his greenhouses.

In other words, July seems like a long way away when there’s snow on the ground.

By April, conversations around the coffee mugs in the Crow Town Bakery had turned from the right way to sand a driveway to hopes for a good growing season. You know the drill—not too hot for too many days, not too much rain either, every weather condition in moderation, and no frost after Memorial Day though it would be better for everybody if frost never appeared again after May 1.

Gardeners began to potter out to their garden sheds to assess the tool situation, sharpen their clippers, fit that new handle into the square-ended shovel, and check the hoses for splits and cracks.

Then Andy Cooper put out his first bags of compost on May 3 and suddenly, every gardener in town felt the pressure to weed even though the ground was still cold and very wet.

You have the full range of gardeners in Carding. There’s folks such as Edie Wolfe who inherited her mother’s mature gardens along with her family home. In other words, her peonies are older than she is.

That makes Edie a “maintainer,” separating and replanting the iris on a regular schedule, controlling the day lily hedge along the road, and tucking in marigolds to replace the narcissus after they’ve spent their flowering energy early in spring.

Edie’s best friends, Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley, are like “two paths that diverged in a wood” when it comes to gardening. Agnes is very precise. Her autumn joys never droop. Her bronze hens and chicks rigidly maintain their heart shape within a greater field of green succulents by the same name. Her escargot begonia’s leaves always swirl perfectly in their aubergine pot by her shaded front door.

They wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

Ruth, on the other hand, likes to take her gardening cues directly from nature which seems to do just fine without a lot of human interference, thank you very much. She does manage to put taller plants in the back of her gardens and yank the grass back from the worst of its intrusions.

But otherwise, her red bee balm runs riot with the buttery yellow of the evening primroses and her lime green spirea with its strawberry-ice-cream-colored flowers is taller than anyone has ever seen that plant grow before because, Ruth says, “it would inflict too much pain to prune it. Besides, I like it that way.”

I have to confess that Ruth’s gardening style drives Agnes crazy, and she’s often threatened to show up and weed in the middle of the night.

But she doesn’t.

The three friends used to maintain a mild competitive spirit among them during the Home and Garden Tour. Edie would win one year, Agnes the next, and much to everyone’s surprise, Ruth would take the trophy once in a while.

But now they demur from competition. Instead they use the frail and fleeting time from the arrival of compost bags at Cooper’s to the garden show as a spur to get their grounds into shape so they can enjoy the rest of the summer at their leisure.

But the same cannot be said of Carding newcomer, G.G. Dieppe. Mrs. Dieppe, as she likes to be called, does not hold with this non-competitive concept. The idea is to win.

And even though she’s never gardened before, how hard can it be to buy better plants than anyone else and hire someone to put them in the ground?

“All it takes is money,” she told Andy Cooper. Of course he alerted Edie, Agnes and Ruth right away.

And the chase for the Carding Gardening Club trophy was on.


I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe.

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

Do a bit of good in the world today.

The Gardening Two-Step

The Carding Gardening Club doesn’t have a lot of members—maybe two dozen in all—but they are a mighty bunch.

Every year, these diligent dirt diggers add color to a large number of planter boxes and hanging pots all over town, from the Community Building to the town green and along the town’s main street, Meetinghouse Road.

While no one is paid for her time, there is the matter of supplies and plants. So every July, the Garden Club hosts a weekend-long home and garden tour to raise money for their endeavors. Participants make sure their flowers and shrubs are pristine and the spaces they make available for public viewing are scrubbed.

To make it more interesting, there’s also a friendly competition for “Best in Show,” complete with a panel of judges.

The local gardeners really get into the spirit of the occasion but there’s always been more collaboration than competition among them.

Until this year.

Tomorrow is the first of a three-part Chronicle that’s become something of a fan favorite. And for those of you new to the Carding Chronicles, welcome to summer in the little town that no one can find on a map.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s story.

SH-pink peony

Old Friend of the Family

SH-strawberry heartI know there are folks who have already picked their seasonal strawberries but up here in Vermont, the picking season is just getting underway.

This time of year is laden with childhood memories for me. When my grandfather (Gus Hakala) retired, he tilled up approximately five acres of field to plant berries and vegetable to sell in a roadside stand.

Of all the people in my extended family, I consider him my greatest teacher. He worked hard, treated his customers well, made sure that everything he sold was of the highest quality, and was fair to everyone.

