Monday, October 24, 2016

Two Famous Authors and Their Homes

October 16-20, 2016
Willington, Connecticut

Football is as much my passion as it is Bill's so this Sunday is games and laundry per usual.

Temps overnight never get below 55, leading to a surprisingly warm Monday. Tessa and I spend the day in nearby Manchester running errands.

I find a wonderful groomer at Shampoodles who is finally able to get rid of the itchy skin Tessa's had since we got to New England. If you're in the area and doggie needs a "do", I highly recommend them. 

I also learn that full service car washes do not exist here. I can drive through to wash and wax the exterior, but drying, vacuuming and interior cleaning is all self-serve. Very archaic!

Piper gets washed nonetheless, and doesn't look too bad for an amateur finishing the work. 

Tuesday it's even warmer, very un-Fall-like. I envision the leaves being confused, the trees re-thinking whether they should be letting go yet. 

My Chautauqua buddy, Joann, has been sending me information on great places to visit along our route. Greatly appreciated as we know so little about the area.

On the list is the Mark Twain House in Hartford and Tuesday is the day to visit.

Hartford is a big city! After so much time in small towns and villages, I'm surprised by the big buildings and busy downtown.

A real city atmosphere

The Mark Twain House includes a multi-story museum on the same grounds. Before touring the house where no photographs are allowed, Tessa and I check out the exhibits and the excellent movie. Once the most recognized man on earth, Samuel Clemons suffered a great deal of personal and financial tragedy in his life. The loss of two daughters and his beloved wife Lily, took their toll. He considered his move to Europe to be a seven year exile, never feeling at home until he returned to America.

While we know his fictional master pieces, Mark Twain was also known during his life time as a brutal satirist and opinionated lecturer. 
These trunks traveled to Europe and back with the Clemons' family. One of the few things we kept in storage is a trunk of Bill's that looks very much like the large one on the right.
While Huck Finn clearly shows Twain's strong position on slavery and racism, I knew nothing about his philanthropy and participation in the fight for civil rights. Warner McGuinn, pictured here, had his college tuition fully paid anonymously by the author.
Clemons invested a fortune in the Paige Compositor, expecting the type-setter to make him the top publisher in the country, but instead it's constant breakdowns ultimately caused him to declare bankruptcy which led to his heartbreaking choice to move the family to Europe.

I enjoy listening to several of Twain's earlier pieces on the headphones provided in this sitting area.
In Their Father's Image is a lovely exhibit dedicated to the Clemons' three daughters.
Clara is the only child to outlive her father. With her mother also passing many years earlier, she was the sole family guardian of Clemons' possessions as well as his image. A task that often caused her great frustration.
While Twain was on tour his daughters prepared a play from one of his short stories and "put it on" for him when he returned. The large photo shows the girls and their mother performing what he would later call "one of my greatest memories." 
A small replica of the home's fireplace where I later learn has a most wonderful story. Every night the family would gather here and Clemons' would tell a different story using all of the items on the mantel. He did this for years, never repeating the same story. I love that!
I have to include the life-size Lego Mark Twain. Have to.
The house has been called the "most lovely home ever built". I haven't seen every house but this one is certainly at the top of those I have. Not being able to take photographs is actually wonderful because I just enjoy it all in the moment. From the grand entrance hall to the billiards room with the 1904 table, every room is spectacular. The "angel bed" in the master bedroom went with Clemons everywhere, and he took his last breath in the bed in his Redding, Connecticut home in 1910. Clara gave it to the museum in 1940. Like the home and everything in it - it is grand.

The grounds are being upgraded so there is little landscaping, but the home's exterior is nearly as beautiful as the interior.

"To us, our house had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes, and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence, and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction." - Mark Twain

The multiple chimneys are unique and stunning.
I'm so grateful to Joann for telling me about this wonderful place, and I encourage you to see it when you're in the area.

Next door to the Twain House is the Harriet Beech Stowe Center, with a visitors' center, the Katherine Seymour Day House, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. 

I take the short tour with three others. The docent loves Tessa, taking her leash so she can "see better". I'm lucky she left with me :-)

This is one of the best tours I've done. More than just being lead around a place being told interesting information about what I'm seeing, this is an interactive discussion about the impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, of women daring to "speak out", of powerful literature. 

Her famous novel was inspired by Harriet's observation of a slave auction in Kentucky, and by the death of her infant son, giving her personal understanding of how the mothers felt who were sold away from their own children.
For the first time since opening in 1968, the center is receiving a much needed update. Because of all the work being done, most of Beecher-Stowe's house is closed today. Many of her art pieces and other artifacts have been moved to the Katherine Seymour Day House which normally serves only as the administrative offices and research library for the Center. The home was purchased by Harriet's grand-niece to save it from being destroyed. It is now named in her honor. 

One of nine ornate fireplaces. 
Tessa's pal shows us a newspaper which ran Uncle Tom's Cabin as a serialized story for many weeks. The book was published before the last chapters were printed and sold 10,000 copies the first week - people wanted to know how the compelling story ended!!
This beautiful clock is from Harriet's home and the chime at 2 o'clock has the sweetest tone.
My favorite piece here is the desk given to Harriet as a wedding gift, and where she penned the story of Tom, Topsy and little Eva. She also published 29 other novels.
Other items include many of the Uncle Tom-themed items that Harriet received no compensation for, including dishes, towels, statues, and even wallpaper. 

