Authors: Ann M. Martin
For David Levithan, for helping to bring Camden Falls to life
Camden Falls, Massachusetts, is more than 350 years old, but some of the people who live in the small town think that only now is it starting to show its age. For three and a half centuries it has survived wars and fires and storms and floods, watched its residents weather heartache and sorrow, and rejoiced with them over births and graduations and marriages. During all those years, the town has stood sturdy and firm, even shone a little. But suddenly, now, cracks are showing in its foundation.
“It looks run-down,” murmurs Min Read with astonishment as she rounds the corner of Dodds Lane one morning and turns onto Main Street.
“What?” asks Ruby, her granddaughter, who's walking into town with her. Min glances meaningfully at Ruby. “I mean,
?” Ruby corrects herself.
“Main Street looks a little run-down,” says Min again.
“What does ârun-down' mean?”
Ruby eyes the street. Camden Falls has been her home for only two years, but already she's proud of it. “It doesn't look shabby,” she says, but even as the words are leaving her lips, she knows her grandmother is right.
In fact, much of Camden Falls is tinged with shabbiness these days. Times have been hard. As Min pauses on the corner of Main and Dodds, one hand resting on a lamppost, she notices things she's sure have been in front of her nose for some time but that haven't registered.
“Funny what you don't want to see,” she says to Ruby as they continue on their way to Needle and Thread.
Ruby is silent for a few moments, not wanting to agree with her grandmother just yet. Finally, she says, “There are an awful lot of potholes in the street.”
“Not enough money in the town budget to repair them.”
“The paint on the lampposts is peeling.”
Min nods. Quite a bit of Camden Falls could use a coat of paint. She sees that bricks have fallen off the fronts of several buildings, notes a broken pane of glass in the window of Time and Again, and sees a sign hanging lopsided from one hinge. Worse, two more businesses have closed since the holidays. And the Nelsons' diner, she knows, is in serious trouble.
“If we can hang on until summer,” people are fond of saying.
No one bothers to finish that sentence, because if you live here, you don't need to hear the end. If the people of Camden Falls can last until the summer, then maybe the tourist season will pull them through. All they need is a slight shift in the economy â a slight positive shift, of course â and the tourists will flock to Camden Falls as they usually do. Then, perhaps, potholes will be filled and lampposts will be repainted and stores that are struggling will be able to come up for air.
Min Read is one of Camden Falls's old-timers. She has lived here all of her life, more than seventy years. Her store, Needle and Thread, which she runs with her friend Gigi, is holding its own so far, and Min knows they're lucky. The little deli on Boiceville Road closed after New Year's, and so far nothing has replaced it. The
sign is still in the window, and the bay of the window is filled with mouse droppings. Around the corner from the deli, a gift shop has closed.
But come take a tour of Camden Falls and you'll see that despite its new air of shabbiness, the economy isn't the only thing on people's minds. Walk back to Main Street, turn onto Dodds, and retrace Min's and Ruby's steps to Aiken Avenue and the Row Houses, where Min and her granddaughters live in the fourth house from the left. Here are eight identical homes standing in a solid stone row. And in these homes live eight families â twenty-eight people â with very different things on their minds.
Peek in the windows of the house at the left end of the row and you'll find the Morris family. On this Saturday morning, all four of the Morris children are reading, even Alyssa, the youngest, for whom reading is a newly acquired skill. The Camden Falls library is sponsoring a kids' contest, and anyone who reads twenty books by the end of the month will earn a coupon for a free slice at College Pizza. The Morris children are determined to earn their slices.
Next door are the Hamiltons, the newest family in the Row Houses. They've been having a difficult time but not because of the economy. Mrs. Hamilton, who has been hospitalized after years of unstable behavior, will finally be coming home soon. Willow Hamilton, friend to Ruby's sister, Flora, isn't sure how she feels about this. She knows she
to be excited â after all, her mother will finally be rejoining the family â but instead she fears that things will not be right after all.
Next to the Hamiltons are the Malones, and in this household there is a certain amount of excitement. Margaret Malone will be going to college in the fall, and she's preparing to leave the town she loves for a town that she hopes she'll love just as much.
Now, the next house belongs to Ruby and Flora Northrop and their grandmother Min Read. Ruby and Flora are still considered newcomers to Camden Falls, having moved in with their grandmother after they lost their parents in a car accident. The last two years have been a time of adjustment for the sisters. Flora finds it ironic that just when she feels her life is settling down, she's having an awful lot of trouble getting along with Ruby.
Peek in the windows of the fifth house in the row and you'll find Olivia Walter. Olivia is a lifelong resident of Camden Falls â and Flora's best friend. She's noticed the trouble between the sisters, and she's determined to fix it. Somehow.
Next to Olivia's family lives Rudy Pennington. Rudy, the eldest member of the Row House community, is Min's dear friend. You'll find him sitting in an armchair in his living room. His favorite spot on a Saturday morning used to be the couch, but in the days since he lost his devoted dog, he finds that he can't bear to sit next to the empty spot that was once occupied by Jacques.
In the next house, the second from the right end, live Robby Edwards and his parents. Robby, who has Down syndrome, is excited because his mother has just shown him the flyer from Mountain View Center, where Robby has recently registered for the Special Olympics. “Look at all the activities!” says Robby. “They have a theatre class, too, Mom. And a dance is coming up! Can I go to the dance?”
In the very last house, Barbara Fong and her husband watch their toddler, Grace, as she plods through the living room in search of a toy, then suddenly plops onto her bottom, well cushioned by diapers. “She's very tippy, isn't she?” says Barbara fondly. Her left hand is clasped in her husband's. Her right hand is massaging her belly.
On other streets in other houses, in town and in the countryside, life marches on for the residents of Camden Falls. In her isolated house bordering acres of farmland, Nikki Sherman â the fourth of the group of tightly knit friends that also includes Flora, Ruby, and Olivia â is contemplating her volunteer job at Sheltering Arms, the local animal shelter. She's remembering her promise to be on the lookout for a dog for Mr. Pennington, and she's determined not to disappoint him. Several miles away, in Three Oaks, the retirement community where Nikki's mother works, Mr. Willet â the former resident of the Hamiltons' Row House â slumps in his desk chair, eyes trained outside the window, and has the oddest feeling that something (but what?) is missing from his life. Back on Main Street, Hilary Nelson, eager to escape the tension that she always seems to feel in the diner these days, sees her friend Ruby on the sidewalk outside and rushes to meet her.
“Walk with us to Needle and Thread,” says Ruby, and arms linked, Ruby, Hilary, and Min make their way along the street, trying not to notice the shabbiness that has crept up around them.