Friday, July 29, 2011

A real character: Captain Zeb

In keeping with the Stonington theme, I discovered this gentleman, Zebulon Hancox, at the Stonington Historical Society Old Lighthouse Museum.  Didn’t he have a great name?  Sometimes life really does give you better characters than anything you can find in fiction.  Although, if I ever put him in a story I’m afraid people would call him a cliché.  I think he sounds brilliant, and I wish I could go back and drink a glass of hot buttered rum with him (the photo above looks like he could use one). I’d be the one buying of course.     

The photo above and the description below are from the Stonington Historical Society Museum:

"Born in 1808, he was an extremely eccentric member of an old Stonington family.  The girl of his choice refused to marry him because of his poverty, and it is said that he resolved to spend his life making enough money to satisfy her.  In 1899, at age 91, he died, leaving over $100,000.  Unfortunately, the girl had long since married another and died.

Captain Zeb made his fortune by fishing (always), by building houses to rent, and by never buying anything he could possibly do without.  He made all of his own clothes, and even whittled his own buttons. 

His name survives in Hancox Street.  Most of the fourteen houses that he owned when he died were in that neighborhood.

Cheers to you Captain Zeb!   

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A visit to Stonington –or– The kindness of strangers

My indomitable traveling buddy, Christy, and the Old Lighthouse last October

It’s about four miles from Mystic to Stonington.  Four very long miles over a sizable hill.  I visited Stonington briefly the last time I was in Connecticut and knew I wanted to go back during my summer trip to Mystic.  Without a car I had to rent a bike, which I did.  The Mystic Community Bike Center gave me a rusted bike and a silly green helmet that looked like an extraterrestrial pod landed on my head.  I was set to go. 

Stonington is a charming little borough, but there’s not too much to see except for charming little houses.  After a couple of hours of wandering I had my fill of old lighthouses and over-priced shops and decided to head back to the Inn at Mystic (well, really its pool).

I jumped on the bike, heard one of those “chunk” noises you never want to hear, and scraped the back of my leg on the pedal in a way I knew meant I wouldn’t be swimming in the hotel pool that day.  I looked down to see what was wrong and the chain had fallen off the round chain thing (yes, clearly I know about bikes.) 

So there I was, somewhere in Stonington with a broken chain and a bleeding ankle, wondering if I was going to have to walk four miles back to Mystic in 95 degree heat. 

Then I learned my guardian angel was a nine-year-old boy.  He came running out from behind his house, calling out if I was alright. I think I started blubbering about the bike and my ankle and something about the chain and the pedal.  He just reached down, put the chain back in its place, and said: “Happens to my bike all the time.” Of course it does.

He stood in the driveway and made me bike around the street until he was sure all was well, and sent me off with a bit of nine-year-old wisdom: “Don’t you know? When you need help you only have to ask for it.” 

I will now always have a special place in my heart for Stonington and a kid who was willing to help a stranger in a stupid green helmet with questionable biking abilities.  I wonder if he knew he was my hero for the day.  

On a side note, Stonington is also notable for having been the home of poet James Ingram Merrill.  His house is now used for a writer-in-residence program. You can read more about the program and Mr. Merrill’s ties to Stonington here

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Other places on the water

If I could hear the green piles groaning
Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels, 
And the black sticks that fence the weirs, 

I should be happy, that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from the water.
I have need of water near. 
                -Edna St. Vincent Millay 

 Bearskin Neck

Rocky Neck Artists Colony


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Which brought me here...

Look familiar?
When I pulled out the old “cut and assemble” book I discovered that the buildings were modeled after those found at the Mystic Seaport Museum.  So of course I had to visit.

The very first building I saw was the boatshed. 
Then I found my way to the sailmakers and ropewalk…

and the lighthouse…

and the “Captain’s House”…

and the tavern…

and so many more...

It was amazing, seeing a town I had lived with so long in my mind brought to life.  Almost surreal.  Did I mention it was a beautiful October day?  Making the whole experience all the more incredible…

Monday, July 25, 2011

Where it all began

I can’t remember how old I was when I first made my own little seaport.  Young enough to still have a pretty vivid imagination.  As I put each building together the town came alive and the stories of its residents grew with the completion of each miniature structure.  I called my seaport Vantage, because I envisioned it sitting high on windswept cliffs in Maine or Nova Scotia.  Somewhere appropriately stark and austere.

When I decided to participate in my first National Novel Writing Month I turned back to my little town (since packed away in the basement) and once again found inspiration in the lives that could have been lived in each of its buildings: the lighthouse, chandlery, tavern, cooperage, sail loft, and Captain’s house.  Now a few years and multiple revisions later I’m still trying to tell those stories in a way I hope my younger self would appreciate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I always wanted to travel back in time

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"
-L. P. Hartley

I truly believed it was possible. I only needed to figure out how….  Perhaps a magic portal would open or a tear in the fabric of time would send me back to where I belonged, because I certainly didn’t belong in the early 1990s.  How could anyone with an adolescent desire for peace and beauty live in a world of Nirvana and Aquanet?

I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in the past? Life was simpler, the clothes were better.  Romance was real.  The frontier still existed with infinite possibilities of adventure.  It seemed better than head-banging to Kurt Cobain.

Well, obviously it never happened, which may have been for the best considering my dependence on Excedrin, contact lenses, and properly functioning indoor plumbing.

Instead I found another consolation: historical fiction.  If I couldn’t will myself into the past then at least I could write my way there, walking alongside my characters and exploring their worlds with them.

So in a way I guess I did find the secret to time travel.  Meanwhile, I survived the decade where parachute pants were considered fashionable.  And you know what, someday someone will write a historical fiction novel about Courtney Love.  It won’t be me.