He was rather quiet, unassuming, practical, the epitome of a man who lived his beliefs instead of talking about them.

The first cash crop of the year was strawberries, and this was before the idea of pick-your-own was fashionable. So all the family members pitched in to help out.

To this day, when I pluck that first sweet berry and pop it in my mouth, I do it in memory of him.

In Carding, it’s the Tennyson family who raises strawberries for local picking and today is opening day.

I hope you enjoy this Carding Chronicle.


The sun was still thinking about getting up when Christine Tennyson padded into the big barn in her rubber boots. She loved the solitude of early morning, the time of day that’s so full of peace and promise.

She knew the animals were aware of her presence—the hens dozing in their coop, the goats stirring in their hay beds, the cats patrolling for mice among the rafters—but they made no demands on her. Later, when the sun got a bit higher, their infamous goat, Houdini, would rouse his harem of nannies and their kids, and demand that someone open the barnyard gate so he could take them up to his favorite summertime pasture. Then, after a late breakfast, the flock would retire to the shady spots at the edge of the field to wait out the heat of the afternoon before descending to sleep in the barn again.

Christine was glad the “Alpha Billy,” as she liked to call the obstreperous goat, had decided to keep his ladies and their children in the barn at night. She guessed that her husband, Lee, wasn’t the only one who’d heard the coyotes up in the woods.

Still clutching her large cup of honeyed tea, she climbed the open steps to the loft where they stored the farm’s sales paraphernalia—signs, cash boxes, wooden tables, event tents, canvas aprons, and the like. The whole family—Christine, Lee, and their two boys, Scott and Little Freddie—had spent all of yesterday dragging out the “You-Pick Strawberries” sign to the large field, setting up tables under their event tent, and stacking white cardboard flats.

Being five months pregnant—Christine was sure it was a little girl this time—she paused at the top of the stairs to catch her breath and let her eyes adjust to the dusky light that filtered through the chinks in the walls. She felt a little bad that she hadn’t remembered the scarecrow until this morning, and even though the idea was a bit silly, she hoped that Roy’s feelings weren’t hurt.

He was named Roy for Roy Rogers because that’s how old the scarecrow was. His first cowboy hat was long gone, and Christine had finally replaced his flannel shirt last year. But the stuffed blue jeans were original, the final resting place for a pair worn by Lee’s Uncle Cedric from when he was a teenager.

Toeing her way toward the old trunk against the back wall, Christine heard a purr, and the boss cat, Big Yeller, jumped up on an old chair to ask for a back scratch. She was happy to comply, scooping the cat up to hold him against her chest. There was nothing quite like the sensation of a deep purr, and the tabby was happy to comply with Christine’s silent request.

She felt her baby roll over, obviously intrigued by the sensation, and the three of them took a moment to enjoy the pleasure together. Then the cat squirmed—he’d had enough—and Christine reached him down to the floor.

“Okay,” she whispered to the growing light, “let’s see how Roy fared over the winter.”

The trunk’s lid creaked as she pulled it up, raising a cloud of dust. She let it settle, and then hooked her hands under the scarecrow’s  arms. Roy’s head bobbled—he needed more stuffing—but his embroidered smile was intact. Christine carefully prodded its large black-button eyes to make sure they were secure, and one popped off in her hand.

“Well, if that’s the only thing you need, that’s not bad,” she told Roy.

“Chris, are you in here?” It was Lee, standing in the open barn door.

“Upstairs.”

His boots clattered across the floor, and then the face she loved more than any other popped up in the stairway’s opening. “What in the world are you…? Oh, Roy. Of course.”

“Can’t start the picking season without him,” Christine said as she handed the scarecrow off to her husband.

“Hmph, yeah, the birds would have to find another perch,” Lee said.

“Hey, hey, don’t say that,” Chris said. “You and I both know that’s not his job.” Her hand reached out to find the railing before she set foot on the steps. They were worn and irregular, and she knew Lee was watching to make sure she didn’t fall.

When they reached the barnyard, Lee stopped to take a close look at the aged scarecrow. “You have to admit that us Tennysons have some strange family heirlooms,” he said. “Hey, one of his eyes is missing.”

“In my pocket,” Christine said. “Why don’t you put him in the truck while I get a needle and thread?”

Lee smiled at her then hoisted the bobble-headed Roy over his shoulder. Christine turned toward the house but then her head whipped around. It must have been a trick of the light but she swore that the scarecrow had winked at her.

