|An opportunity to expiate my sins...|
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to atone for an eight-year-old crime. I didn’t know until a year and a half ago I had committed it but, by then, it was too late to do anything about it. The worst part is that, even when I knew what I was doing, I didn’t stop.
Nine years ago, Betty came home from a meeting of the Medfield Garden Club and said, “You won’t believe what I heard this morning.” I asked her to tell me all about it. She told me about an elderly member of the club who had had been repeatedly ignored by the teenaged clerks at a local drugstore, and her walking out of the store without paying for $1.98 of photos. How had the woman gotten away with this act of larceny? Her answer when I asked: “I’m 71 years old. I’m invisible.”
A light bulb went off in my head.
|Betty was designing at the fair...|
Ten days later, I made an early morning, 50-mile drive with Betty from Medfield to the Topsfield Fair, where she was entered in a floral design competition. I was banished from the building where she was creating her arrangement. I went outside and noted the proximity of the fair’s ‘Flowers’ building with its main entrance and administration building. As I mentally noted the cluster, I watched as an armored truck pulled in, parked in front of the administration building, two men walked into the building and returned a minute later with bags of, presumably, money. Thirty seconds later, they were gone.
Which is when I realized I had the plot of a book: what would happen if four ‘women of a certain age’ used their invisibility to rob the daily gate of a New England fair? At the Topsfield Fair a few days later, I confirmed a hunch: that in an era of debit and credit cards, green is still king at fairs. There’s a lot of cash sloshing around.
Six months later I had the draft of ‘The Garden Club Gang’. I also had a problem: for reasons that become obvious in the book, I couldn’t make the Topsfield Fair the setting of the heist. I needed to invent one. I looked at a map of Massachusetts. Marshfield also has a fair, and the idea of the ‘(Blank)field Fair’ seemed appropriate. I ruled out ‘Riverfield’ and ‘Meadowfield’. I couldn’t find a ‘Brookfield’ on the map and had never heard of such a town. And so, the heist took place at the Brookfield Fair.
‘The Garden Club Gang’ was an instant hit. Everyone loved the four ladies and women quickly identified with the characters. When I began speaking to garden clubs four years ago, I incorporated a segment about the book’s origins as part of my talk. Instead of tailing off, sales of the book soared.
|There really is a town of Brookfield!|
Fast-forward to September 2016. Betty and I were returning from a trip to the Berkshires on the Mass Pike. Just as we got to the Palmer exit, traffic came to a complete stop. We made what seemed like a wise decision and got off onto local roads, only to come a cropper with an even worst morass of traffic leaving the Brimfield Antiques Fair (which sprawls along several miles of Route 20, paralleling the Pike). We started taking any side road that seemed to point us even vaguely east. Forty-five minutes later, we found ourselves entering the town of…. Brookfield.
|The real and imaginary towns are|
48 miles apart
It was a beautiful little town of 3500 people. Just like the one I describe in the book. Except that it was in the wrong place. ‘My’ Brookfield is located 48 miles east, along I-495, roughly where the real town of Stow lies.
I had a dilemma. In seven years, no one had ever mentioned that there was a town called Brookfield in southern Worcester County. I had spoken to groups in nearby towns with nary a peep. Worse, a second Garden Club Gang book, ‘Deadly Deeds’, repeated the error from the first book; a character who lives in ‘my’ Brookfield makes appearances in other books; and I made Brookfield the home of the infamous Joey McCoy of ‘How to Murder Your Contractor’ – who complains about the traffic on 495.
|I had quite a crowd...|
Then, three months ago, I was invited by the ‘real’ Brookfield Garden Club to come present ‘Gardening in Murder’. The presentation was yesterday. The Fellowship Hall of the Brookfield Congregational Church was packed. Before the projector came on, I confessed everything... all the duplicity, including that I have just completed yet another Garden Club Gang installment that soft-peddles the canard that Brookfield is located where it isn’t.
My audience took it with good grace and, for that, I am thankful. If you are ever in central Massachusetts, I encourage you to make a stop in Brookfield. It is, indeed, a lovely New England village with a storied history and friendly people.
Just don’t ask them about their fair…