Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Those of you who frequent this blog know that my father's book-a-day reading habits and sweet writing challenges through the years have done much to shape me as a writer. So, it should come as no surprise that when he suggested, "Let's take a trip, just you and me," that we decided to visit the literary haunts in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

And since I know many of you are literary-minded as well, I thought I might share our experience to help guide you on your own trip!

First of all, you'll be wondering: fly into Boston or Hartford, CT?

Pick Hartford, otherwise known as Bradley International Airport (BDL). It's small. It's centrally located to the best attractions. It's cheaper than flying into Boston.

Next, where to stay? I puzzled over this one for a while and up until a couple of weeks prior to the trip thought we would change hotels each night. But that is so taxing, and when I mapquested times and distances, I discovered everything we wanted to see was within 2 hours driving time of Enfield, CT.

Enfield is just south of the Massachusetts border, so just outside of Springfield and about 20 minutes north of the airport. Turns out, a lot of folks stay here when they are visiting Six Flags. There are a number of hotels, and after some quality time on Tripadvisor we selected Red Roof Inn. It was clean, quiet, comfortable and reasonably priced -- perfect for us.

There are also an abundance of restaurants and stores on the Enfield exits. There even a shopping mall and a movie theater, for night-time, non-literary entertainment. I also spied a Barnes & Noble, if the literary haunts don't satisfy your itch -- or, as was our case, if the literary haunts add a gazillion new titles to your to-be-read list!

For evening meals after travel, there are a plethora of choices from fast food to sit-down chain restaurants. My father and I love to eat local, so we tried a few only-in-Enfield restaurants. While we were not pleased with Hazard Grille (perhaps we ordered the wrong thing -- both of us had seafood, and it was NOT good), we visited the Country Diner three times! We also enjoyed a lovely meal at Lulu's Pizzeria and Family Restaurant.

Now for the literary goodness:


We arrived at the airport before noon, got our car from Budget (really quick, kind service) and scuttled into Hartford for lunch at Black-Eyed Sally's on Asylum Street. It's a blues-themed juke joint with a New Orleans flavor and lots of ambience. After a lovely meal, we headed for the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe. We took the tour and learned so much about Harriet and her family, like the difference between being anti-slavery and abolitionist and what happens when a parent is a famous preacher and instructs his kids to "go out and make the world a better place." I had no idea Harriet wrote 30 books and was an artist. I had to buy a biography, and I totally wanted her painting of an orange tree.

Papa in front of Mark Twain's house
 Next up, and just across the yard, we visited Mark Twain's home. Wow, what a difference between the two! Mark Twain was indeed living it up and spared no expense. I loved the stenciled walls we saw on the tour. I was most taken with his third-floor study, where his desk was positioned facing the corner so he wouldn't be distracted by the windows or the billiard table or anything else. Also, we learned that Mr. Clemens "pigeonholed" his early manuscript for Huckleberry Finn -- which meant he placed it in a cubbyhole when he wasn't sure where the story was going or what it's purpose was. It stayed there for years, until he took another trip to Missouri. Then he pulled it out and created the classic we all know and love. How wonderfully validating for we writers who marinate and stew, sometimes for years and years before the story emerges enough for us to be able to shape it properly! Before our departure we were serenaded by a fiddler (he sang "Good Night, Irene," among other old tunes) and enjoyed free ice cream and lemonade at the Mark Twain Center. Delightful!

Also, we viewed the exhibit "Race, Rage and Redemption," which was disturbing but important, with many items on loan from an exhibit from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.


We journeyed 40 minutes or so to Amherst, MA, home of one Emily Dickinson. We were fortunate to get tour guide Jane Price whose passion for Emily's life and work made the tour an absolute joy. (This, after a not-so-warm welcome by the young women in the gift shop/tour office... really, is it that hard to say, "Good morning"?) I loved seeing Emily's famous white dress and learning tidbits about her play with the local kids (She would drop a basket out her bedroom window with gingerbread as part of the neighborhood game of "booty."). Also, the last room held an interactive space with gave me a great idea for teach kids about the joys and agonies of word choice for poets-at-work.

