Yesterday I left the cat and dog both in good hands and went to Yarmouth, Maine, about 45 miles from here, to have lunch with a group of old, old friends in order to celebrate the birthday of one of them. Gorgeous day; gorgeous house on the ocean; good lunch; good conversation; a nice time all around.
Heading home, I took a different route and found myself on Shaker Road, outside of Gray, Maine, and on an impulse stopped at The Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake. I had done a lot of research there for my book LIKE THE WILLOW TREE which is set in that village in 1918, but I hadn't been back since the book was published. I pulled in and parked and watched a group headed out for a tour with one of the volunteer guides. I had begun my research by taking that tour, and then taking it a second time a few days later (and after that had worked in the library there, using the original documents and diaries).
I stopped in the gift shop, saw that the book is for sale there, and introduced myself to the two women running the shop...also volunteers. The village has a passionate and loyal and hard-working group of supporters and volunteers.
To ny great joy they told me that they loved the book...but more importantly, that I got it right, that the details were accurate and conveyed the history and feeling of this place that they love. And: here is the good part: that little girls arrive clutching their copy of LIKE THE WILLOW TREE, and want to know just where each little incident took place. Not everything in the book is availble for the public to see, unfortunately, but I was told that one little girl wanted to see the room where Daniel, the brother of the protaganist slept...and was shown there. They can walk up the hill, as Lydia did in the book, and look down at the village; they can see the schoolhouse where she attended school, and some tours include the laundry room where she took her turn at helping with the laundry and learned (and hated) to iron. They can see where Lydia would have learned to weave, and the tiny cemetery with its single headstone SHAKERS, where some of the "real" characters in the book...including Sister Jennie, who was caretaker of the little girls, are buried.
It woud be wonderful if they could devise a special tour for the youngsters, maybe school groups, which would include the place where the young girls lived (not currently open to the public) and the dining room where Lydia disgraced herself---by not having learned the rules yet---on her first evening there. Because the few remaining Shakers still live in the building that houses that dining room, and they still have meals there, it is off limits. But maybe someday for special groups of young readers?
It is a daunting reposnsibilty to write about a real place and in a book that contains some "real" characters, people who actually lived and whose lives one wants to honor. I signed all the books they had in stock at the gift shop and came away feeling very pleased that I had stopped by and found that they are happy with the book.
The main buiding, with more than 30 rooms, once filled with a thriving community of Shakers. There are only three left.
the meeting house where they still worship. Notice two separate doors. One was for men, one for women. Having entered, they sat on separate sides of the room in the old days.
The building where the young girls were housed (notice the AC upstairs! Not there in 1918!)
The back of the girls' house, with the laundry building behind.