Ruth Bass: Berkshire visitors may open take-it-for-granted eyes

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RICHMOND — New eyes see new things. When my husband's editor at Putnam's decided to visit here for a weekend, we asked him what Berkshire attractions he'd like to see. He didn't hesitate for a second: the Herman Melville house.

We had to confess that we hadn't been there. We'd driven by Arrowhead so many times, knew the history, vowed that "someday" we'd stop. But we had not. The editor and his wife loved it. We loved it. We went back any number of times, especially to re-read the chimney.

When we took my sister's grandchildren to see the Sedgwick Pie in Stockbridge Cemetery, the two youngsters peppered us with questions we could answer and any number that we weren't sure of. They were fascinated with the legendary burial circle, not at all put off by the fact that bodies were under the grass and wide-eyed at the true tale of Mum Bett, the slave who was freed with Theodore Sedgwick's help and became a servant in the Sedgwick household. Most unusual, she was buried in the family circle.

It keeps happening when outsiders come to see our familiar places, the notables that we take for granted. You suddenly learn a pile of new things and realize that our much touted treasures are exactly that.

Thus, when 9-year-old Hannah was coming to Grandma's Camp for her spring vacation, new lists had to be made. It turned out the priority would be the Susan B. Anthony House in Adams. The third-grader was doing a project on Susan B. and had recently learned that she and Susan B. had the same birth date and her subject had been born in the Berkshires.

Off we went to Adams on the first day of the visit. Only one other person was at the museum that day, and the director took one look at Hannah and said, "Are you doing a project?" When the kid nodded, the woman welcomed her and gave a spiel (exactly long enough and exactly short enough) about the house. She also asked Hannah some questions and seemed delighted that she already knew about Daniel Anthony, the Quaker connection and his mill by the stream.

Instead of reading all the many words on the walls during this visit, we stopped for quite a while at the small chest containing toys Susan B. would have played with — not a mechanical thing among them. Hannah gave the replica of Susan's favorite doll a hug and noticed she was somewhat in the mode of the Jessie doll ("Toy Story") she takes to bed every night. She marveled at the butter churn and tried it out. She scraped her sneakers on the wrought iron gadget outside the back door. And when she left, she had booklets and postcards to enhance her project.

The trip came to mind again when a photo arrived by email this week. Hannah had made a miniature Susan B. Anthony as part of her project. The small figure carried a Votes for Women poster, reflecting one displayed at the Anthony House and originally carried at a rally in Boston.

Our brains stuffed, we drove off to find something for our stomachs. A little excited, we tucked into the newly relocated Hot Dog Ranch, the grandchildren's idea of Pittsfield's best restaurant. We ordered hot dogs, she relishing the fact that for once she had beaten out her cousins.

It was by no means the end of the day: We went on to baby animals at Hancock Shaker Village, our museum pass from the Richmond Free Public Library in hand. It was not her first time there, but it doesn't get old. And this year she felt brave enough to get right into a pen with a pretty tall calf and to climb on a pretty tall fence outside.

The next day we both sampled a new spot – the butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield. It was quite wonderful, especially since Hannah had produced some butterflies at home from a kit. I had new eyes at that stop, a whole new view of how patient this wriggly girl could be if a glass-winged butterfly was hanging from her finger. But that's a story for another day.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.


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