She knew all about the Tennyson family’s myths and legends, about magical Christmas trees and the like. There was something about the old family farm that just seemed to inspire tales of the bewitching sort. But a winking scarecrow? Seriously?

But then one of Roy’s arms rose higher than the other, and he waved at her. There was no denying it. Christine felt a pleasant chill slither over her shoulders, and she glanced around expecting…what?

Houdini bleated in the distance, and she heard the mutter of hens rising from their evening roosts. Christine drew in a rather large amount of the cool morning air, and laughed at herself.

“Okay Roy,” she said as she fingered the button in her pocket. “We’re going to keep this one strictly between ourselves, okay?”


I’m so glad you’ve stopped by to enjoy this Carding Chronicle . Please share it with your friends and be sure to subscribe to my website so that you won’t miss the next story.

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

Do a bit of good in the world today.

Sweet Heart

Strawberry picking season has just started here in Vermont. Over in Carding, the Tennysons are the ones that raise the red treats for picking, and everyone watches to see when the “Open” sign shows up on the side of the road.

This morning, Christine Tennyson woke up and realized she had forgotten all about the family scarecrow named Roy Rogers. His presence is a tradition at the roadside stand so it’s off to the barn to fetch him.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle.

Enjoy!

SH-strawberry heart

Tom’s Lawn

SH-JoePye weedHi folks,

I am neck-deep in the publishing process for the fourth Carding novel, Lights in Water, Dancing so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a couple of my favorite Chronicles.

I know that you gardeners among the group will appreciate the memories stirred up by Lydie Talbot’s time with a trowel. And for those of you who don’t garden, please feel free to indulge in the time-honored tradition of appreciative watching.

Enjoy!

—————————————–

Lydie Talbot glared at the dry-as-a-bone sky as she finished her morning cup of tea. Dry, dry, dry, dry—she couldn’t remember such a dry summer.

Like every other gardener in Carding, she yearned to hear the drip-drip-drip of rain from her roof. Everyone felt the unnaturalness of it. Even the kids racing around on the beach at Half Moon Lake were unsettled by the summer’s aridity.

Lydie leaned forward to rest her elbows on her porch railing, and inspected the browning patches in the lawn that her late husband Tom laid down so long ago. Lydie respected grass, that master of persistence, but she couldn’t abide lawns, and she’d tussled with Tom over the sod he wanted to put in front of their house.

“What sense does it make to grow something just so you can cut so it can grow again?” she’d asked.

While her Tom had been many things—kind and funny and handy—her man was not a gardener, and try as he might, he never understood his wife’s objection to his vision of a green expanse. “What’s the sense of planting gardens. Seems to me that all you do is weed them and worry over them and tend them just so you can cut them back in the fall so they can grow again?” he’d asked her in return.

The truth of the matter was, Lydie finally realized, that Tom wanted to buy a lawn tractor from his friend Elmore Tennyson, and he knew he couldn’t justify it unless they had a lawn. So after a lot of backing-and-forthing, they’d finally compromised on a his-and-hers package—Tom got a lawn to mow in front of their cottage on Beach Road while Lydie reigned in the backyard over squash, six colors of iris, tomatoes, bee balm, daffodils, beans, and anything else she could coax from the soil.

After Tom died, Lydie treated his lawn as some sort of shrine to her beloved, and even learned how to drive it so she could keep the greenery just the way Tom liked it. But after half a decade of mowing, Lydie started chipping away at the edges of Tom’s lawn, planting garden phlox close to the house, and orange day lilies by the road.

But the mix of intentional grass and flower beds wasn’t working for her any more. Lydie’s hands and hips just weren’t what they used to be, and she found her gardening forays shortened by joints plagued by arthritis. She now resented the perpetual stooping and squatting and kneeling made necessary by the grass’s insistence on growing where it was not wanted.

So after she finished her gardening chores in the fall, Lydie took stock of her options, and decided that come spring, the grass had to go.

As her daughters Hillary and Amy pointed out, it was always what she’d  wanted to do anyway.

The Big Green Removal Project, as her kids dubbed it, started with stockpiling newspapers in her garage over the winter, Then in early spring, Lydie took delivery of 75 bales of hay from Lee Tennyson, stacking them “just-so” along the edge of her driveway where they formed a shoulder-height wall. As soon as predictions of snow or freezing rain disappeared from the weather forecast on Dirt Road Radio, Lydie slipped into her favorite gardening boots, and started killing grass.

