During this pandemic, many Carding folks have learned that one of the best refuges from troubling times are books. And according to research, some of the most comforting books in troubled times are ones you have loved in the past.
Edie Wolfe is having one of those times. I thought you’d like to join her.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont.
Edie Wolfe loved the small, quiet hours of early morning. They were especially appreciated as the calendar strolled from January into February because the sun came up just that much earlier, and the light from Earth’s favorite star was just that much stronger.
She sipped her first cup of tea for the day. It was warmed by honey and tinted to the perfect shade of light brown by a smallish dollop of her daily cream indulgence.
Now a long established habit, the comfort of Edie’s tea ritual brought the promise of a good day, a promise that she was more conscious of making with every passing day.
The light in her kitchen changed from a gray miasma to a lighter shade of pale underscored by a breath of magenta. The pinkish hue made the windows of her nearest neighbor’s house, the old Tennyson place as it was called in town, take on a glow that reminded Edie of a movie she’d seen as a girl that featured a space ship landing on Mars.
A UFO. How appropriate, she smiled to herself, given the eccentricities of the twin sisters who lived in the place now. The old Tennyson property had a peculiar history of ownership, held in common by a variety of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Edie remembered stories told by her grandmother about a feud in the original Tennyson family between two sisters in love with the same man. When the argument could no longer be contained in a single dwelling, the family built a second, smaller house on the same plot of land in a vain attempt to keep the peace.
Edie remembered that house being moved when she was a girl to a lot closer to the Carding town beach. Old-timers nicknamed it “the second house” and someone in that strain of the Tennyson tribe had lived there ever since.
The light rose a little more, and the UFO glow of the Tennyson windows faded.
She got up to add more wood to the stove then retrieved her latest book, a schlocky fantasy recommended by Ginger Tennyson. It had a garish cover that sported a flying dragon with a menacing red mouth. Edie loved a good fantasy as well as the next aficionado but that didn’t make her a fan of everything in the genre.
For one thing, the writing had to be excellent, and there had to be more of a point to it than heroic men rescuing bosomy damsels in some sort of distress or another.
“And this doesn’t fit my bill at all,” she said aloud as she turned the book in her hand. Nearly’s head popped up when it clanged in the wastepaper basket. Ginger Tennyson had said she didn’t want it back, and Edie felt that A Cold Remembering should not be inflicted on any future readers. “So, are you ready for your first turn in the yard?” she asked the dog.
Nearly yawned, shook his head, and then slowly stretched to his feet while Edie waited by the back door to let him out. She wanted something to read, something to cast a magic spell to take her away for a while. Something good.
A sudden streak of feathers caught the corner of her eye, and she turned in time to see a merlin settle on a branch of the tallest cottonwood on the hill behind her house. She stretched out her hand to find her binoculars, not taking her eyes from the falcon’s resting place. They blended in so well, she knew she’d never be able to spot him again.
But the binoculars were not in their accustomed spot. Edie began to search while keeping an eye on Nearly’s progress around the yard, if you could call his meanderings progress. “It’s as if he has to renew his acquaintanceship with every bush in the yard every morning,” Edie muttered as she checked the most likely spots to hold her binoculars.
Finding none in the kitchen, she cocked an eye at her dog—it was way too cold to leave him out there any longer than necessary—then moved onto her study and its floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The binoculars were there, sitting on top of the books on the third shelf, Edie’s “favorites” shelf.
It was the place where she kept her favorite reads of all time, books such as Watership Down, The Alchemist and Stardust, Tolkien’s trilogy, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. And Jane, of course, as in Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
She draped the binoculars around her neck so she wouldn’t forget them then let her fingers drift over her most beloved tales, recalling favorite characters, a line or two of prose, and the feeling of being lifted away to another world. Then she turned her head to peruse the other shelves, the ones full of books waiting for her attention—mysteries, books on nature, some travel journals, novels described as “shattering,” and so on.
With so many new books to read, why did she keep returning to her favorites shelf?
A scratch at the door interrupted her thoughts, and she hurried to let Nearly back into the warm kitchen. It was then she realized her hands were full of books from the favorites shelf—The Ladies of Missalonghi, West with the Night, A Room with a View, and Anne of Green Gables, a book she had not read since sixth grade.
She held it up for Nearly to see. “I’ve loved Anne of Green Gables since I was a girl,” she told him. The cocker spaniel tried to look attentive because his human was obviously pleased about something. Those moments were more rare nowadays than they had been in the past. He wasn’t sure why but his best friend, R.G., had noticed the same tension in his human.
The ping of Edie’s phone was loud in the quiet kitchen. The light was stronger now, making the red tea kettle on her stove pulsate with color. Edie picked up the phone but immediately put it back down when she realized that the ping was a news story about another inappropriate Republican trespass on the public good.
They had become too regular a feature of life since January 6.
“I need a good long break from this,” she muttered as she turned off her cell. Then she dropped a new teabag into her cup, turned on the stove, grabbed her reading quilt, and put the books in a neat pile on the table next to her favorite rocker. “It’s far more important to see what Anne is up to these days.”
Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Miss Ruby Royce.
The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:
The Road Unsalted
Thieves of Fire
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life
Light in Water, Dancing