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The Spirit of Aisle Two: A Carding Chronicle

SH-spirit of aisle 2Years ago, when I was a magazine editor, I wanted a local ghost story for our fall issue. Well, in New England, ghosts (or at least stories about them) are rather plentiful.

It must be the long winters that make time for storytelling, eh?

Anyway, the nearby Norwich Inn had just the right story. It was about one of the inn’s former owners, a woman who appeared on the stairs or whispered around corners from time to time.

Now Norwich is just over the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College and during Prohibition, this woman hit on a money-making idea—making beer and applejack for the (then) men of Dartmouth.

I wonder if she haunts the brewery that’s still part of the Inn. (They make a great red ale, by the way.)

This Carding Chronicle was inspired by the Norwich Inn tale. Hope you enjoy.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.


If you live in Carding, Vermont, sooner or later you’ll walk through the front door of Cooper’s General store. This venerable family-owned business dominates the corner of Meetinghouse Road and Court Street on the southeast corner of the village green. It shares a parking lot with the town hall, a parking lot that’s locally renowned for its frost heaves in March, its potholes in April, and its pond-sized puddles whenever it rains too hard.

Successive generations of the Cooper family have tried to fix these problems by alternately building up the surface of the lot, amplifying its drainage or cramming copious amounts of cold patch into its potholes. Despite all these efforts, the Coop’s parking lot always settles back into its original condition like a corpulent dowager who’s glad to let her diet lapse after the urgency of her New Year’s resolutions has passed.

The only person in town who welcomed this perpetual insistence on parking lot normalcy was the owner of the local auto repair shop—Stan of Stan’s Garage on Route 37. When the weather conditions are just right, Stan spends a lot of time fixing tires and rims, leading one local wag to speculate that the garage owner prayed regularly to the god of potholes.

Andy Cooper runs the family business now, the seventh Cooper to do so. His younger brother, Charlie the lawyer, lends a hand and advice when asked but otherwise steers clear of “stacking beans and carrots.” Their younger sister, Nancy, keeps the books, pays the bills, and manages the avalanche of paperwork that flows through the office. That leaves Andy free to tend to his favorite parts of the store—the beer and wine section, the deli, and the coffee corner. He likes to refer to these areas of the store as “the soul of the Coop” but his family knows that Andy just loves to talk more than anything so tending to these parts of the store keeps him out of their way.

Cooper family tradition dictates that the spacious living quarters above the store go to whoever takes on managing it. When Andy finally married Yvette Clavelle, they became the head household among the Coopers. The upstairs apartment was ready for them as soon as they returned from their honeymoon on the Maine coast. Sons Barry and Nathan were born there, Yvette died there, and Andy would have vacated the space long ago but there was no one ready to take his place. Nathan and his wife Tracy own a house in the next town over from Carding and didn’t want to move. And Barry had never loved any woman as much as he loved downhill skiing in winter and boating in summer. So Andy stayed put though he found living above the store lonely at times.

It took a while but Andy eventually established a routine that kept him out most evenings. There was the Chess Club at the library on Tuesdays, dinner with Charlie and his partner Agnes on Wednesdays, supper and cribbage with Edie Wolfe on Thursdays. It helped ease his missing-Yvette feelings.

On the night of this story, a rather chilly Thursday night in late autumn, Andy walked quickly across the green from Edie’s house to the store, his normal pace accelerated by a desire to get out of the icy wind. Since the residents of Carding are renowned for their frugality when it comes to spending their local property taxes, only half of the streetlights were on, casting a pale, fluorescent glow over the evening.

As always, Andy’s eyes scanned the store’s exterior, checking for irregularities—lights left on, open doors or windows, cars in the parking lot that didn’t belong there. That’s when he spotted Evan Eakins, Carding’s night patrol officer.

“I was about to go get you,” Evan said as he lowered his car window.

Andy laid a hand on the car’s roof as he leaned in for a chat. He liked Evan, had given the boy-now-man his first job when he was in high school. “Something wrong?” he said.

“We got a call that there was a light moving around in the store,” Evan said.

“Like a flashlight?” Andy asked, glancing toward the large front windows of the Coop.

Evan shook his head. “The description was that something was glowing inside. Could be electrical.” He put the cruiser into park and turned it off. “Let’s go look.”

Andy picked up his pace even more, pulling a large ring of keys from his pocket as he did so. Thievery was so rare at the Coop, he needed only one hand to count the incidents that had happened in his lifetime. To him, the threat of leaving a coffeemaker on and unattended was far more real than a burglary. Since the original part of the store was more than 200 years old, there was a lot of dry wood to burn.

