When I was a teenager I went to a musical at my high-school, about two men who stumble across an enchanted village in Scotland. Brigadoon was a Lerner and Loew musical best known for a catchy tune called “It’s Almost Like Being In Love”. It was written right after the end of the Second World War and it has that feel to it . The main thrust of the story line is that we all long for that perfect place, where we are loved and feel a sense of longing worth giving up everything else. It ends, unlike most tales told in the modern era, happily, without a trace of snarky condescension. It is tradition, community and family that were at the center of its theme and it resonated profoundly with me although I did not realize it for many years. Back then it was just a happy tale filled with catchy tunes and young women wearing dresses and acting feminine. The lead actor was an American with a shotgun on a hunting trip abroad, the returning war hero. When he discovers this enchanted village there is a twist — it has been under a mysterious spell where it appears out of time, for only one day every century — before vanishing again in the mist. As one of the town elders explains to the American visitor, “ “A stranger can stay if he loves someone here — not jus’ Brigadoon, mind ye, but someone in Brigadoon — enough to want to give up everythin’ an’ stay with that one person. Which is how it should be. ‘Cause after all, lad, if ye love someone deeply, anythin’ is possible.”
My children and I and the Colonel went to see a local production last week. The Barn Playhouse is its own kind of Brigadoon in that it has been continuously operating for close to a century in the rural New Hampshire hill town of New London. It is what people once referred to as ‘Summer Stock’, a theater where Broadway actors and actresses could find steady work in the scattered enclaves of the northeast where there was just the right balance of culture and old money. They were likely to fill the seats for every show with the blue-hairs and their shiny domed companions and enjoy the ingenues from the big city giving it their all for their art. The seats are old but you can still rent a pillow for a nickel, although most people give the old lady at the restored feed chest stuffed with hand stitched cushions a dollar and tell her to keep the change. The theater, converted from an actual barn during the early years of the Great Depression by a local carpenter, has a solid feel to it that comes from the hand-adzed chestnut timber frame and sitting in the cramped quarters it recalls the imagery of an authentic experience from the past in its own right. There is something nostalgic about it, innocent and unspoiled. When I saw the flyer for the Summer season I brought up the idea to the kids and though my youngest son wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, they agreed to come with me and see it themselves. For years when I talk about the farm to new people I meet I regularly use the word Brigadoon to describe it. I’m sure most people probably don’t even know what that means, but for me it’s true and I am convinced that the association was made all those years ago when I first saw the musical and fell in love with the idea of being able to drop out of the modern world and live in more peaceful and simple time.
A group of local twenty-somethings had started up a nice little farmer’s market together in the next town over and were hosting a barbeque for the celebration and they had asked me to provide the chickens and pork. Their entire operation was based on locally sourced production and virtually every farmer I know has some association with them. Their energy and enthusiasm as well as their business acumen coming out of the gate has been an inspiration. They built their own store from the foundation up and they maintain meticulously kept gardens surrounding it. When they asked us to provide the meat we were honored. I’d instructed them on how to build a pit and promised them I would deliver the pig on the morning of the event. I’d been working on a rock wall with a neighbor at his place and he wanted to return the favor by helping me get the pig ready for the following day, so on a beautiful June morning my friend and I set to work with our knives under the shade of the huge maples on the front lawn. The hog was a good two hundred pounds live, eviscerated and hung from hooks by his back legs he was closer to 125 pounds. We skinned him and cleaned the carcass up while the dogs laid about in the tall grass watching. We cooked up the heart and the trimmings for lunch and made a nice dipping sauce from bourbon and maple syrup. It took several hours to get it ready and afterwards we cleaned up the mess with a hose and composted the viscera. The chickens wandered in and pecked through the remains we’d missed and the two of us sat at the picnic bench with a nice breeze coming in from the west, watching the clouds roll past.
The opening scene in Brigadoon was an upbeat number called McConnachy Square and it featured the locals bringing in their wares “for sale or barter”, milk and cheese, fresh brewed ales and salted meats. Each new character talked about how good their products were, how nothing tasted better and the extras danced in and out of the scene in happy exchanges with each one. The Americans, Tommy and his best friend Jeff, exchange pleasantries and sample the food and drink with delight, hungry and thirsty after a long journey through the mists to this delightful spot. The children were transfixed by this scene, busy and happy and introducing the cast one by one to the audience by the things they so proudly produced for their neighbors.
