I spent my birthday as an author-in-residence at the Ames Free Library in North Easton, MA. Through a chance encounter, an immediate spark of connection, and some planning, I resided royally in a 19th c. mansion designed by Andrew Jackson Downing who collaborated with Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame. I arrived at night, kindly escorted, met, and settled into what would be my home for the next day and quarter. I settled in with the second Neapolitan novel by Elena Ferrante, in which life becomes even harsher for our knowledge-seeking heroines. On waking, I discovered I was in another world. I was inside a mansion. Tackling a kuerig capsule of coffee, a drip coffeemaker, and a precious container of milk, I made coffee, ate a buttered English muffin, and began to read. The room I was in contained a small library of books on writing, comfortable chairs, and a view that revealed an Italian-like garden, complete with curving low walls, a pergola, and in the distance, a fountain.
After a full day with a visit with my brother, a reading/talk in the library, and a celebratory dinner ( I turned fifty-five), I retired to “my home.” Then the bliss: I woke the next day, settled at the desk, and wrote. I discovered the Italian garden was the garden in the novel in progress. Only when I came home did I find out that Downing drew plans for another landscaped manor, on property owned by Matthew Vassar, whose college I attended.
I wish my professor, the late Bill Gifford, could share this discovery with me. He would appreciate the connection, and would have something witty to add. I trek back to Vassar to attend his menorial in December.