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Main Street #6: September Surprises

If you have never been to Camden Falls, Massachusetts, you might feel a small thrill, a little shiver up your back, the first time you see one of the signs reading WELCOME TO CAMDEN FALLS. There are four of these signs on the outskirts of town — one on the approach from the county road near where Nikki Sherman lives, one several miles out on Boiceville Road, and two on Route 6A, one facing north and one facing south. The people who live in Camden Falls take little notice of the signs. They pass them often, and the signs have become part of the landscape of their lives, like trees and rock walls and their own driveways — comfortable and comforting, but unremarkable.

If you are a newcomer to Camden Falls, though, consulting your map and following directions as the road unfurls before you, you might feel a surge of relief and excitement when at last you see one of the sign. Fourteen months ago, two sisters, Flora and Ruby Northrop, saw the north-facing sign and knew their lives were about to change forever. The girls felt neither relief nor excitement and tried hard not to cry. But on this late August day, a man driving along Route 6A comes to one of the signs and begins to smile. It's not the first time he's seen the sign, but it's not of the first times, and the experience still makes his heart sing. He's ready for a new phase of his life, ready to settle down in this small town where everybody knows everybody. In Camden Falls, he imagines, you can walk along Main Street and greet the shopkeepers and appreciate the changes, great and small, that each season brings.

This newcomer hasn't yet met his neighbors, hasn't experienced Halloween on Main Street, hasn't seen the field of pumpkins at Davidson's Orchards, isn't acquainted with Min and Gigi and Mrs. Grindle and the Walters and the other Main Street shopkeepers and doesn't know that Flora Northrop (now a different and much happier girl) will be one of his memorable seventh-grade pupils at Camden Falls Central High School this year. Still, the sign makes him smile, and he relaxes as he turns right off of 6A, then right again onto Main Street, and finally through town to his new home, pleased with himself for already knowing the route.

This man — Vincent Barnes is his name — steers his car confidently toward his new house and his new life. Leave him for now and take a closer look at Main Street If you stand with your back to Stuff 'n' Nonsense, you'll see Needle and Thread, Camden Fall's sewing store, across the street. It's the end of the day and Min and Gigi, co-owners of the store and grandmothers to Flora and Ruby Northrop and Olivia Walter, are closing up shop. Min looks at her watch, then out the window, and remarks, "The days are already growing shorter. Have you noticed? Not Labor Day yet, but fall is on the way."

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