In honor of the Ashfield Fall Festival this weekend, I’m posting an essay I wrote several years ago about this favorite annual event. A slightly edited version ran in the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Hampshire Life. Click on the Ashfield Hardware link for a great little YouTube video on the store.
The Red Boots of Ashfield
I moved to Northampton because I wanted to live in a small city. But for real small town life, nothing fits the bill like Ashfield. You only need to lose a pair of red rain boots to know why.
We used to visit Ashfield on a regular basis, when one of our playgroup families lived there, but now we only get there once a year, for the Fall Festival. In our little lives this is the highlight of fall in the Pioneer Valley.
Last year was a perfect weekend. Not too warm, but not raining. No one was sick and no one was cranky, and we were ready to go. After parking near the cemetery, we hit all of the essentials: the tag sale of treasures and rust, the music stage, the marble races and bean bag tosses, and the art. We also hit apple pie, maple cotton candy, caramel apples, and homemade applesauce. Then it was time for the true destination of our yearly visit: the Ashfield Hardware Store. I’m certain that the Ashfield Hardware Store carries at least one of everything you could possibly need and many you just don’t understand. I never tire of wandering the store checking out the gadgets. Usually, the only things we buy are heavy-duty magnets and rain boots for my sons. Frankly, it’s really all about the rain boots. Cheap and sturdy, they come in red, purple, pink, and yellow. The boots for the smallest kids have smiley faces on the bottom that leave imprints in snow or mud. I’m not sure why, as an adult, I’m not afforded the same whimsy. This year my son was six, so we went in for a stylish pair of size 12 red rain boots. Then we dragged the children away from the toys and began walking back to the car.
Along the way, we made a last important stop, at the Boy Scouts’ pumpkin doughnuts, a perfect balance of spice and grease. Then we were back to the car and ready to drive home.
A week later, it began to rain and I went looking for the boots. I had no memory of bringing them into the house. I had no memory of taking them out of the car. In fact, I had no memory of putting them into the car in the first place. Did I, in a doughnut-induced reverie, leave them sitting on the sidewalk?
My first thought was to forget about it. What was I going to do, go back to Ashfield and look for them? Call the town: “Hi, did you find my boots?” Then again, maybe someone found the boots, knew that they came from the hardware store, and brought them back. It was worth a shot. I called. “Hi, this is going to sound really nuts…” But this is Ashfield, and of course someone found them and knew they came from the hardware store. The owner had received a call a few days earlier—someone had seen them near the site of the doughnuts. She believed they had taken refuge in the nearby church. She said she’d do some nosing around and get back to me.
After a week I called again. No one at the church could find the boots (perhaps organized religion made them uncomfortable), but someone thought they had made their way to the Town Hall. A taste for local politics? Weeks went by, as I waited for another call and prayed for no rain. I made a few calls as well, but still, no one had the shoes in custody. I began to think they preferred life in Ashfield and were dodging their captors. Finally the day came: the rogue boots were found and transported back to their original home, and they were mine to collect.
However, the journey wasn’t over yet. I had to get the boots, and Ashfield isn’t on my way to anything. By the time I managed to make a special trip, we’d be knee-deep in snow and my son would have grown out of the boots. So, we put our Pioneer Valley networking to use. My husband’s coworker, a Conway resident, retrieved the boots on the way to pick up her daughter at school in Charlemont. Next the boots got to enjoy a sojourn in Conway and a trip through Deerfield and Sunderland, on the way to UMass. From there, it was a bus ride through Hadley and home to Northampton.
They still fit.
These days the boots don’t travel very far. Just to the school at the end of the block, through puddles and slush. But they always remember those weeks, when they were footloose and fancy-free, and like me, they’ll always harbor a yen for small-town life.