What would happen if everyone in town lived in the same building? Ruby Parker is about to find out. Her fiancé has left her and she needs a fresh start, so she moves to Wishing Rock, Washington, a small town on Dogwinkle Island in the waters near Seattle, where she meets a quirky cast of characters who quickly become family. Letters between the neighbors and their friends chronicle the twists and turns of the characters’ daily lives. There’s Jake, a handsome and charming first-year medical student who catches Ruby’s eye from the start, despite his being over a decade younger. Millie, a Wishing Rock resident for forty years, runs the town’s library, post office, newsletter and grocery store, knows everyone and everything, and shares the history of the area with her playful wit. World traveler and psychic Alexandra bestows insight and wisdom wi th humor and compassion, and Ruby’s Gran heads to the United Kingdom, heeding her own advice to seize the day. And then there’s Ed; if something fun is going on, the grandson of the town’s founding father is likely at the center of it. Amidst all this action, Ruby manages to find passion and companionship, but will she be able to open her heart to love? Online dating, a group trip to Scotland, a discussion about dogwinkles, a fateful hoedown, and friendships old and new, all interspersed with recipes from some of the town’s best cooks, make Wishing Rock come alive in this delightful and insightful look at life, love, relationships, and community.
This excerpt, from near the beginning of the book, explains the history of the town of Wishing Rock. This e-mail is written from Millie, who lives in Wishing Rock, to Gran, Ruby’s grandmother.
Sent: February 17, 2010
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Millicent Adler, Millie, and I have lived in Wishing Rock since 1970, a short while after Meriwether Brooks built this little town. I run the store, post office, and library here, and write a newsletter for the townspeople when I have the time, which I’d intended to be weekly but usually is about monthly. I have met your granddaughter only briefly, but this town is small. I of course feel I know all about her already. Carolyn Brooks had a dinner party to welcome Ruby the other night, and she tells me Ruby was curious, on your behalf and her own, about the history of Wishing Rock. Carolyn, knowing of my love of history and storytelling, and my many hours spent talking and laughing with Meriwether back when he was still alive, suggested that Ruby ask me to write to you myself. I am delighted to do so. And, I might add, you are the lucky recipient of my very first e-mail! We had to get young Ben over here to get me all set up on this computer. These kids, I swear they’re born with more knowledge of technology than I’ll ever learn. Let me know if you receive this, will you, so I know that I did this right?
On to Wishing Rock. I hope you’ll forgive me if I take a little artistic license in recreating the scene for you. I spoke with Meriwether about his life so many times that sometimes I forget I was not there myself.
Though the town is named Wishing Rock, it almost was not so. Originally, it was to be “Inaboks,” a name fabricated in the brilliant but eccentric mind of the town’s founding father, Meriwether Beauchamp Brooks. Meriwether’s story, as relevant to the small town of Wishing Rock, nee Inaboks, begins back in the early days of the middle third of the twentieth century way up in Alaska, where he was born and lived much of his life.
Alaska, of course, boasts upwards of twenty hours of sunshine a day in the summer months. This creates extraordinary circumstances for ordinary gardeners, who are able to grow enormous vegetables in these ideal conditions. Young Meriwether, an ambitious and hardworking gardener, was proud of his giant zucchini, nearly the size of a baseball bat, and brought it for display in a local county fair. Slightly younger Madeline Beatrice Baker, another gardener from a nearby town, who had the biggest and most widely discussed cabbage in the area, had brought her own spectacular goods for crowds to admire. The two met at the giant produce booth, and it was love at first sight. As Meriwether recalled it on many an occasion, their meeting went as follows:
“Sir, I do believe yours is the biggest zucchini I have ever seen,” said she.
“Why, thank you, miss. And might I say, your giant cabbages are truly a thing of beauty,” said he.
That Meriwether! He made me laugh. I do miss him.
After that, the story goes, they were almost inseparable. Meriwether courted Madeline with all his might. United by their love of giant vegetables and their matching initials, each quickly recognized the other as the part of his or her heart that had heretofore been missing. Brilliant, enterprising, inventive Meriwether brought Madeline flowers and dreams. As befitting her last name, Madeline Baker had a way in the kitchen, and responded to Meriwether’s advances by learning to make the best zucchini dishes the people of the county ever tasted. Out of her pots, pans, oven, and stove burst zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini cobbler, zucchini casserole, and cheesy zucchini bake. She even canned zucchini relish, so that not one morsel of Meriwether’s delicious zucchini ever went to waste. (In my store I carry a cookbook with many of Madeline’s old recipes. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll send you one, my treat.)
