The Pull of Abandoned Places

This was a weekend of selling books, and what a good weekend it was. We went to two shows—the Summer Arts Festival in our own little town of Winthrop and the Sunday Indie Market at the Baxter Brewing Company’s Pub in Lewiston. The Summer Arts Festival was fun, and we sold lots of books. Other vendors did well, too, and as I’ve noted before, it means a lot to us when people come to these events and buy what we have created.

However, a big highlight of the weekend was the setting of the Sunday Indie Market in Lewiston, a huge mill complex that is slowly being renovated, where shabby is juxtaposed with new. Clif and I are both drawn to buildings that have been abandoned. Somehow, in their neglect, these buildings acquire a dignity that they often didn’t have when they were in better repair.

For many people, Maine is a state of quaint seaside villages that caters to those who are from away, as we say here. The coast is certainly one beautiful aspect of the state. However, Clif and I were born inland—in Bangor and Waterville—two communities that do not give Maine its quaint reputation. We are old enough to remember when these cities were filled with factories and were more than a little gritty. These places feel like home to us.

Once upon a time, Lewiston was also a city of mills and factory workers.

Here is the gate at the pub, where the Sunday Indie Market was held.

We set up a booth on one side of the walkway. Behind us were shiny  new silos and old bricks.

Across from us, green growth reached up to cover neglect,

and water rushed by.

From afar, the walkway almost looks as though a mural has been painted on it. But here is one of Clif’s photo that takes a closer look and reveals peeling rather than painting.

Finally, old next to new.

While we love nature as much as the next Mainer, these half-abandoned places exert an almost gravitational pull on us, and we had mixed feelings when we heard that the rest of this mill complex was slated for renovation. I know. I know. We really don’t want these factories to fall to the ground, and we want them to be useful once more.

But gussied up, the buildings lose their striking visual appeal. Good for the community, perhaps, but not so good for photography.

 

Farewell to Shane, a Librarian Extraordinaire

This is the story of how one person can make a big difference in a small town. For the past nine years, Shane Malcolm Billings has worked at our town’s library—Charles M. Bailey Public Library. Shane’s official title was Adult Services Librarian, but like all people who excel at their jobs, Shane was so much more than that.

First there is Shane’s love of books. For a librarian, this should be a given. Why work in a library if you don’t have a passion for books? But for Shane, this love could rightly be called a devotion to literature and to writers. Maybe even a way of life. Small talk for Shane often revolved around books, such as how Anne Tyler can still write a fresh story even though she is nearly eighty.

Then there is his keen memory for the names of patrons combined with what they liked to read. In this way, Shane resembled a bartender in a local pub. But instead of serving drinks, Shane served books, and he had a nearly uncanny sense of what patrons would like to read, often before they did.

The following is a true story.

Several years ago, I went to pick up some books I had ordered through interlibrary loan. Among the books was Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym. Shane happened to be working at the desk.

“Huh,” I said. “I don’t remember ordering this one.”

“You didn’t,” came Shane’s prompt reply. “I ordered it for you because I thought you’d like Barbara Pym, and I know you’ve never read her.”

Shane was absolutely right. I liked Barbara Pym so much that I ordered more of her books when I had finished Some Tame Gazelle.

As if all this weren’t enough, Shane is just plain fun to talk to. He has a wonderful sense of humor yet is sympathetic. Along with remembering books and writers, Shane remembers the names of patrons’ grown-up children who have moved away, and he always asks when they’ll be visiting.

But all good things eventually come to an end, and Shane is leaving our library.

Yesterday, there was a surprise farewell party for him at the lovely home of a library trustee. (There will also be an Open House at Bailey Public Library on Tuesday, August 20th at 6:00pm for the public at large to say goodbye to Shane.)

There weather was perfect—warm but not too hot with nary a mosquito to vex us.

Here are pictures from the party, starting with the setting.

Shane arrived, was duly surprised, and was greeted with a kiss and a laugh.

There was plenty of mingling.

As well as lots of good food.

And, of course, cake.

Farewell, Shane. You have made this town a better place and how you will be missed. Best of luck with the next phase of your life, and whatever comes next, I know you will shine, shine, shine.

 

 

 

 

Nibbles and Tidbits

When Clif and I were younger and my knees weren’t as creaky, we liked nothing better than to cook up a storm and to have people over for dinner. Sometimes the gatherings were smallish—eight to ten people—and sometimes they were largish—twenty or more. Those were the days when I got out of bed like a shot and could zoom through the day.

Sad to say, but those days are gone. I keep busy with my writing, my gardens, and my home, but I don’t have the zip of my younger years. Nevertheless, we still like having people come over for a visit. Somehow, it is cozier to gather in a home than it is to meet in a restaurant, no matter how casual the place.

As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way, and we have figured out how to entertain so that it doesn’t take a toll on my creaky knees. Our first strategy has been to have people come over midafternoon for tea and coffee. Most of our friends are retired and now have a flexible schedule. Making up a batch of bars, muffins, or quick bread is no problem at all, and what a pleasure it is to gather around the dining room table and talk. Also, a midafternoon event usually gives me enough time to write in the morning, which is something I do six days a week.

