N.E.A.T. (New England Author Tour) Part 1: Thornton Wilder
On Thursday afternoon, three brave explorers (and two cute little girlies) piled into the car in search of adventure, inspiration, and an out-of-the-way little home in Hamden, Connecticut.
Perhaps Thornton Wilder's house isn't the most obvious first choice for our author-home-adventure. First of all, it hasn't been made into a museum yet. And he's not exactly our favorite author, though after this trip, I think he's growing on us...
But--we were lucky enough to grow up a few miles away from his house, without even knowing it was right at hand...and that, my friends, was reason enough to give him the first place in our journey.
Thursday was hot and stormy; thunder urged us on in our quest and we surged forward, only slightly hindered by the humid air that clung to every inch of our bodies. Adding to the tension, I was driving. I am not a very relaxed driver, I'll admit. I really don't enjoy going over the speed limit; and unfortunately every other driver in Hamden seems to. It was a relief to pull into the shaded lane of Deepwood Drive--where, sudddenly, time and traffic seemed to pass away with the appearance of old, stone houses and overgrown gardens. Not so our excitement.
There it was, the "House the Bridge Built," so called because Wilder bought it with the royalties of his Pultitzer-winning (and cool) The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
"Hurry, give me the camera," I whispered to Rose. Not that anyone could have heard me if I spoke normally, but despite the fact that I was barely within sight of the house itself (though I got a nice pic of the mailbox!), I felt scandalously rule-breaking.
Keeping my foot nailed to the brake, I snapped a shot or two, while Lucy called from her carseat, "Mama, what are we doing here? Whose house is this? Are we going to this house?"
"Uh, no..." I answered, while Regina (Sister 2) added to poor Lucy's confusion by holding up her phone to take pictures. If I hadn't driven away in such a hurry, she might have gotten some good ones, too.
I know, sneaking past a house in the midday light and heat was kind of crazy, and only borderline inspirational. But our next stop was both completely proper and quite inspiring...oh, and air-conditioned. Ahhhh.
Even though no one's decided the house deserves to be a museum yet, some kindly folk of the Thornton Wilder Society decided there should be something of his to serve as a muse to the masses...so they recreated his study in a tiny corner of the Hamden Libray. I must have walked by it a few hundred times and never stopped to look closely, but there I found the treasure of the day, our el dorado, a writer's pearl: one little bit of wisdom...
Besides the awesome quote, there was other goodness: the desk where Wilder penned Our Town,
...and his pencil sharpener! (I know, how cool is that?)
When we had finished this feast for our eyes, we headed on to our last stop: Mount Carmel Cemetary, Thornton Wilder's last stop, too, incidentally...
We found his grave at the top of the hill, nearly forgotten. Grass and mud obscured the last several letters of his name; we cleaned it off as best we could and shared a moment of silence and a moment of prayer:
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.
I couldn't help feeling a little angry as we walked back to the car. Here was a man who changed lives with his writings. He won three Pulitzer prizes. His play is still more performed than any other American play. And we have only a tiny corner of the library and a neglected grave to visit in his memory.
But then, back in the air-conditioned sanctuary of the car, I flipped to the last page of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the highlighted, underlined, dog-eared copy from our high school days, and read:
"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."