There is also a display of the bastardization of the story both on stage and in films. Seeing how the characters are portrayed in these it's not difficult to understand how "uncle tom" became a derogatory term. It's very sad considering the compassionate tale told by Harriet.

We do get a quick look inside Harriet's home, and like the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house in Seneca Falls, I feel very fortunate to stand in the same parlor where this strong, smart and brave woman also stood. It's even more poignant that they knew each other :-) 

Harriet lived in the home from 1873 until her death in 1896. It changed owners several times before Seymour-Day purchased her great aunt's home in 1924 and lived there for forty years. She donated the home and it's neighbor to be used to preserve Beecher-Stowe's history.

I enjoy seeing these two homes together, appreciating the important stories these two authors made part of our nation's culture.

After our busy day in the city, Wednesday Tessa and I take a short drive in the country and spend some time walking around our pretty little park. It is still in the 80's.

As the leaves reach their peak, some trees are already bare.
Hyde Park
Our home in the forest
Nice sites along the small lake

Some of the brightest colors are just out our window.
Bill is finally coming home Thursday afternoon!! Mom has been moved to her new place in Fresno, CA. The boxes Bill packed and shipped arrived intact. The family is all making plans to visit her. All-in-all a very successful trip. 

Tessa and I hang out at home until it's time to pick him up at the airport. We are both very happy to have him home!!

Monday, October 17, 2016

More Solo Time

October 11 - 15, 2016
Willington, Connecticut

I forgot the pretty covered bridge we saw crossing into New Hampshire our last day. Like the Fall foliage, I never tire of these bridges. This is the first we've seen with the x-cross pattern. 

The "fine" has gone up!

Crosses the river of the same name.
Initially our stop near Hartford, Connecticut was to see an old friend from high school who works at UofC. We planned to be here for four or five days.

But once the discussion of moving his mom to Fresno, California started, it quickly moved from possibility to reality. His cousin and aunt found her a nice home and made things happen on the receiving end. Bill "just" had to fly to Roswell to make them happen there, then fly Mom to California.

Wilderness Lake Campground is in a good location for both the airport and visiting our friend so I made reservations for two weeks. Again, our introduction isn't great as there's no sewer hookup. Turns out that there are no sites with sewer, so for them the "full hook-ups" I reserved is water and electric. I'm very unhappy and thinking I should immediately find a different place. After a few deep breaths I talk with the young owner who explains that gray tanks are drained to the dirt behind the site and a honey wagon will dump once a week without charge. Since the other parks nearby are nearly twice as much, I think we'll make this work. Not a fan of the gray tank dumping, but it's how they do it. This will always be the "You're not from around here, are you?" location, as that's what the honey wagon guy told Bill when he questioned the practice.

Otherwise, the site is level, satellite connects, cell phone service is strong, water pressure is fair, and it is a clean and safe-feeling location. The trees and little lake are very pretty. He gives us two sites so there's plenty of space.

Wednesday we just relax, and Bill packs to be gone for nine days. I drop him off at the airport around 5 PM, getting back home before dark.

Some of the little towns have Scarecrow Contests that add a fun note to walking on Main Street. Tessa and I spend a few hours Thursday checking out the creativity.

"Iron Man" bwahahaha

A stretch as a scare crow, but it's pretty cute.

I really like this natural entry
Hay Bob Bucket Pants

The little girls going in for dance lessons call her Stella.
It rains lightly overnight and Friday it stays under 60 degrees all day. Tessa and I take a drive on back roads, heading north to Southbridge, Massachusetts.

Tall tree stump as flower pot
Low hand-stacked walls run through the forests all over this area.
When I graduated from college in 1977 I was working for an industrial glass company as their administrative assistant. The boss often flew to headquarters which was (is) in Southbridge and told me how pretty the area was. I said someday I'd go see it. Can't decide what's more surprising, that I actually do visit, or that it took me until age 60 to do so!

The town has seen better days, but most businesses are open and only a few homes are boarded up. Life goes on. As does the business, which a banner tells me is celebrating 100 years - wow.

Historic buildings line downtown
They're still here
The cooling trend continues and when I get up Saturday morning it's 29 degrees! I can't believe I still have running water.

The sun warms things up and Tessa and I go looking for a nice place to take a walk. We find Gay City State Park in nearby Hebron. Other than a tiny lake and some picnic tables, there is nothing here but the forest trail. I figure we'll take a short stroll, but it's so pretty, and the trail just challenging enough to be fun, that when we eventually get back to the parking lot we've spent 90 minutes covering about 2.5 miles.

The forest glows

The rocks and roots aren't as challenging as the hundreds of loose acorns on the trail.
A small foot bridge covers the creek
More rock fences along the trail
A few large rocks to scramble. 
Still-life on the forest floor.
Tessa glows
Water color water
Since Bill is across the country I splurge for a late lunch of very yummy sushi. He's not a fan.

It's been so long!
This beautiful plant in front of the restaurant looks black although very close up it's a deep red. Stunning.

The trees along the highway are vivid, distracting, fabulous. What really makes me smile though, are the hillsides. They look like potted mums, tucked snugly together in such an artistic arrangement. Nature never disappoints.