It seems that everyone in Carding feels the same way that everyone in the country is feeling—tired, jittery, unfocused, and burdened by malaise.
It sure has infected Edie Wolfe and her friends Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley. When we left the three of them last week, they were imbibing a bit of brandy in their coffee, a rather guilty pleasure.
Then they decided to “do something” and the something turned out to be making macaroni and cheese. A good start in fighting malaise.
And before they knew it, an idea gelled in Edie’s kitchen.
So it’s good that you showed up, right?
If this is your first visit to Carding, Vermont, the little town at the center of my four novels, then welcome. If you’ve been here before, welcome back.
It felt strange, almost sinful, to take a day off from their normal cycle of chores simply because they needed a break. In spite of the fact that neither Edie Wolfe nor Ruth Goodwin nor Agnes Findley had attended church or espoused any particular religious creed since they were very young women (and arguably not even then), the trio had grown up in a New England Protestant culture that revered the not-wasting-of-time.
But the brandy that they’d added to their coffee had banished any thoughts of fulfilling the to-do lists that each of them had made that morning.
Still, it took a moment to get used to the idea that they were just going to putter around and “see what happens” in Edie’s kitchen.
“You add chopped onion to your mac and cheese, right?” Ruth asked.
“And a heaping spoonful of mustard,” Aggie added. “I loved that the moment I tasted it.”
“I think I’ve got a box of gemelli,” Edie said, heading across the room on feet she wasn’t feeling in the normal way.
I don’t think I’m going to add brandy to my day on a regular basis she thought as she rummaged around for her preferred pasta. But this feels liberating.
It was the work of just a few moments for the chopping and stirring and sauce-making to commence, and the kitchen fairly hummed with contentment.
“This is what I miss most,” Aggie said as she dropped chopped onion into the water waiting for the pasta. “Just being with people I like without dodging one another.”
The trio had abandoned their masks so they could talk while spacing themselves as best they could. They didn’t always maintain the magical six-feet-of-separation but they felt safe enough.
Edie disappeared for a moment then came back with three pads of paper and pens. “We all know that mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, right? So what else are we doing to comfort ourselves? And what are other folks doing to cope through news of wildfires that we cannot fight in person or politics that threaten to extinguish every humane impulse we have while dreading the oncoming isolation of winter compounded by the isolation of a pandemic? What can we put on a comfort list?”
“That we can share with others,” Ruth said, “so no one feels left out.”
“Then after we put out the first list, we keep expanding it as folks share their ideas or invent them,” Aggie said, picking up her pen. “This is a marathon, after all, not a sprint.”
“A motto,” Edie said as she scribbled down ideas. “We need a motto.”
The three friends mulled that one over for a moment, and then Aggie had an idea. “We don’t have to invent a motto. We can borrow one.”
She slid her phone from her back pocket and thumbed through her messages. “You know how my step-daughter Chloe loves old bookshops. Well, just before the pandemic hit, she and Boz were in Northumberland and Chloe was all excited because she got to visit Barter Books in Alnwick.”
Aggie held her phone up so the other two could see a picture of the iconic poster from World War II that read: Keep Calm and Carry On.
“Did you know this poster was one of three propaganda posters printed by the British government in 1939? Only this one was never used. The bookshop owners found what is believed to be the last surviving copy in a box of dusty books they bought at auction,” Aggie said. “It was forgotten for fifty years until they had it framed to hang on their wall. And folks loved it.”
She thumbed her screen again, searching for another image. “Chloe and Boz did buy a copy of the original poster but you know Chloe, she got inspired to make one of her own. Look.”
Edie and Ruth giggled when they saw the colorful lettering in Chloe Cooper’s eccentric style.
“I think it’s perfect,” Edie said. “And it brings a little bit of Chloe and Boz back to Carding. Do you think she’d mind if we shared copies of that?”
“Are you kidding? I think she’ll be delighted.”
And that’s how the Macaroni and Cheese Society of Greater Carding, Vermont was born.
Here’s the comfort list that the three friends created that morning. Feel free to use it, share it, and add your own ideas to it.
After all, hope is a value that works best when shared.
Keep calm and carry on.
- Limit your exposure to the news.
- Contact one friend each day by phone or email or text just to say hello.
- Re-read your most-loved books, the ones that you can slip into like a warm bath. Some of the favorites mentioned that morning in Edie’s kitchen were: Agatha Christie mysteries, Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, just about anything by Alexander McCall Smith, Watership Down, all of Jane Austen, the fantasy-tinged romances of Sarah Addison Allen, The Hobbit, A Room with a View.
- Re-watch favorite movies or TV shows, the ones that made you laugh or smile in the past because chances are pretty good that they’ll make you laugh and smile again. Laughing and smiling are important.
- Podcasts are so varied now. Pick one about a subject that’s not in the news, something on quantum physics or the history of horse racing or the gentle interviews on On Being. A couple of good ones with short episodes are Stuff You Should Know and Make Me Smart. Explore. There are lots to choose from.
- Check out the free stretching videos on Yoga with Adriene.
- Walk, walk, walk, and walk. The more you move, the better you’ll feel.
- Find outdoor sites with places to sit where you can chat with real-live people. The benches on Carding Green have been great for this activity.
- Wave at people crossing the street in front of your car or passing by while you walk. Who cares if you know them or not. Just share a friendly wave.
- Say thank you to the women checking out your groceries at the store, the delivery person in the brown van, your mail carrier, the local officials keeping you safe, farmers, truck drivers, the medical staff at your local clinic or hospital. These folks are essential. Billionaires are not.
- Take a cue from our pets and get down on the rug for a good joy roll on your back.
- Doodle, color in your doodles, pick up a paint brush or markers and scribble. Get colorful!!
- Indulge yourself in every craft or hobby you’ve ever started or wanted to start.
- Volunteer to help at your local polling place on Election Day. Here’s a national site that will direct you to your local election center so that you can volunteer in your home town: Power the Polls.
- Donate to local non-profits. Keep your community healthy and strong by using your dollars to support a food shelf, homeless shelter, library, community clinic, conservation center, museum. You get the idea.
- Learn how to cook if you don’t know how. Learn new recipes, Bake bread, make applesauce. And don’t forget the macaroni and cheese! Preferably made with Vermont cheddar.
Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of 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