“It’s educational, in a way,” she’d explained to her friend Edie Wolfe. “I keep finding stuff that I never read in the newspapers as I lay them out. Or stuff I meant to cut out but never did.”

Edie Wolfe smiled. She’d always enjoyed Lydie’s perspective on life. “Doesn’t all that reading slow you down?”

Lydie nodded. “Yeah. But I’ve discovered the news loses a lot of its sting when you read it after it’s happened. I think the lapse of time gives you perspective on what’s important and what’s not. I still think the comics and the crossword puzzle are the best parts.”

But Lydie’s plans had been made before the rain goddess decided to withhold her gift of water from the Vermont soil, and her method of killing grass—covering it with a four-ply layer of newspaper over which she piled a thick layer of hay—needed water to achieve its maximum effect. Without rain, she was just creating a dust bowl.

Hence her hesitation.

She sighed, and opted to hold off on her second cup of tea until later. Grabbing her clippers, she marched to the furthest reaches of Tom’s lawn to a small peninsula under a stand of boxelders next to the brook that marked the western edge of her property.

The seasonal streamlet had long since shrunk to a wet ribbon but thanks to the dense shade of the trees, the peninsula had an entirely different ecosystem than the greater lawn. In spring, jacks-in-the-pulpit pushed their hooded heads up among the dead leaves along with painted trilliums and coltsfoot.

Lydie began to clip around the trees, dropping unwanted grass into a bucket by her side. She inched along, taking close note of the number of earthworms that silently glided out of the ground, and occasionally swatting at a gnat determined to land on her nose. She smoothed her hand over a thick patch of moss, and acknowledged the “chip-chip-chip” of a brown creeper that thought Lydie was too close to its nest.

The sun rose higher, and the small air current that had cooled her face stopped. Lydie rocked back on her heels then leaned forward to clip just a little more.

Finally, Lydie stopped at the edge of her disappearing lawn to spend time admiring the dusky pink of the Joe Pye weed that she’d nurtured in the wettest places on the edge of Tom’s lawn for so many years. She had a great admiration for plants that other gardeners called weeds, their tenacity in the face of human ignorance. In her opinion, there was far more to learn from weeds than the most delicate rose.

She eased herself down on a large stump left behind by an ash, and turned to look at her progress. By her back-of-the-envelope thinking, Lydie was about halfway to her goal of total lawn elimination. Even though she’d never voice it, she often wondered if she was being disloyal to her husband by taking away his beloved grass.

Sniffing loudly, she stared up at the hard, dry sky. “I hope you understand,” she whispered, “because I don’t.” Then she blinked, shook her head, and then blinked again, forcing herself to breathe slowly in and out, in and out. Over time, her grief had softened into a persistent ache which Lydie figured was better than the take-your-breath-away pain of the first year.

But it never went away. And neither, she realized, did Tom.

Off in the distance, a chipmunk chattered, a pair of robins swooped over the hay wall, and the earth turned one more notch on his trip around the sun.

****************

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, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe 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 would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

LiWD cover March 2018

High-heeled Sneakers

SH-high-heeled sneakersIt’s prom time in Carding, Vermont, a time of great stress as well as excitement.

In the Bennett household, there’s a bit of tension between Wil, who’s a junior, and his younger sister Faye.

Faye has a date (with Wil’s best friend) while Wil doesn’t.

Faye often turns to her Uncle Dan to discuss situations like this, and they’re having an email conversation at the moment. Let’s listen in, shall we?

Enjoy!

——————————————

Hey Uncle Dan,

When you were growing up with Mom, did you drive her crazy? Did you ever make her want to tie you up with duct tape?

Because I’m sitting here in my room with two rolls of tape just waiting for Wil to go to sleep so I can tape him to his bed and I want to know if Mom will remember how you used to drive her nuts so that when I do this, I stand a decent chance of getting away with it.

It’s all because of this prom thing. I’m a sophomore so I figured I’d be able to escape the prom thing for one more year. But Wil’s best friend, Brian, has asked me to go to the junior prom with him.

I really like Brian and he was so nervous about asking me to go to the prom but when he finally did, it was sweet so I said yes even though I think I’ll look dumb in a ball gown and I’ve always refused to think about wearing high heels because they’re nothing but foot binding with another name.