Andy and Evan stood in the doorway for a minute before stepping inside, each of them sniffing the air like a dog on the hunt. Evan shook his head. “I don’t smell anything. Do you?”

“No.” Andy flipped on the overhead lights. “I’ll check the deli if you’ll check the coffeemaker.”

Together, the two men toured the store, checking every electrical device to make sure it was unplugged and cold. Even though his employees grumbled, Andy insisted that every electrical device be unplugged at closing. “No sense taking any chances,” he’d say.
“Everything seems fine up here,” Evan said. “Shall we check the furnace?”

“Might as well,” Andy said. “I have to stock it for the night anyway.”

Andy had always been slow to make changes in the store or his life. He was one of the last people in Carding to get a cell phone, and it took his sons years to convince him that scanners at the cash registers and credit card readers were a good idea. He modernized the refrigeration system when Nancy proved he could save money on electricity, and even installed a new grill in the deli for the same reason. But he refused to convert the Coop’s heating system from its wood-burning furnace.

“I like buying my fuel locally,” he’d say. “I like keeping the loggers in business. They buy my groceries and I buy their wood. Keeps it simple.”

Evan took a deep breath as they descended the stairs. His first job at the Coop had been stacking the wood for the coming winter, and he still loved the scent of split logs. There was always a crew of three assigned to that task, and its repetitive nature guaranteed a lot of storytelling to pass the time. His favorite tales were of the local ghosts, of which Carding had an abundance.

Andy flicked on the hodgepodge of overhead lights, some fluorescent, some near descendants of the ones that Thomas Edison invented (or stole the idea for). Somehow, their combined illumination never reached all the corners of the cavernous space. As the electricity zipped through the wiring to wake up the bulbs, the ones in the center of the space began to flicker.

“Ah, there’s your intruder,” Evan started to say. “Or it would have been your intruder if these lights had been on.”

The two men looked at one another, and then Andy quietly picked up a nearby log while Evan pulled a baton from his belt. With a nod to one another, they stepped forward on little cat feet, Andy scanning the woodpile to his left while Evan did the same to the right. The shadowy spots among the stacked wood kept them tense—watchful—but they reached the opposite wall without incident and breathed sighs of relief.

“Mystery unsolved,” Evan said as they turned back the way they had come.

Then the two of them froze in place, and Andy felt the short hairs on the back of his neck prickle as an amorphous green light quivered through the basement.

“Did you see that?” he asked the younger man.

“Yeah,” Evan said. “Reminds me of the northern lights my wife and I saw when we were in Alaska. What do you suppose that was?”

Andy shook his head slowly from side to side then he said, “Something’s been moved down here.”

They probed the nooks and crannies with their flashlight beams again until they converged near the wood-burning furnace. Three barrels and a couple of bushel baskets lay in a haphazard pile. One barrel, the largest of the trio, was on its side.

“Apple Betty,” Evan breathed.

Andy’s glance was sharp. “Do you believe that old ghost story?” he asked.

“Sure. Don’t you?” Evan said. “Wasn’t she your aunt?”

“Great aunt, actually. Elizabeth Cooper. She made the best applejack in this county during Prohibition,” Andy said, and the pride in his voice was almost visible. “My father could tell some stories about her. In photographs, she looks so meek and mild but Dad said she was quite the wild woman for her times. Traveled all the way around the world on her own. Set up housekeeping in White River Junction with a man she never married.”

Evan laughed. “Scandalous. So why is she haunting the Coop?”

Andy’s mouth flattened. “Great Aunt Betty isn’t haunting the Coop, and I’d thank you not to spread that story around,” he said. “It would be bad for business, scaring away the timid and attracting the weird. I don’t need either of those things to happen here, understood?”

“Sure, sure,” Evan said. “There’s no law against protecting a ghost, as far as I know. I’ll leave you to figure this out on two conditions.”

“And they are?”

“First, you get an electrician into this place to fix some of that.” Evan pointed his flashlight toward the ceiling where a variety of wires snaked from one place to the other. “You’ve got some very old stuff up there, Andy.”

“Umm…,” Andy began.

“No umms,” Evan said. “If this light thing we saw isn’t Betty—and you don’t seem inclined to think it is—then you’ve got an electrical problem. And no one in town would thank me if the Coop burned down because of a problem that I knew about, and didn’t push you to fix. Am I right?”

Andy sighed. “Hoisted with my own petard,” he muttered. “OK, I agree. What’s your second condition?”