Turkey "pop" Pie at Judie's
But the highlight of our day was not Emily, but another wonderful local author, Jeannine Atkins, author of the gorgeous book BORROWED NAMES, among others. I've gotten to know Jeannine through Poetry Friday, and I had given a copy of her book to my father back in 2010 when it came out. So we were thrilled to lunch with her at Judie's, famous for their popovers. Delicious, and what a thrill to meet Jeannine who was every bit as lovely as I expected her to be. Thanks, Jeannine!

Jeannine and me!
Jeannine offered to walk with us to Emily's gravesite in Amherst, but it didn't work out for us. If you go, make sure and see it for us! Also, be sure and visit Amherst Books. Yes, we were there a while. :)

Next we headed back to Hartford to see Noah Webster's house. Of all the places we visited on our trip, this one was the most disappointing. I guess Noah just hasn't achieved the fame of the others, even though his work was certainly important. We got the feeling that the house's focus was more on learning opportunities for local youngsters than for tourists -- great for them, not so much for us! Perhaps we would have had a different impression if we'd gotten there in time for the last house tour, so if you go, be sure to check the tour times before heading out.


We took our longest journey, east to Concord, which took us about an hour and 45 minutes, to see Louisa May Alcott's home, The Orchard. It's a charming house, and since it was a lovely Saturday, we were among many eager to revel in the sweet world of LITTLE WOMEN. The house was exactly like stepping onto the pages of that novel, and it was fascinating to learn all the parallels between the novel and Louisa May's real life. Not so appealing was the militant tour guide who seemed to take great pleasure in admonishing guests not to touch. I mean, come on, we get it. It kind of took away from the graciousness of the experience. We were pleased to sign the guest book on our way out -- a guest book that's very similar to the one people have been signing for the past 100 years as they've toured this home. (I know! 100 years! Amazing!)

My favorite picture from the trip
(I swear we didn't plan to both be
crossing our arms -- but, look!)
Thanks to a recommendation from the cashier in the gift shop, we headed into town to lunch at the Colonial Inn. There was a street festival in town, so people were everywhere and parking spaces were not -- but we finally landed and were thrilled with the elegant quiet of the restaurant. While overpriced, the food was delicious. Papa and I each ordered lobster rolls, and waddled out of there ready for a nap.

Papa at the North Bridge
After lunch we visited Minute Man National Historic Site to get a little history fix. Yes, there are several other literary homes in the area -- Old Manse (tromping ground of Emerson and Thoreau), which we saw, and the Wayside -- which we might have visited if we'd had more time. But what Papa wanted to see was the North Bridge, famous for "the shot heard 'round the world" and the Daniel French "Minute Man" statue. So we visited the North Bridge center, then parked on the Old Manse for the shortest walk to the bridge. It was warm and sunny and so peaceful it was really difficult to imagine the bloodshed that once happened exactly where we stood.

Back in our car, we were thirsty, and what luck: we stopped in at Lucy & Lulu's Lemonade Stand operated by two sisters in their driveway, with half the proceeds going to charity. They sold us two cups of lemonade, a brownie, a sugar cookie and a slice of watermelon. Lovely! And then we were off to find Sleep Hollow Cemetery. It's a BIG cemetery, but we finally found Author's Ridge, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are buried. I was touched by the small offerings of pencils and pens and stones and paper scraps at each grave and even contributed a small something of my own. If one must be buried, I don't suppose there's a better spot in the world than this one.

If we hadn't been tuckered out, we would have visited Concord Museum, which came highly recommended by Jeannine and was featuring works by Annie Leibovitz. I'm sorry we had to miss it, but you know, it's always good to leave something for a return trip.


We traveled west about 45 minutes to the Berkshires, more specifically to Stockbridge, MA, home of Norman Rockwell Museum. How much did we love this place? How much did I smile walking through these rooms? How delighted was I to learn who tidy Norman was in his studio, and how ashes from his pipe would drop and ignite his brush-cleaning bucket, sending up flame and smoke and melting it into its own muddled shape? We could have spent days in the gift shop alone and seriously had to curb our spending. So much to love!

Since it was lunchtime we headed into Lenox, just a few minutes away, which was positively bustling, despite drizzle. We parked in a church parking lot and walked to Haven Cafe & Bakery for brunch. We were not alone. In fact, we could barely speak to one another, it was so crowded. We managed to enjoy our meal anyhow -- Papa had a Santa Fe omelet and I had curry chicken salad. It was wonderful to step outside again into the peaceful, wet air.

