Katherine Hall Page: We’re closing in on Patriot’s Day, celebrated only in Maine and Massachusetts. Wisconsin has one that is a school holiday, but we know that’s not the real deal. The holiday is relatively recent. Maine replaced something called “Fast Day” where you, well, fasted—and prayed—with Patriot’s Day in 1907. Patriots’ Day—note the subtle position of the apostrophe—was first proclaimed in Massachusetts in1894.The punctuation is significant. In Maine we’re individualistic in our patriotism just as we are in everything else.
Patriot’s Day is the 18th of April this year. Since 1969, both states opted for a nice three-day weekend, so it’s always the third Monday. My first encounter with Patriots’ Day (it was in Massachusetts) occurred as I was driving with my mother for a college interview. On the way to Wellesley, we kept getting stopped by the police while a bunch of runners sped by. To say we were puzzled is an understatement. It was a weekday. What on earth could be going on? We finally asked and all became clear. Or somewhat clear. To mark the anniversary of the Battles of Concord and Lexington, paying tribute to the fallen, someone at sometime thereafter decided a very long road race was the appropriate means. I wasn’t in New Jersey anymore.
The above is by way of leading into mention of my new book, The Body in the Wardrobe. Most of the book takes place in Savannah, Georgia. Sophie Maxwell, a character introduced in the last book, The Body in the Birches, is now a new bride. She has married Will, whom she met in Maine, leaving both Connecticut and New York City for the South in much the same way that my series character Faith Fairchild left the Big Apple 22 books ago for a small town west of Boston. Faith finds the still warm body of one of her husband’s parishioners in Aleford’s Old Belfry; Sophie opens an antique wardrobe and a very dead man falls out. Faith’s body stays put, while Sophie’s disappears—and no one believes that there was one. They believe she saw something, after all Savannah’s nickname is the “Ghost City”. Her new relatives are envious of the sighting and even husband, Will, thinks it was a figment.
My friend Meg moved to Savannah a few years ago and leaving the snow behind to visit her has become an annual event. But it immediately became more than the warmth, seeing Meg of course—and food. I became fascinated with the differences in traditions, Savannahian customs, and so does Sophie Maxwell. Savannah’s biggest holiday is St. Patrick’s Day and the parade is the next largest to New York’s, some say larger. Who knew? As she gets to know her new home, Sophie realizes she’ll always be from away, an outsider, a Yankee even—we all know a cat may have kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits—but by the end of the book, despite perils galore, she is sure she would not want to live anywhere else.
Our regionalism is our national treasure and immersing ourselves in it for a visit, or longer, in person or in a book is pure pleasure. The Body in the Wardrobe is not a guide to Savannah. Faith Fairchild has to come to Sophie’s aid when Will Maxwell disappears (men have a habit of doing that in this book), leaving her family behind in Massachusetts where husband Tom is deciding whether to switch to a new parish and middle school daughter Amy is the target of social media bullying. There’s plenty going on, yet Savannah is still a star—the live oaks draped in Spanish moss like something from an Edward Gorey illustration, the long sandy beaches on Tybee Island, the historic city squares, each one different from the next, and always the wide Savannah River, especially when the lights on the boats and along the shore make it ridiculously, happily romantic at night.
This is National Library Week and in an earlier guest blog I wrote “Ode to Libraries”, so will refer you there should you wish to read about my lifelong love affair with them. Do celebrate NLW, though. Perhaps by going to see your reference librarian and having fun looking up odd state holidays: Alaska’s Seward Day falls in March, Rhode Island celebrates something called Victory Day in August, there’s Pioneer Day in Utah, and so forth. Tell your librarian how happy you are that there are more libraries in this country than McDonald’s. That more than 68% of us have library cards. Hug him or her literally or figuratively. Do it this week, because they’ll be closed on Monday for Patriot’s /Patriots’ Day!
The Body in the Wardrobe is the 23rd in Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series. She has also published for middle grade and YA readers as well as a collection of short stories, Small Plates (2014), and a series cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen (Orchises Press). She has been awarded Agathas for Best First, Best Novel, and Best SS and also was nominated for additional Agathas, an Edgar, Macavity, Mary Higgins Clark and the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She is the recipient of Malice Domestic 28th’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in Maine and Massachusetts.