Evan’s grin grew wider. “Tell me why Betty would haunt here…,” he raised his hands to stop Andy’s protest, “instead of where she lived with that man-not-her-husband in White River?”

“Because she was living here when she died, I guess,” Andy said.

“If she was so independent, why did she move back to Carding?” Evan asked.

“For the oldest reason in the world—money.”

“So if you tell me the true story about Apple Betty, I’ll never tell anyone about the green light I just saw, okay?” Evan said.

Andy reached down to right the barrels and arrange the bushel baskets. “There’s a couple of chairs over there,” he pointed. “Drag them over and we’ll sit a minute. It’s not that long of a story.”

Once the two men settled, Andy sighed. “Cooper family legend has it that my great-grandfather—that would have been Betty’s father—was something of a religious nut, a strict Presbyterian or Methodist or Unitarian or some such.”

Evan laughed. “My wife was raised Unitarian, and they’re great liberals. It would be hard for me to believe there’s any such thing as a strict Unitarian.”

“Really?” Andy shrugged. “Well, maybe he was a Lutheran or a Baptist. I don’t know. There are so many flavors of religion, I can’t keep track.”

“What you’re saying is that the reason Betty was so wild was that her father had no sense of humor,” Evan said.

Andy laughed. “That sounds about right. Anyway, when Prohibition got started in the 1920s, Betty and her boyfriend…” Andy hesitated. “Gawd, what was his name? I only heard it spoken once.” He snapped his fingers. “I think it was Dalton. ”

“Well, given the times, it’s not surprising that your family wouldn’t talk about him,” Evan said.

“Yeah, I suppose. Anyway, Betty and Dalton saw Prohibition as a business opportunity, because we’re so close to the Canadian border,” Andy said.

“So they started bringing booze in from Canada,” Evan said. “I heard there was a lot of that.”

“It’s a long border,” Andy said, “so there was lots of opportunity. I gather they started doing it just for family and friends but the demand grew so they started making more trips.”

“Did someone twig to what they were doing?” Evan asked.

“Yeah. They always used to cross back into the states in Derby because the guards up there looked the other way,” Andy said.

“They were probably running booze themselves,” Evan said. “Hard times. Easy money.”

“Probably. So Betty and Dalton got used to driving across with nothing more than a wave, and maybe a well-placed bribe or two,” Andy said. “My grandfather—that was Betty’s brother—told me they used to pile cases of whiskey in their back seat and even tied it to the top of their car. But one year at town meeting in Derby, people voted in a new chief of police and he was a rigid teetotaler.”

“And Betty and Dalton got caught,” Evan said.

“Almost. According to family legend, Aunt Betty had something of a sixth sense. She wouldn’t necessarily know what was going to happen but she could feel things coming,” Andy said. “When I was a kid, I remember my parents both paying attention when she’d get uneasy.”

“So she knew something was wrong,” Evan said.

Andy nodded. “Once she got to thinking it over, Betty realized that none of the guards had looked directly at them when they crossed into Canada. She thought that was what made her uneasy.”

“So what happened?”

“The American border guards were so whipped up by the teetotaler police chief, they started shooting at Betty and Dalton before their car had crossed the line. Betty said the chief kept screaming ‘Shoot! Shoot!’” Andy shook his head. “Zealots. What good are they?”

“Shades of Bonnie and Clyde,” Evan said. “Were they hit?”

“They dove out of the car and ran while the Canadian guards yelled ‘Arret! Arret!’ at the American guards. The Americans shot up the car. Bullets zinged over Betty and Dalton’s heads. By all accounts, it was crazy,” Andy said.

“Did they head for the woods?” Evan asked.

“Yeah, and they’d almost made it when that police chief caught up with them,” Andy said. “He winged Betty in the shoulder.”

Evan leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “I had no idea. Then what?”

“Dalton lunged at the guy. Can you imagine lunging at a nut case who’s got a loaded gun and likes using it?” Andy said. “Betty had passed out so she never got to see it but I gather Dalton made hash out of that police chief. The Canadians just watched for a while before they stepped in. It made a big stink in the temperance newspapers down here when they threw that chief back across the border.”

“I’ll bet there was a stink,” Evan said. “That Dalton guy was gutsy.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. Betty and Dalton stayed in Canada for months after that. My grandfather drove his motorcycle up to see them a couple of times,” Andy said. “He owned an Indian. That’s the gas tank from it up there.” He pointed to a shelf nailed to the side of the stairs. “It was a fabulous bike. Somewhere around here, there’s a scrapbook that belonged to Betty where she pasted in articles that ran in the Montreal newspapers around that time. Seems that Dalton got to be something of a hero up there. By that time, the Canadians had had enough of America’s Prohibition because of the bootlegging over the border.”