Our second strategy, for friends who have not retired, is to have a nibbles and tidbits gathering late afternoon, around 3:30 or 4:00. On Saturday, this is what we did, and here is what we served.

I am happy to report that the tomatoes and cucumbers came from my little back garden.

Last Saturday, we invited our friend Jill over. Years ago, Jill came to Maine from New York City, and how we met her is an interesting story.

When our daughter Dee graduated from Bard College, she decided to move to New York City. Her first job was with Macmillan Publishing, and one of her first bosses was Jill.

One day, when we were talking on the phone to Dee, she said, “Guess what? My boss Jill is moving to Maine.”

Really? To Maine from New York City?

“Yeah,” Dee continued. “And she’s planning on moving to central Maine, in the Waterville/Augusta area, where you live.”

What the heck is she going to do here?

“She’s going to work for Thorndike Press in Waterville. They publish large print books.”

Well, son of a biscuit. That was the last thing we expected to hear, and we wondered how someone who lived in Manhattan would adjust to living in central Maine.

As it turned out, Jill has adjusted just fine and loves it here. Over the years, we have become friends, and we always look forward to getting together with her.

On Saturday, Jill brought over chips, salsa, and an utterly delicious homemade guacamole, which we scoffed down. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of her lovely tray of food.) We talked into the early evening, the conversation ranging from family to politics to books.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure made a stab at it.

But one thing is certain—having nibbles and tidbits with friends  is a fine way to entertain.

 

 

 

August, Stay Awhile

The crickets have begun to sing. Their sweet trilling songs signal the arrival of late summer, a beautiful time in Maine. And this year, despite the climate crisis, August in Maine is everything it ought to be. The days are warm and dry. The nights are cool. We have a little rain now and then. Such a lovely, lovely month, and I wish I could stop it from speeding by. August, stay awhile. Don’t hurry on.

By August, the gardens are usually starting to look a little tattered, but this year they still look pretty good. Perhaps it’s because we had such a cool, rainy spring, and everything got a late start.

However, the slugs and snails have been nibbling on the hostas.

Still, they don’t look too bad. Sometimes by this time of year the hosta leaves look like green lace.

For the first time, I planted nasturtiums in the patio garden, and they are thriving. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. It looks as though the  nasturtiums are ready to engulf the patio, and woe to those sitting on that side of the table. Feed me, Seymour!

This week the first Black-eyed Susan opened, and there are many more to come.

As is noted on the Better Homes & Gardens website, “Since black-eyed Susan blooms when other summer perennials begin to fade, this plant is a true sign that fall is near.”  Even though I love fall, black-eyed Susans are another reason to cherish August.

Various daylilies are still blooming. While they don’t thrive in my shady yard, they do add welcome bursts of color.

This weekend, we will be going to two plays. We will be having a friend over for nibbles and tidbits.

We will hold August close and be outside as much as possible.

The Corpse in the Compost

Fortunately, the title of this post does not come from personal experience. So far, there have been no corpses in my compost.

Instead, this is the title of a mystery novel written by A. Carman Clark. This lovely book captures the essence of rural Maine through the eyes of its protagonist, Amy Creighton, a woman of boundless curiosity who loves to cook and garden. She cherishes her solitude, but at the drop of a hat, she is ready to make muffins for friends and guests. When a corpse turns up in a neighbor’s compost, what is this freelance editor to do but to start investigating?

Amy’s knowledge of small-town life and her sympathy for the confined lives of some of the villagers makes her a sympathetic listener for both young and old.  Gradually, the details of the crime begun to emerge.

A. Carman Clark, a good writer and a good cook, was a friend of mine. When she was eighty-three, Arley published her first Amy Creighton mystery, The Maine Mulch Murder. Encouraged by the reception, Arley wrote a second book, The Corpse in the Compost. Unfortunately, Arley died before it was ready to be published, but she did leave a draft manuscript with notes and suggestions from a friend, from an editor, and from her daughter Kate Flora, also a writer.

On the Maine Crime Writer’s blog, Kate writes “Two summer ago, in the space between my own books, and nudged by Ann and Paula at the Mainely Murders bookstore http://mainelymurders.com, who had created a following for Maine MulchI sat down with the manuscript and started editing. As I’ve blogged about before, there were a lot of questions I wanted to ask my mother. As she was unavailable, I had to wing it. I’ll never know whether I made the right choices. But we were close, and I could usually find her ‘voice’ in making changes or amendments to the book.”

I’m happy to report that Kate succeeded beautifully in capturing Arley’s voice—crisp, precise, sympathetic, and observant.

“The Corpse in the Compost” is available through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Corpse-Compost-Amy-Cre…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

Be sure to buy two copies: One for yourself and one for a gift.  This is a gem of a book you’ll want to give to your mystery-loving friends.

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