Yes, Mitford, and it’s consumed my free time for the last fourteen nights.
Jan Karon’s Mitford series of books was popular reading in the 1990’s. While everyone else was surfing this trend wave, I was reading about the Mitford sisters, a clan of English debutantes. Books about these six sparkling and controversial sisters trended ten years ago and I was on top of the trend at the time, although I didn’t know it.
Book clubs are not reading about any Mitfords right now. According to my very well-read friend and long-time book club member, Shelley, clubs are reading Monica Wood’s, When We Were the Kennedys. Shelley says “It’s sort of the flavor of the day in book clubs right now.”
I’m so trend-adverse that I don’t even belong to a book club.
One of my friends gave me At Home in Mitford, the first in a series of books loosely set in the town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The book was a housewarming gift. My friend was happy that I had found my way home and I think she wanted to inspire me to further literary greatness by providing me with an example of another writer’s portrayal of small town life. The paperback sat on my coffee table for some time and I looked at it with daily contrary consternation.
Emily Dickinson said “there is no frigate like a book to take us lands away” and so one evening after a long day of hammering away at other things, I threw my mental bags in the car and headed to Mitford.
Reggie Black, on the other hand, doesn’t have any contrariness about what he reads or the literary frigates on which he sails. He’s practically a book bulimic. He’ll gorge on any old tome and then just throw it out when he’s done and make a passing comment like “eh, not my cup of coffee.” When I confessed what I was reading, he picked up a used copy and started digging around in it. Sometimes, he doesn’t even read books from front to back. He might read the ending first and then go back and read the beginning.
Reggie and I have had our own little private book club and we’ve been talking about Mitford lately. One of his first observations about Mitford was that there was no industry; where did anyone work? I countered that Mitford was a tourist town and there were some references to “summer people.”
I noted that the main character, aging Episcopalian priest Father Tim, gave up driving for Lent eight years ago and walked everywhere he needed to go, including “Main Street Grill” and the local grocery store, “so well-known for its fresh poultry and produce from local sources that most people simply called it The Local. The Local had provided chickens, rabbits, sausage, hams, butter, cakes, pies, free-range eggs, jams, and jellies from a farming community in the valley, along with vegetables and berries in season. In summer, produce bins on the sidewalk under the green awnings were filled each day with Silver Queen corn in the shuck. And in July, pails of fat blackberries were displayed in the cooler case.”
Mitford is the kind of town we all want to live in, theoretically. Reading about small-town nostalgia never seems to go out of style. But in a world of diminishing resources, walking to a local grocery store stocked with local food would be a good idea. It makes sense.
Reggie and I talked about how small towns used to have stores like The Local and whether it would be possible to open such a store right here in Lisbon Falls. The Kitty Corner Store, which had been open as “Barnie’s” for the last year or so, is closed again and is for sale. It’s been the topic of memorable Facebook conversations. If the Kitty Korner re-opened as a store like Mitford’s “The Local” would it be able to stay in business?
Like Mitford, everyone wants to go to the Kitty Korner Store in theory. Why is it, then, that there are so many cars lined up at the McDonald’s drive-through on a Tuesday night here in my own little town? Is it because the Kitty Corner is closed?
I’m going to schlep off in my slippers now and make another cup of coffee. Reggie and I will continue discussing all of the great problems of life, and maybe we’ll even discuss a Bible verse Father Tim never quoted to the Mitford assembled in Lord’s Chapel.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Mitford, Rumford, Lisbon Falls…there is nothing new under the sun.