Edith's bedroom. When can I move in?
We headed next to The Mount, home of Edith Wharton. You may not know it, but Edith wrote one of my most favorite novels of all time: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. and oh wow, did I love her home. Of all the homes, this one was mine mine mine. The decor! The gardens! The simple lines and art! And how refreshing to guide ourselves on the tour and be advised that we were welcome to take pictures so long as the flash was turned off. I felt this was just as Edith herself would have wanted it. I was completely enchanted, and in the gift shop I found a volume of Ms. Wharton's poetry (who knew?) and a new novel I'm positively aching to read, because it was inspired by my favorite novel: THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal.

We were back on the Mass. Pike before we realized that we had forgotten to see Chesterwood, Daniel French's studio in Stockbridge, which Jeannine had recommended. We were so sad! But the bad thing about the Pike is you can't turn back. Again, something to see next time.

A side note about the Mass Pike: it cost us less than $3 each way to Concord, and nothing on our way to/from Stockbridge. Go figure.


We enjoyed a lovely breakfast and headed to the airport to return our car and wait for our flights. So hard to say goodbye! But oh so thankful for the experience, the memories, the wealth of time shared. Thank you, Papa. I love you so much!


  1. I'm envious of all your visits, especially with your papa. It's lovely that you captured it here. I've taken my students to Concord & it was a grand trip to see Louisa May's home, and all the other history there. Thanks for sharing the trip, Irene.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Linda! I had a feeling there were names in that guest book at The Orchard that would be familiar to me if only I had a few hours to pore over those pages. Makes me happy to think of you there! xo

  2. Love this post! There is just so much goodness and beauty and inspiration and fun here :). Edith's home looks wonderful. Too bad about the grumpy guide at Alcott House and the not-nice people at the Dickinson gift shop. You and your Papa are adorable -- what a perfectly splendid idea for the two of you to share this experience.

    1. Thank you, Jama - it really was a special time. Happy day to you!

  3. memories to hold dear for many years to come... I love Papa too and I don't even know him :)

    1. Y'all would really enjoy each other. Plus he already knows a lot about you. xo

  4. Reading this makes me miss you. I'm glad you saw so many great places and apologize for Massachusetts manners and turnpike strangeness. I think you deserve a night in Mrs. Wharton's bedroom, tossing pages to the floor to be swept up by the maid.

    And I do think it's cool that I'd just picked up Age of Innocence when you told me it's one of your favorite books. Good luck with Mrs. Stowe's hard life. I hope Mr. Clemens did make her laugh now and then!

    1. Indeed, Mrs. Stowe had some tough times! It was SO GREAT to meet you, Jeannine. One thing I learned on our trip is that manners really matter to me. :) Thinking of you reading THE AGE OF INNOCENCE... I downloaded THE INNOCENTS, despite not-so-favorable reviews -- will let you know. xo

  5. Thanks for this, Irene. I live so close to these amazing places and have not seen them all. Now I want to visit! This was precious time with your Dad. So happy for you both.

    1. Hi Joyce - sometimes it helps to see things from a tourist's perspective, doesn't it? Thanks so much for visiting and happy day to you!

  6. Thanks for this, Irene. I live so close to these amazing places and have not seen them all. Now I want to visit! This was precious time with your Dad. So happy for you both.

  7. Wow, what a whirlwind tour! I had no idea there was such a concentration of writer goodness in that area. I just love being in places where people wrote - doesn't it just give you the shivers? I was all atwitter a few years ago when I stepped foot in the Bronte's parsonage in Haworth - Charlotte's dress! The divan Anne died on! The miniature books they wrote with their brother! I think my claw marks are still on the walls from where they had to pry me outta there!

    Such wonderful memories to share with your father, Irene!

  8. What a wonderful trip! I love that you have such loving family who share your love of words. Lots of love there. And a meal with Jeannine. You know I'm jealous. I'm looking forward to seeing you in Columbus soon. Would you share a meal with me?

  9. Doraine, I would love to share a meal with you! I'm excited about that trip too. Let's talk more as it gets closer. Miss you! xo


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