(Whew, I really ran on with that sentence, didn’t I?)

I thought Brian would tell Wil about asking me. I also figured that Wil wouldn’t tease me too much because Brian and he are such good friends.

Wrong on both counts. Brian didn’t say a word, and the way Wil found out was hearing me ask Mom about finding a dress and shoes that won’t make me feel like a total doofus. Just as he walked in, I was joking with Mom about wearing high-heeled sneakers. Honestly, I didn’t know there was such a thing but Wil immediately went online to find all sorts of images for them and every five minutes—I swear this is true—he sends another one to my phone.

If he doesn’t quit, I’m just going to tell Brian I changed my mind.

Get back to me as soon as you can on whether you teased Mom or not when you were in high school and if you did, how did she get back at you.

Thanks—Faye

**

Hey Faye,

Have I ever been a pain in your Mom’s backside? Nah. Never. I was an angel when I was a teenager.

But seriously, Wil and I talk from time to time like you and I do and I know he’s having a real problem with the idea of leaving Carding for college. So that’s causing a lot of anxiety on his part.

I also think it’s something of a shock to find out that his “little” sister is getting attention from his best friend.

But to the matter at hand, getting Wil to grow up a little. You didn’t tell me if he is going to the prom or not? Has he asked someone? I wonder if his reaction to your invitation is that he either can’t get up the guts to invite someone (which is awful but at least it’s a private awful) or has asked and been turned down (much worse than not asking at all).

When I was Wil’s age, I got stuck in the first camp, being too shy to ask this really pretty girl, Barbara Morrison, to go with me. She was very popular, and eventually went with our class president while I hemmed and hawed not asking anyone.

But then the week before the dance, this girl named Marcia Weiss asked me to go with her.

We’d been friends forever, always in the same homeroom, and we agreed just to go and have a good time without making a big deal out of it.

And you know what? I think we had a better time than anyone, danced all night, went to a party afterward, and even kissed goodnight, just for “practice.”

I know that that story doesn’t help (though I am smiling about Marcia—I wonder where she is now). But I would ask around to see if Wil’s asked anyone. I know he comes across as a savvy guy but you girls are a terrifying lot. If he’s being shy, maybe you could help…in a loving, kind, sisterly way.

If that’s not the problem, then go ahead and duct tape his thumbs together while he’s asleep, and tell your Mom it was my idea.

Just a thought.

Love—Uncle Dan

***

Hey Uncle Dan,

I checked with anyone that Wil might have asked and as far as I can tell, he’s doing the “shy guy” thing like you suspected.

I know he really likes my friend Suzanna, and I have the feeling she thought he was going to ask her and she’s kinda hurt that he hasn’t. Do you think I should encourage Wil to do that? Dad was noticing last night that Wil’s in one of his bossy moods which usually means something’s going on that he’s not talking about.

Gawd, why is this stuff so hard?

Love—Faye

***

Hey Faye,

Not sure you’d be the best person to get Wil off the mark. You’re the little sister and you’ve got a date so that might not work the way you hope.

Do you think Brian would speak up, maybe suggest that the four of you go together? That might take some of the pressure off of Wil.

And this stuff is hard because you’re learning and because we all want to be liked and asking someone to a prom is a bit of a big deal.

Love—Uncle Dan

***

Hey Uncle Dan,

There’s been a breakthrough!!! Brian talked to Wil in kinda general terms about the prom, about taking me and so on, and Wil owned up that he’s working on asking Suzanna. But I’m worried he’s going to wait too long so I’ve asked Suzanna over for supper and homework tonight. Brian’s coming too.

If this doesn’t work, I am going to tape Wil’s thumbs together. Do you know he’s sent me almost fifty pictures of high-heeled sneakers?

The problem is, some of them are kinda cute and I feel a shopping urge coming on! Now what do I do?

Love—Faye

***

Hey Faye,

I’m drawing the line at shoe advice. I just can’t go there.

But let me know what happens with Wil.

Uncle Dan

***

Dear Uncle Dan,

Wil finally asked Suzanna last night when Brian and I were out of the room. We’re all going together. And I just ordered a cool pair of boots with just a small heel. Brian’s six-foot-one and Wil pointed out that I would look like a midget if I wore flats.

Thanks as always for listening. I am so lucky to have such a cool uncle. And maybe you should look into that Marcia while you’re at it.

Love ya—Faye


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, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe 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 would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.

LiWD cover 5