“So when did Betty come back home?” Evan asked.

“I guess she and Dalton came to an understanding because she wanted to come back to Vermont and he wanted to stay in Canada,” Andy said. “Betty’s mother was very ill, and she wanted to nurse her.”

“Did she ever make peace with her father?” Evan asked.

“I don’t know if I’d put it quite like that,” Andy said. “The old cuss bought the Cooper family cabin down in the Campgrounds when it was still run by the religious people who started it. Then he moved there and nobody in the family saw him much. His wife, her name was Penny, died surrounded by family. Everyone adored her.”

“I’m guessing the great-grandfather died alone,” Evan said.

“Alone and unmourned, from what I’ve heard,” Andy said. “Do you know he’s the only Cooper not buried in the family plot. No one wanted to be next to him for eternity. Anyway, the ending of the story is this. When the Depression started in 1929, everyone was hurting in Carding. This store was struggling to survive so Betty set up an applejack-making enterprise down here in the basement. She’d learned how to make it when she was in Canada. I guess she had quite the reputation because Stanley Wilson, who got elected governor in 1932, ordered a keg of it to celebrate his win.”

“So everybody knew what was going on down here?” Evan asked.

“Well, you did if you knew where to look.” Andy aimed his flashlight’s beam at the ceiling. “See that?”

It took Evan a minute but he finally saw the outline of a trap door. “I’ve never noticed that before. Where does it come out upstairs?”

“You know that funny jog at the end of aisle two?” Andy said.

Evan laughed. “Where you stock the wine now?”

“Yeah. There used to be a half-wall there, like a curtain,” Andy said. “You could come into the Coop at certain times with your empty pail or growler, walk around the wall then down the steps that used to be here. Aunt Betty would be here to fill you up from one of these barrels.” He let a hand rest on the nearest cask.

“So that’s why they’re always here,” Evan said. “For Betty.”

Andy nodded. “She saved this store. You and I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for her. I think of it as her memorial. It’s the least I can do.”

“Do you think she got upset because it was all messed around, and that’s why…?”

“No, I’m sure that what you saw was electrical,” Andy said. “You’re right about it needing to be looked at. I’ll call an electrician in the morning.”

Evan’s radio squawked and he jumped up. “Oops, gotta go,” he said. “Glad nothing serious was wrong, Andy.”

“Can you see yourself out?” Andy asked. “I still need to put wood in the furnace.”

“Sure, sure.” Evan took the stairs two at a time.

Andy waited until all was quiet then he made his way to the wood-burning furnace. He hummed what he remembered of the Canadian national anthem as he stacked logs on the pile of pulsating coals then shut the door. He waited until he heard the muted roar of flame that let him know the fire had caught then adjusted the controls.

When he got to the shelf attached to the stairs, he reached behind the gas tank from his grandfather’s Indian motorcycle, and fished around until he found a cloth bag that held a bottle and shot glass. He carefully set the glass in the center of the largest barrel and poured a measure of golden liquid into it. He smiled as he re-corked the bottle, and checked that the chairs were in the right place.

“Sorry about that, Betty,” he said quietly. “Some new kids just started in the store and they didn’t know about leaving your stuff alone. Is everything OK now?”

Andy didn’t know what to expect. Betty had never answered him. After a moment, he sighed and reached up to flip off the lights. When his fingers got close enough to the metal face plate, a spark of static electricity arced across the space. The spark was green.
Andy chuckled. “Well, you’re welcome.”

And then he went upstairs to bed.


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

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The Spirit of Aisle Two

Years ago, when I was a magazine editor, I wanted a local ghost story for our fall issue. Well, in New England, ghosts (or at least stories about them) are rather plentiful.

It must be the long winters that make time for storytelling, eh?

Anyway, the nearby Norwich Inn had just the right story. It was about one of the inn’s former owners, a woman who appeared on the stairs or whispered around corners from time to time.

Now Norwich is just over the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College and during Prohibition, this woman hit on a money-making idea—making beer and applejack for the (then) men of Dartmouth.

I wonder if she haunts the brewery that’s still part of the Inn. (They make a great red ale, by the way.)

Tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle was inspired by the Norwich Inn tale. Hope you enjoy.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-spirit of aisle 2

Pie Night: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Apples’Tis the season for all things apple and Little Freddie Tennyson really loves pie.

But this pie isn’t for their family though there might be a slice or two coming their way.

