Monday, October 15, 2018

Bertie's Adventure At the Beach

Just because you vacation back at the same place you vacationed last year doesn't mean you're going to have the same experiences. It's not Ground Hog Day.

Take the visit to Chatham my wife and I made last Monday on the first full day of what has become a bit of an annual trip to see her cousin in Centerville, that otherwise takes in some favorite Cape Cod places where we spent several summers when the kids were growing up.

Chatham looked the same. Some places were closed because it was Monday. The Focus Gallery wasn't open and the place we had lunch in last year wasn't open this year for lunch. There were no seals on the sand bar at the beach. I brought my binoculars this time to see them closer, but all I got was a closer look at sand and water.

The Chatham lighthouse was of course still there. Lighthouse generally are, unless they're headed for the cliff and the drink below, and then they're saved by donations and engineers and moved back a bit. Highland Light in Truro is an example. So, no need to take more photos of what I probably hadn't downloaded from the camera from last year. But there was this fellow on a beach chair sitting at a table in front of a church with some books piled up. Children's books it seemed.

His vantage point was at the edge of the church's front lawn at the base of the sloping grass adjacent to the sidewalk, where his quiet greeting reached out to all passersby, directing their attention to the books on the table. It turns out  they were his books. He wrote them, and his daughter illustrated them. His name is John Hutchinson, as solid a New England name as you can come across.

I'd like to think his great, great—I don't know how many greats—grandfather grabbed a musket off the wall and took part in a close order drills for the Chatham Militia during the Revolutionary War. Maybe even fired the musket at a Red Coat in a skirmish, popping out of the beach plums and surprising a detail of the British high-stepping it through town, then running like hell to evade capture. Or, maybe his family were Tories. I don't know.

As we passed this amiable septuagenarian recovering from hip surgery, we politely told him we'd take a look on the way back to the car. And even though we were walking back on the other side of Main Street we crossed over and took a look at what he was about.

Two books wee on display, 'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' and 'Bertie and the Lost Treasure of Skull Island.' Bertie is a mouse.

Of the two, 'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' was the slimmer of the two volumes. But both books were glossy hardcovers, printed on vellum paper, and nicely color illustrated. Everything you'd expect a children's book to be.

A transaction without conversation would have been impossible, and good thing it was. John told me the story of Bertie is the story of what his mother would tell him as she showed him the beach when he was little, and all the things she pointed out, animals, water, sand and plants.

He mentioned a series of books he read that I wasn't familiar with. I told him of my reading probably every Hardy Boys book there was, with Joe and Frank Hardy and their pal Chet. I told him I was incredibly disappointed when I grew up and found out there was no Franklin W. Dixon, the author who I wanted to me meet when I got older. He said, "of course you found out..." "Yes, a pseudonym for a stable of authors who wrote the stories. There was no Franklin W. Dixon."

I told him of the Random House Landmark series of books that highlighted events and people in history. I distinctly remember one written by Elizabeth Janeway, a real person he knew of, and someone who was famous for producing young adult literature.

I mentioned to John that my daughter Susan was planning to write a children's book when her academic workload decreased a bit. I'm going to help. So far there's a working title and perhaps a first page. Not much. An orange tabby named Cosmo does something, but she and I haven't gotten very far. And then there would be the need for an illustrator. John mentioned it's probably not too hard to find an illustrator. "Go for it."

John mentioned "To Kill A Mockingbird," a book we agreed would never go out of print. He told me of his daughter Christine who was in elementary school when she read the book. One evening when John and his wife went to a parent/teacher night to learn of Christine's progress the teacher was puzzled. She didn't recall anyone in her class with that name.

Last name and description jarred the teacher's memory into telling them, "Oh, you mean Scout." It seems Christine was so smitten with 'To Kill A Mockingbird' that she just changed her name. And so it has remained. The illustration credits are for Scout Hutchinson.

I mentioned something similar when a friend of mine would refer to his son as an infant as Boo, for Boo Bradley.

John was all charm and inscribed the copy I bought ($20) of  'Bertie's Adventures At the Beach' to my youngest granddaughter in a script with such a flourish that I'm now convinced his family had something to do with the Declaration of Independence.

My email. name and address in his loose leaf binder netted me an e-mailed excerpt from his next Bertie book, a tale with Bertie and his cousin that takes them to Monomoy Beach. This is a wildlife refuge barrier beach that sits off the coast of Chatham. It is also the name of Monomoy Stables, the very proud owners of Monomoy Girl, a very talented 3-year-old thoroughbred filly that will likely be co-favored in their Breeders' Cup race coming up in November at Churchill Downs. Perhaps Bertie will make a wager.

'Bertie's Adventure At the Beach' is an adventure. The book is appropriately dedicated to John's mother, Harriet Jaqueth Fitz Hutchinson, further solidifying in my imagination that John's ancestors might have known some of the Pilgrims. Maybe were the Pilgrims.

As I was talking to John a mother with a babystroller and a baby, along with a young boy, approached on the sidewalk and got John's affable greeting. The young boy was excited, picked up a book and asked if he wrote it. "Yes, I wrote these."

The mother was headed in the direction we were when we first passed John at his table. She said what we said, "Maybe on the way back..."

I do hope she stopped.