I felt in a daze as I toured the scenic farmland of Schoharie County in upstate New York. I’d seen pictures of the devastation Hurricane Irene caused in its wake, but this was four months later. The sparkling creek ran gurgling along in its banks, but what were those plastic bags doing hanging from the tops of the line of tall trees there? “That’s how high the creek rose,” said my guide, a native of the area. We toured the side streets of the good-sized village, noting all the “For Sale” signs on the quaint old Victorian houses. The Main Street was even more depressing, empty of life except for two businesses, a pizza place and a local diary store. Both stores had made a Herculean effort to reopen and provide some kind of normal life to the residents of the village of Schoharie. I felt my spirits plummet even further when we came to the library, a white, once vibrant building of indeterminate architecture. The structure was shuttered and closed tight as a drum. A small paper hung on the door noting that donations to the library could be sent to an independent bookstore in Albany, about an hour’s drive away.
Hurt a library and you hurt my soul, I pondered as we drove down the road to the next village. “You’ll see something different here,” my guide said before we turned the corner, and my spirits immediately lifted as I was greeted by a line of bright and newly painted buildings. We pulled into a parking spot on the main street. My guide pointed out the marks on the window of a garage as we walked to the local cafe. “That’s how high the water was.” Five feet, I guessed. The main street of Middleburgh had been under five feet of water! And not just any water, but brown and stinky floodwater. Mrs. K’s kitchen was doing a booming business, we discovered; customers were chatting and laughing, a piano tinkled in the background. We opted for cups of tea and pieces of home-made chocolate cream pie. Our tummy’s fortified, we drove on to the Middleburgh library, a solid brick building with a sign proclaiming the intention to reopen in a short time. (I’d spoken to the librarian, who had called to cancel a speaking engagement because of mud damage to the floors and water damage to the lower shelves of books. “We threw away thousands of books,” she’d said.) While I had known about the damage, I was still not prepared for the reality.
Still somewhat down from the whole experience – the beautiful valley of Schoharie is one of my favorite places, important historically, agriculturally and spiritually – I mentioned it to a friend and fellow author from California. “Will it help if I send a signed copy of my book?” Priscilla Royal made a very generous offer. I accepted with relief, thinking that I would add my own copy and bring them both to the Middleburgh library. Then the light bulb finally popped on in my head, and I began asking friends and fellow authors if they’d like to send a book to the Middleburgh library. Authors from Maine to California responded to the call with signed copies of their books and I was able (with the help of my husband,) to heft a huge bag of books to the newly cleaned and carpeted library, much to the delight of the librarians there. They were planning to reopen on that Saturday! I was swelled with pride at the generosity of my fellow writers – and swelled with another piece of Mrs. K’s chocolate cream pie as well, I do confess. To top it all, my writers’ group, the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, made a generous contribution to both the Schoharie library and the Middleburgh library and even suggested future events we might hold to support the two places. Oh, the federal government announced huge grants to the area, but if one penny of it has arrived in Schoharie Valley, I’ve yet to hear of it. When people seem cold and jaded, I think of the writers from around the United States who banded together to support two small libraries in an unknown county so far away.
About M. E. Kemp‘s mystery Death of a Dancing Master
It’s 1693, and Boston’s dancing master is found dead with a fencing foil through his gut.
Two nosy Puritans, Hetty Henry and Creasy Cotton, are asked to investigate. The young minister who found the body has been arrested for the murder but Hetty and Creasy discover there are many other suspects including the town’s ministers who preached forcefully against him, the magistrates who harassed him with fines, angry husbands, and jealous women who contended for his affections. Hetty interviews the ladies who willingly confess their love for the dancing master—several confess to causing his death. Unfortunately, none of the ladies know the real means of his murder.
Creasy has no luck when questioning the men, either. Later, a tavern wench gives him a note asking for a meeting, claiming she has information about the murder. When Creasy turns up for their midnight meeting he gets an unpleasant surprise. Hetty devises a plan is to set up a trap using herself as bait. She claims to know the killer’s secret and demands payment for her silence. The cemetery meeting at midnight becomes a fight for Hetty’s life…
M. E. Kemp mysteries Website http://mekempmysteries.com