Won’t you join us for Pie Night at the local music school? Freddie would love to see you there.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

———————————–

As a general rule, Christina Tennyson preferred to make apple crisp rather than apple pie. Pies required peeling while making crisp did not.

But her husband, Lee, and their two sons, Scott and Little Freddie, just craved apple pie. So they gushed with glee when they spotted two sticks of butter on the kitchen counter next to the flour canister.

“Pie! Pie! Me love pie!” Little Freddie shouted.

In spite of the fact that she’d given birth to both of them, Chris experienced daily amazement at how different her two sons were from one another. Scott was a Tennyson through and through, tall, slender to the point of lanky, brown-eyed, and already graceful in the way of the men in her husband’s family. She could already detect the sculptural qualities of his face emerging from the soft roundness of boyhood.

Here and there, around the eyes mostly, Chris detected traces of her genetic contribution to Scott but he was truly the image of his Dad.

Like Lee, Scott would never be handsome or cute in the traditional senses of those overused words. But thoughtful women would be drawn to his quiet, respectful manner. As his mother, Chris was glad of that. She had seen too many childhoods damaged when “cute” kids fell victim to the fickleness of high school popularity. 

She figured her oldest son would become more handsome with age, just like Lee.

Little Freddie, on the other hand, was a very different sort of child. Instead of being tall and lanky like his older brother, Freddie’s build resembled that of a football linebacker—broad across the chest—just like Chris’s father. But that’s where any family comparisons fell to the wayside.

Freddie was shorter than his brother had been at the same age and he held his arms at his sides as if ready to ram his way through life. He was dark-haired and the brown of his eyes was so deep, it was often difficult to see his pupils.

The old-timers in Carding nodded sagely when they saw Freddie around town. “Throw back to his great-grandmother Elayna, that’s what he is,” they told one another.

When she first started dating Lee, Chris heard all sorts of elvish-like tales associated with the first Tennysons in Carding, especially the family matriarch, Elayna. According to town legend, she charmed the original Christmas trees grown on the farm and to this day, people claim they work tiny miracles on the people of Carding. 

Elayna was dark-haired and eyed, just like Freddie, which is why so many Carding-ites believed she had come back to life in the four-year old.

Back in the Tennyson kitchen, Freddie celebrated the imminent arrival of pie by dancing with his hands above his head, accentuating his words with vigorous hops from one foot to the other.

Chris smiled as she looked down at her youngest child. “But this isn’t for you, remember? It’s for your concert tomorrow.”

Freddie stopped so short, his slippered feet slid out from under him, and he sat down on the kitchen floor with an audible “oooffff.” He swung his head from his mother to his father as Lee struggled to hold in his laughter. “Concert?” the little boy asked. “What concert?”

“The one with the violins, remember?” Scott informed him in that stoic big-brother way he’d recently adopted with Freddie. He loved his little brother but Scott felt that Freddie needed more discipline in his life. The kid reminded him of the Tasmanian devil that showed up in the cartoons his mother let him watch once in a while. Sometimes being Freddie Tennyson’s brother was too much to bear.

Freddie leaped to his feet. “Su-zu-ki,” he yelled before he powered out of the room.

Lee and Chris shook their heads with a shared smile. Of all Freddie’s many enthusiasms, his passion for music had become a constant in his young life. As soon as he could totter on his feet, he had danced to any tune that floated through the air at the farm. From Bach to Eric Clapton to “Farmer in the Dell” to the Sesame Street theme, Freddie danced to it all, head bobbing, fingers waving, and feet stomping.

Scott thought he looked like an out-of-control Teddy bear while his parents thought Freddie too cute for words.

In addition to his dancing, Freddie experimented with the sounds of things. He’d rat-a-tat-tat on a table then compare that sound to the twanging of a rubber band. He created a drum kit out of a motley collection of buckets and castoff pails, using a pair of wooden spoons to keep the beat. 

Lee bought him a kazoo and Chris bought him a child-sized kalimba, both of which Freddie added to his repertoire with enthusiasm. 

“Should we enroll him in music classes?” Lee had asked his wife while they watched Freddie bang away in their front yard.

“I don’t know,” Chris said. “He’s only four. But let’s check into it, shall we?”

And they did. If you recognize Freddie’s reference to “su-su-ki,” you’ll know that they found an outlet for his musical enthusiasms. 

The search for Suzuki started one day at a local flea market when the little boy spotted a toy violin in a box of castoffs.

