I grew up in a small town in New York state where my family owned a grocery store—and where I was often enlisted to help.
One summer, as I was shrink-wrapping slices of ham, I was consumed by the sweet, smoky smell emanating from the meat. I immediately felt a sense of the past that conjured up images of campfires and stone hearths. I “saw” Native American women and pioneering men taming the Plains… hardy Colonists and hungry soldiers trying to survive snowy winters. In my mind, there were humble cabins with hard dirt floors, sod huts, and cookstoves being used under the stars.
Of course, none of this aligned with my past, since my Grandparents, like so many others, had come to this country by ship at the turn of the century. So where did these subliminal images originate? Why did they emerge at this random time? Perhaps they were embedded in my DNA, imprinted by prior generations who lived similar lifestyles. Perhaps I had read about these things in musty books borrowed from the one-room library in my home town. Maybe I was simply letting my imagination run wild. Or could it be that I was tuning in to energy that lingered from long ago?
Working in Boston as a young professional, I had a similar experience — transported one night by the smell lifting off a chestnut vendor’s cart. The smoke, mingled with the briny air coming in from the ocean, made me think of sea captains and women on widows’ walks. I felt an acute sense of history, as if I were a first-hand witness. That’s not to say I experienced a physical manifestation as my characters do, but the sensation was so strong and pleasantly persistent, that I wanted to capture it.
Years later, standing in the smokehouse at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, I was again struck by that same sense of déjà vu. At that point, I knew a story had to be told.