It may have started the summer I did a course in proprioceptive writing in Portland, and then spent a month in Liberty with a fellow writer in the program. It was my sabbatical year with no schedule but pleasure.
Margaret had carved out a simple but enviable life, first struggling, then not prospering but enjoying those daily moments after a long drive 50 miles out and back from her job. Her house was totally renovated from near shack condition to a tri-level abode of wonderful proportions and intimacy. The stove run from the bottom up to the third floor bedrooms and kept her warm--especially in the hardness of some Maine winters. Right off the open plan living and dining rooms was a two person deck that revealed the purest night skies.
While she worked, I wrote and cruised around in my white Honda wagon searching for everything or nothing. The nearest town was Belfast, and it was there I fell in love. The town, less than half a dozen streets long, ending at the Wharf, and two and a half streets wide, contained everything I held dear: a food cooperative, a book store, an amazingly well stocked library with an art gallery, a home decor shop, two clothing shops, one second hand and the other upscale, several galleries and a cafe that overlooked the ocean.
Belfast, Main Street
When I thought about retirement I fantasized May Sarton's memoirs, her Atlantic Ocean coastal house, and Belfast. Fifteen years later I drove to Maine by way of Pittsburgh, where I had a 3 month sojourn, to be followed by leisurely driving through most of my old New England haunts: first into Connecticut where I stayed in Kent for a week and visited my regular spots in New Milford and Sherman, then through the Berkshires stopping to check out one of my regular town stops, Great Barrington, for coffee and a peek into JWS Art Supplies, always current in their offerings.
Then onto the Pioneer Valley and Northampton where I stayed for a few days, taking drives to Florence, Williamsburg and Amherst. Bypassing Rhode Island, I took a less traveled road directly into Portsmouth (NH).
The drive always seemed shorter if I stopped at Portsmouth, had something to eat and went to my favourite shoe store, Footnotes on Market Street, to get summer shoes. Maine then seemed within easy reach although Belfast would be another few hours. I stopped again in Camden-Rockport where I bought a fountain pen at Rockport Blueprint, a pen I actually filled just this week with J. Herbin Lie de The ink and wrote with this morning.
Photo courtesy Jet Pens
I can't remember why I took one road and not another, and certainly why I passed by Brunswick without stopping and visiting my old haunt at the Jung Institute or another coffee for the road.
It seems as if this trip was yesterday, but it was the year Ruby Slippers was born, 2004.
Why this nostalgia?
This memory trip to Belfast really has everything to do with writers, and women writers in particular. Whilst staying in Belfast, I ventured out to many other towns, and always stopped at the local bookstores, of which there are several, and asked and then bought books by local writers. In Searsport, one town over from Belfast, I dropped by the Left Bank bookstore where I was introduced to Mary Ellen Chase.
I thought of Ms. Chase and her remarkable book Mary Peters, when a fellow blogger mentioned another women writer, now nearly forgotten and easily ignored: Ellen Glasgow. Ms. Glasgow won a Pulitzer and is a Virginia writer, a place I've visited often but rarely stayed. My excuse for not knowing Ms. Glasgow's work is my infrequent visits below the Mason Dixon. Only occasionally would my interior compass set me off South and other memories.
I think Ms. Glasgow's work has been reprinted. I know that one or two of Mary Ellen Chase's works were reprinted locally. But even in Women's Lit classes, neither of these two women writers are included, or at least not the last time I checked syllabuses.
In the end, I read many fine books about Maine, stayed in a charming motel on the Ocean, but left my dream behind and exceeding fond memories.
Perhaps one day we'll all be equals, reincarnation will prove legitimate and I will live in Maine, with the ocean's whispers, and the words of women writers written on the wind for all to hear.