“Have you ever thought about getting him into a Suzuki program?” the flea market dealer asked as he accepted Lee’s dollar for the violin. “My granddaughter’s been taking lessons in the program since she was about his age, and she just loves it. She’s seven now, and plays the flute. She’s amazing.”

The Suzuki method of teaching music is unique. It was developed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki who wanted to bring beauty into the lives of the children who’d lived through the devastation of World War II. This magical teacher believed that all children could learn to play music in the same way they acquire language, not through rote practice but through listening with their hearts. His methods are now used internationally.

After poking around a bit, Lee and Chris found a Suzuki music school and immediatey enrolled Freddie. Tonight, along with his fellow students (about a dozen three- and four-year olds) they are giving their first performance together, plucking the strings of a wide variety of homemade “violins” whenever the word “pop” comes around in the song “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

The pies, courtesy of parents and grandparents, will be sold by the slice as a fundraiser.

Since it is so close to Halloween, the kids have planned something special for their audience. Instead of plucking the strings of their violins on the last “pop,” they’re going to shout “boo!”

Freddie is very excited about this so please don’t tell anyone. He wants it to be a surprise.


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

Do a bit of good in the world today.

Pie Night

’Tis the season for all things apple and Little Freddie Tennyson really loves pie.

But this pie isn’t for their family though there might be a slice or two coming their way.

Won’t you join us for Pie Night tomorrow at the local music school? Freddie would love to see you there.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-Apples

The Great Teacup Challenge: A Carding Chronicle

 

TeacupQuilters the world over use their love of patchwork to support good causes and provide comfort to people in need all the time. They are a generous tribe.

Many of the quilters in Carding include the Great Teacup Challenge in their annual charitable efforts. It raises money for ovarian cancer research.

Ruth Goodwin has participated for a long time but this year, she just can’t seem to get started.

But then she rummages in her scrap box looking for inspiration. Let’s join her to see what happens, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

————————————–

Human beings are masters of many things, not the least of which is procrastination.

When faced with a deadline that’s a month away, most folks won’t make a move until the must-be-done-by date is a week away.

And then there are some folks who wait even longer.

Carding’s mail carrier, Ruth Goodwin, wasn’t as bad as some when it came to putting things off. As she often told her friends: “I like to have at least five minutes to sit back and appreciate what I’ve made before I give it away.”

But it had been such a busy month. In a joyous moment approaching rapture, her daughter got engaged to “the right man,” a fact that brought a grin to Ruth’s face every time she thought about it.

It took a lot of time for Ruth to make sure that everyone who needed to know did know about Sarah’s engagement, particularly her ex-husband, the man known locally as the “Good Dentist.” Ruth especially liked the part when she got to inform him that he would, indeed, be financially responsible for their daughter’s wedding. 

In Ruth’s view, it was only fair because Sarah had been ignored by her father all her life.

When he protested, Ruth administered a bit of verbal arm-twisting, threatening to tell his current wife—What’s-Her-Name—about his current mistress—Whosit. And since the Good Dentist was already paying alimony to three ex-wives, including Ruth, she knew he couldn’t afford a fourth.

On top of the engagement news to spread, Ruth was taking three classes at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts—one in shibori-style fabric dying, another in advanced embroidery techniques, and a third in calligraphy. Ruth had never allowed herself to take three classes at once but when she looked at her fall schedule back in August, her calendar looked like it had enough space in it.

That turned out to be a serious miscalculation.

Because now Ruth has a teacup problem as in how on earth was she going to make a mini-quilt that featured a teacup to be mailed on Monday when it was already Saturday night?

When her friend Edie Wolfe reminded her about the Great Teacup Mini Swap to raise money for ovarian cancer research, Ruth was as enthusiastic as she always was. It was such a good cause, one that never got enough attention—or funding.

The rules were simple—every participant paid $15 to participate with $5 going to cover the costs of postage and paper and $10 to support research. The deadline was September first and once that passed, the swap organizer, Edie’s sister Rosie, paired everyone up with each member of a pair making a mini-quilt with a teacup for the other by October 20th. 

As the teacup quilts were made and mailed, pictures of them appeared on the Great Teacup Challenge website to the collective oohs and aahs of the group.

Now Ruth prided herself on her quilt designs and she wanted her teacup mini to be breathtaking.

But breathtaking takes time and somehow the minutes of September and then October had dribbled away and she still hadn’t sewn a stitch.

Ruth chose and fingered several different fabrics as she sat at her sewing table but to no avail. Her angels of creativity had fled the scene. Finally she turned to her scrap box to rummage for ideas.