Within a year of their meeting, Meriwether and his Maddie were engaged. From what I’ve heard, not just from Meriwether but from others, their love was electric. Townspeople, completely unaware of the magnetic force, would find their heads turning, eyes drawn to look at the couple in their ecstatic love. Always, one would have a hand on the other, a quick touch here, a guiding hand there, a brush of the cheek, a smoothing of the hair. They didn’t even realize they were touching; they noticed more when they were not. When they were apart, while still most pleasant with whichever company they found themselves amongst, always a bit of them awaited the return of the other. Without Madeline around, Meriwether closed up just a bit; she was the key that unlocked the joy in his life. When Meriwether was absent, sparkly, sassy Madeline was as entertaining as ever, but her eyes would dart about, looking for her missing piece.
Within another six months of the engagement, they were married. Nine months and three weeks later, Mitchell Bradley Brooks was born, with his mother’s dark curly hair and his father’s inquisitive mind. Twenty months after that, Meredith Barbara Brooks followed, her quick smile proving her to be her mother’s child, while her tendency to intensely observe the world around her bespoke her paternity. While Madeline stayed home, raising two exuberant young children, Meriwether struck gold — black gold — in real estate and oil investments, bringing in money hand over fist. The young couple had everything. Now not only did Madeline have the county’s most coveted cabbages, and Meriwether the most admired giant zucchini; now they had a marriage others could only dream of, two smart and gorgeous children who respected their elders, and a bank account that guaranteed them the kind of security that would keep Madeline’s pretty forehead free of worry lines, as well as the foreheads of generations to come after.
Things were never dull in the Brooks household. Driven by an excess of cabbage (after all, one ninety-pound cabbage is quite enough for a family of four), Meriwether set out to find a way to power his car with cabbage, with mild success. This project was halted when Madeline declared she was not going to grow beautiful giant produce, only to have it liquefied for the station wagon. Later, town tongues wagged the summer Meriwether decided the family should live in a treehouse, and set out to build the most elaborate (as treehouses go) raised home anyone had ever seen. Madeline was adventurous but not impractical, and after a few weeks of carting groceries up and carrying garbage down, it was decided the residence would return to the regular realm of treehouse — that of a play area for the children.
As for Madeline, music and the world were her passions. She longed to travel but it was impractical with two young ones at home, so she fed her interest as she could. Her desire to play a Swiss alpenhorn inspired Meriwether to build her one from scratch, from finding a properly shaped tree on the side of a hill, to coring out the center to the exact right thickness. The alpenhorn never did have quite the right sound, but Meriwether always graciously insisted that it was due to his poor craftsmanship rather than Madeline’s lack of skill. Little Mitchell became a pro on the conga drums Madeline had shipped in from Africa, but it was the arrival of bagpipes from Scotland that led to another project for Meriwether: the building of a small, sound-proof music cottage, a bit away from the main house.
Meriwether’s hands and mind were always busy. Madeline expressed interest in glass art, and Meriwether learned how to blow glass; all their friends and family received multi-colored glass floats and ripply glass bowls for Christmas that year (Madeline learned macramé to create the knotted nets that held and protected the delicate buoys). Their home was filled with creativity and activity and love. Wealthy though they were, Madeline, Meriwether, Mitchell, and Meredith led rather normal lives as the children grew up. Meriwether continued with real estate and oil, getting involved in construction as well; he could do anything and was interested in everything, even refinishing parts of their own modest house himself. Madeline was known and loved in the town for her lively parties and her effervescence, but her indomitable spirit suffered a bit for lack of adventure. She loved her dear Alaska, but longed for more.
As soon as Meredith was off to college, Madeline told Meriwether the time had come for them to travel the world.
“Anything you like, darling. Where shall we go first?”
“Paris. Then London. Then Italy. I want to take a cooking class in Tuscany!”
And so, over the next few years, they went on extended trips to Paris, then London, then Italy, where Madeline took a cooking class in Tuscany. After that came Greece, the Dordogne, Egypt, Hawaii. One year, they spent three summer months in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, before another visit in early October to Italy, to see Florence and Rome.
It was in Rome that tragedy struck.
