Thursday, August 30, 2012

Finding Books in (Pioneer) Happy Valley

Deerfield Museum Bookshop
From time to time we like to take a weekend and spend it at a bed and breakfast somewhere far enough away to be a mini-vacation, but close enough to home so that we don’t have to take a plane or train to get there. Fortunately, living in New England suits our purposes perfectly. From Bar Harbor, Maine to Essex, Connecticut, we can always find someplace fun and interesting to visit for less than a tank of gas.

Our visit to Historic Deerfield was very memorable. Unlike Plimoth Plantation or Sturbridge Village, where visitors know they are entering a recreated village, Historic Deerfield emerges from the Connecticut River lowlands as a simple street that seems to have been trapped in a time warp.

A short turn off of Route 5 brings you down a mile long roadway lined with homes built centuries ago by the original settlers of the area. These homes were not trucked in on flat-beds like Rockefeller did in Williamsburg or built by modern carpenters using age-old techniques as at Plimoth Plantation. Most of these homes, churches and school buildings have endured since their original construction dating back over 300 years.

In the center of the community is the 23 room Deerfield Inn, which itself is about 140+ years old. The wallpaper, the linens, the artwork and the doilies on the dresser are all things I would never want in my own home. But, I believe I would be greatly disappointed not to have them when we stay at a bed and breakfast or inn. Don’t ask me why. Also, what is it about the height of the bed in these guest houses? It seems to me we always find them to be so high up off the floor that my wife needs to take a running leap to get into bed. Were our ancestors all giants?

The sitting room, the lounge, the front porch are all part of the charm of staying at a place like the Deerfield Inn. I was not disappointed that the “ghosts”, that are claimed to haunt the inn made no appearance during our visit. I could do without that kind of encounter.

The Museum Store has everything you might expect in the way of souvenirs, memorabilia and craft items that celebrate the history of Deerfield. Over the years I have developed the ability to slowly and steadily open the front door without clanging the bells that are draped liberally over the door. I don’t mind a soft tinkle or the occasional ding from a door alarm, but those bells on the museum store front door can be quite startling if you are not ready for them.

But, it’s the bookstore within the museum that I especially like. I have noticed over the years that the total number of books on hand has diminished, but the range and caliber of the selections remains high. I never fail to find another book about Alexander Hamilton even though I think I have read every one ever written. I also enjoy the crazily over-stacked library cart with the 50 percent off discount. The signage is hand-written and subject to the whim of the mostly volunteer staff. Yet, I always find something I can’t resist.

Among the staff are a retired New York City librarian and many others that have a love of books, history and the charming role that Historic Deerfield plays in maintaining our connection with the past. It’s their devotion and patience that keep the store operating and worth the trip.