Every artist has a scrap box of some kind, a place where things that are useless-at-the-moment but too-good-to-throw-away are collected to be used at some unknown point in the future. For woodworkers, scrap boxes are filled with pieces of birds-eye maple or cherished walnut burls. For knitters, it’s usually scraps of favorite leftover yarn. For quilters, scrap boxes are filled with bits of beloved fabric, test blocks and leftovers-from-quilts-past.

“There’s got to be something I can use in here,” Ruth muttered as she pushed and pulled her way through her collection.

Now there’s something you need to know about quilters and their scrap boxes. Not only do they hold odds and ends of fabric, they hold memories. A bit of leftover orange binding can bring back memories of a shopping trip with friends. A stack of white circles can be a reminder of a frenzied Christmas-present making event with a child. A square of flannel from a shirt recalls a lost Dad or brother.

It didn’t take long for Ruth to get waylaid in fabric reveries while her Teacup Challenge problem faded into the background.

Discouraged, she was just about to shut the box when her fingers flipped up a small piece of godawful purple fabric.

“Andrea,” Ruth whispered. “Oh my. I haven’t thought of you in a long time.”

Among quilters in the Corvus River Valley, Andrea Karlsen had been a legend. A tiny woman with the briskness of a January cold snap, Andrea had played a key role in the formation of the Carding Quilt Guild back in the sewing wilderness of the 1970s when nobody made quilts much less talked about them.

At that point in time, there was no such thing as a quilt shop, no quilt shows, no quilt classes or even teachers. And the fabric…Ruth shuddered at the memory of the loosely woven, too-often synthetic, blah-colored stuff that talented women such as Andrea had endured before somebody recognized there was money to be made in high-quality, colorful cotton fabric.

The godawful purple reminded Ruth of her favorite “Andrea story.”

Way back when, after a lot of trial and error, Andrea finally finished her first quilt top and was shopping for something to use for its back in the old Woolworth’s store in White River Junction.

“The only thing they had that was remotely acceptable was this wretched purple stuff,” Andrea would tell her audience. “But it was the only vaguely acceptable choice if I wanted to finish my quilt. The trouble was, I had no idea how much fabric I needed. Ten yards struck me as a nice round number so that’s what I bought.”

Now for those of you who don’t know, ten yards is a whole lot of fabric, far more than you need for a quilt backing. Of course this meant that Andrea had a lot of the godawful purple stuff left over when she finished her quilt.

That fabric sat for years in the back of her stash cabinet while Andrea helped organize the Carding Quilt Guild, served on the committee of the first Carding Fair and Quilt Show, and became the first quilting teacher at the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts.

In fact, the purple stuff didn’t resurface until the members of the guild decided to do an ugly Christmas fabric swap. The idea was simple—everyone put a quarter-yard of fabric that they didn’t like in a closed bag then all the bags were placed on a central table and each participant chose a bag not her own.

As you can imagine, the quarter-yard of Andrea’s godawful purple got the biggest groan of the evening. As a matter of fact, it got the biggest groan at the Christmas fabric swap after that and the one after that.

By the fourth Christmas, guild members had started to watch carefully when Andrea arrived, noting the size and shape of her paper bag. But as soon as she knew no one was looking, Andrea switched the bag she brought with another containing the godawful purple.

After a while, every member of the guild owned a piece of Andrea’s godawful fabric.

When she finally moved into an assisted living facility near her daughter, Andrea proudly told her friends that she had only one-half yard of the stuff left and Ruth promptly offered to throw it away.

Ruth sighed as she rubbed the fabric between her fingers, thinking about her friend. Then she straightened up in her chair as a new idea struck her.

“It’s not about brilliant ideas,” she whispered out loud. “It’s about friendship.”

She glanced at the clock. It was late but she decided to sew anyway. She could sleep some other time. Now she had a deadline to meet, a dear friend to remember, and a tiny bit of god-awful purple to use in her mini-quilt.


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The Great Teacup Challenge

Quilters the world over use their love of patchwork to support good causes and provide comfort to people in need all the time. They are a generous tribe.

Many of the quilters in Carding include the Great Teacup Challenge in their annual charitable efforts. It raises money for ovarian cancer research.

Ruth Goodwin has participated for a long time but this year, she just can’t seem to get started.

But then she starts rummaging in her scrap box looking for inspiration. Let’s join her tomorrow to see what happens, shall we? Here’s a sample of what’s to come.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Teacup

Tough Yankees: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Goldie sleepingIt seems that every creature on earth has a different sense of what’s too hot and what’s too cold.