More specifically, it was in Rome that a car struck Madeline. As she stepped off the curb after a late lunch in a cafe, her sense of direction turned around from a month spent in countries where people drove on the left side of the road, she looked the wrong way and walked directly into oncoming traffic. Meriwether, half a block away buying flowers for his beloved, was completely unaware until he heard the screams and commotion. Madeline died on the scene. Meriwether was inconsolable. He cried so hard that he wondered in his mournful stupor whether a person could physically harm himself from crying. He then fell silent, not speaking for weeks, barely speaking after that.
Upon his return to Alaska, Meriwether realized every molecule of every place reminded him of Madeline. A cool crisp air reminded him of nights spent playing games together, in front of the fireplace with the children. The kitchen reminded him of the hours she had spent tweaking a beet stew recipe until he had declared it perfect. Every piece of her clothing smelled of her subtly spicy perfume. She was gone forever, and yet every moment, she was with him. It was too much.
Months went by. A real estate friend, Bob Robinson, watched the widower’s quiet pain and finally thought he had an idea that might help.
“Meriwether, I know of a bit of land on an island in the Puget Sound, Washington, near Seattle. There’s a big building there, was supposed to be part of a Navy base but they abandoned it. It’s part of a small town, but really, there’s not much more to the town than this one building. Lots of land. Anyway, the town is for sale.”
Meriwether was silent, but one eyebrow lifted almost imperceptibly. He was listening.
“It would do you good to get away from here. You could build yourself a nice place there, make a hotel out of the building, something to get your mind off … things.”
Of course Meriwether’s mind would never be completely off “things.” He knew this in the way only one who has lost a soulmate can know. But he knew, too, that he could not go on with life as it was, surrounded by life as it had been.
Bob continued. “Do you want me to have them contact you about the place? Just to give it a thought?”
Meriwether looked at Bob. He nodded, really just a tiny twitch of his head, but in the affirmative.
And so, Meriwether bought the town. His goal was not, of course, to forget Madeline; rather, he hoped eventually to find that a second had passed in which the pain was slightly less unbearable, and then perhaps two seconds would pass, and then, he thought optimistically, perhaps a few minutes. For although his beloved, his life, his wife was gone, it was not in Meriwether’s character to stay sad forever. It was in his spirit to rise, and he knew this, and so he put his faith in himself and in his future, and poured his heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears, into his new endeavor.
At first, Meriwether simply sat for days on a large bit of driftwood down at the shore, staring at his new building in his new town, which did not yet have a name. The building, the town, represented something bigger than a building and a town to him, but he couldn’t figure out what. Having holed himself up for months with hardly any human interaction, Meriwether now craved closeness with his fellow man. From his lonely, but hopeful, heart sprang the idea that everyone in the town, the whole community, might live together under one roof, a family of sorts, to support one another through the good and the bad. On an evening home in Alaska, Meriwether discussed his new town with his son Mitchell, now married to Kathy, with a boy named Michael, just a few months old.
“I’ve named it. Inaboks, Washington.”
“Inaboks. A town in a box?”
Rather than simply saying yes, Meriwether had a habit of repeating what people had just said, as his way of agreeing. “A town in a box,” he said.
Meriwether brought in contractors, architects, construction workers, and the building was renovated at record pace. The five-story building was transformed into four upper floors primarily composed of variously sized apartments, and a ground floor designed to house an assortment of businesses and city offices. (The Inn on the roof was added later, as was another wing.)
And thus, Inaboks was born. Almost.
Thankfully sanity prevailed and people were able to convince Meriwether that Inaboks was a horrible name for a town. Quaint, yes, but just a bit too contrived. Eventually Meriwether and his advisors, a.k.a. family and friends, narrowed down the choices to Driftwood and Wishing Rock. Our beach seems to accumulate an unusual amount of driftwood; thus the idea for that name. Michael Brooks, Meriwether’s grandson, makes and sells the most exquisite furniture out of the bits he scrounges up on his walks almost every morning; I can’t imagine too many people or even businesses here don’t have a piece or two in their own homes. And the name Wishing Rock was for a kind of rock, dark with a white stripe, that Meriwether and Madeline used to seek out together whenever they would walk along a beach. While he was pondering his new town, he would sometimes comb the beach for these rocks, and he collected quite a pile of them, which I think Ed now has. In the end, sentimentality won out, and the town became known as Wishing Rock.
Well, Adele, I think that is enough for your first Wishing Rock history lesson! We are so delighted to have your granddaughter here, and I hope you’ll visit soon, too. Ruby tells me you are quite a world traveler. If you haven’t been to Wishing Rock, can you really say you’ve traveled the world?
Copyright© Pam Stucky. All rights reserved.