For example, in high summer Edie Wolfe’s dog Nearly spends his days in the deep shade of his human’s back porch while others seek out the sun. In winter, he sticks close to the wood stove while others romp in the snow.

But it’s those in-between times, such as the ones that can happen in early October, that are such a challenge.

Especially if you pride yourself on being a “tough Yankee.”

Let’s check in with Carding’s favorite canine, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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Among the dogs of Carding, Vermont, Nearly Wolfe is renowned as an excellent teacher of human beings. Just look at what he’s done with his own human, Edie Wolfe. 

Over the years, the handsome cocker spaniel has taught Edie how and when to walk him three times a day, what part of his belly needs patting the most, and that she should never to feed him raisin bagels.

Raisins in bagels? Bleah…

Yes, Nearly has done well…except in one area. He has never figured out how to get Edie to raise or lower the windows of their house to just the right level at just the right moment in order for him to maintain his preferred exterior temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now it’s October and Nearly is determined that something must be done.

Edie sleeps under a quilt (that she made) on all but the hottest of nights and seems to enjoy the bracing temperature of her house at this time of year. As the night wears on, she snuggles deeper and deeper under her covers until her head disappears altogether.

So she’s warm enough.

But down on the floor, Nearly’s bed was cold and he finally decided it was way past time to do something about it. He padded across the room, took a few running steps, leaped and landed in the middle of the quilt-covered bed, right in the spot where the covers are rucked up in small hills and valleys. Edie started but did not wake.

Warmer, Nearly lay down to wait for morning. He knew there would be a scolding—Edie welcomed her dog to sleep anywhere but on her handmade quilt—but Nearly figured it would be shortlived.

And maybe next time, his human would moderate the window openings.

Or make him his own quilt.

Either way, Nearly would be happy.

When Edie finally woke, she frowned at her sleeping dog. Then he heard her growl, a low dark sound at the back of her throat. But nature was calling so she pushed her covers back and put her bare feet on the wooden floor.

She gasped at the cold and then gave Nearly a more thoughtful glance. Scurrying to the bathroom, she whipped a sweatshirt from the back of a chair, yanked it on, and then crossed her arms over its front. 

Nearly raised his head a little to watch his human’s progress across the room, satisfied with the impact of his lesson so far.

Soon he heard the slide-bang of closing windows as Edie whirled around the house. When she reached the kitchen, Edie opened her curtains to see the thermometer recording the outside temperature.

“Forty-nine degrees,” she huffed as she whirled around to dig her slippers out of their summer resting place.

Nearly crept downstairs, dreading the cold of his first snuffle of the day in the backyard. He knew it would be quick. Edie squeaked a little as she opened the door for him.

“Brrrr. Sorry boy,” she said.

The kettle whistled and Edie poured water for tea as Nearly trotted back inside. That’s when her eyes landed on the house’s thermostat. Its digital display affirmed that it was cold enough to justify a few moments of heat.

But as Edie raised her hand to turn the furnace on, she thought about the bragging rights she would lose at the Crow Town Bakery over morning coffee. After all, being a tough Yankee meant not giving into the cold too soon and her friends would surely notice the thin trail of smoke from her chimney. 

So she’d have to admit to turning on her furnace and when she did, Andy Cooper would slide his eyes her way and say: “Yeah, it’s cold. But you just put on heavier socks and you’ll be fine.”

Then Agnes Findley would point out that the sun was still pretty warm in the afternoons. “I always figure that if you heat up your house in the morning, it will be too hot in the afternoon.”

And so it would go around the table, each participant vying to prove that she or he was the toughest Yankee.

Edie swallowed hard as she let her hand drop. “It’s still early October,” she said to Nearly. “I can’t turn the heat on yet.”

Nearly did his best to look pathetic, hanging his head just enough to let his ears droop forward. But Edie only sighed as she put his food bowl on the counter. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll warm up your breakfast in the microwave. How’s that?”

He sighed and let his body slump into the floor.

“We’re supposed to be tough, Nearly. And it’s not that cold. Forty-nine degrees is not below freezing.”

He sighed again and raised his eyes in the pleading look that he reserved for special occasions.

Edie sighed, deep and loud. Then she laughed at herself. Really, what difference did it make at this point? By the end of the week, she knew that everyone who gathered at the bakery would have fired up their wood stoves or turned on their furnaces.

She punched up the number on the digital thermostat to 65 and after a moment, the furnace in her basement began to purr.

Nearly smiled a little doggie smile. His reputation as an excellent teacher of human beings was secure. 


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

Do a bit of good in the world today.