On the morning of the Bradford Day Celebration there was a fun run, a church fair and numerous flea market like booths set up throughout the town. The main road to the lakes region runs right through it so there were plenty of tourists up from Boston and other points south to take in the day under clear skies. It rained hard the night before and the breeze was cool and the air dry. The smoking pit had been constructed using cinder blocks and I brought my hand made wire racks with their steel pipe handles to cook the pig. They’d rubbed the carcass with fresh herbs and spices and it looked beautiful when we laid it out on the grills above the bed of hardwood coals that had been going since dawn. They’d prepared a big tub of mop sauce to baste the pig and we set up a station under a pop-up shade with cutting boards and knives, wash rags and tubs of fresh water. There was plenty of dried maple and oak to keep the coals going all afternoon and while I flipped the hog over, again and again people would wander up to comment on how good it smelled, tendrils of blue smoke rising from the ashes below as each drop of grease fell. It was a treat to spend an entire day doing nothing but prepare a feast for others to share and people wandered in and out all day to give a hand either basting or flipping, asking questions about the pig and the farm, the busy activities of the day whirling on around us. The farm stand was open and there was a constant stream of customers coming in and out for fresh eggs and home baked breads, heads of lettuce the size of cannon balls, the first tomatoes of the season and bottles of raw milk. I talked with people I hadn’t seen in years, police officers and college students from the next town over. Everyone was happy and when the fire department lined up for the parade there were streams of runners coming in for the last stretch of the 5K route they’d started earlier. Flags were flapping everywhere and under it all the constant sound of children, of conversations and laughter.
The middle act of Brigadoon captures the dilemma of Tommy; he falls in love with the beautiful and innocent Fiona, a local man spurned in love decides to run away and break the spell, the best friend tries to talk some sense to his companion and tells him that they must go back to “the real world” where excitement and alcohol and fast women define their days and nights and the audience must decide for themselves what they think they would choose. The interlocutor, schoolmaster Lundie, explains the magical spell and how though the years pass while they slumber, in his dreams he can hear the voices of the outside world as it changes. In Brigadoon, however, the community is preserved as it has always been, the clans and their folkways forever fixed in time. Tommy, of course longs for it, while Jeff is repelled and in the faces of the audience it was clear to me that there was no split along lines. In that converted barn with the college aged cast singing their hearts out, dressed in tartan plaids and bodices, there is unanimity.
The pig roast was a big hit. Near the end of the roast my neighbor showed up to help me carve the hams and shoulders and the line formed at the stand with people eager to fill their plates with salads and steaming, juicy meat. There was a near constant breeze that rippled the flags along the road and the amity and connection between the younger people and the old and gray was palpable. A hundred conversations, the dimming sky above still filled with ragged clouds turning soft shades of lilac and rose with the falling Sun, all of these things gave the day a timeless quality of its own and though I had hungered all day long for a taste of the pork we’d slaved over, I felt as if I were completely filled simply by being able to provide something for everyone else. The kids brought my friend and I beers from their coolers and we drank them down in appreciation. I reeked of smoke and my clothes were filthy with ashes but it would have been hard to imagine being more contented than I was at that moment watching my friends and neighbors eating and smiling under the darkening sky, the first stars twinkling on above us.
Tommy tells Fiona that he must go back to New York with Jeff and in one last song before they part forever, as the night falls on Brigadoon, they sing to one another that from this day on they will always love each other. Back in New York Jeff is on a bender and Tommy’s fiance’ worries about his state of mind since returning from their hunting trip in Scotland. Neither man has spoken to each other since their return and Tommy has been MIA for months when he walks back into the tony nightclub where his friend and future wife sit absorbed in the nightlife. When asked where he has been Tommy replies, “I bought a farm in New Hampshire.” My children’s heads swiveled in my direction and even the Colonel gave me a wry grin and followed it up with a laugh that carried through the theater. Of course Tommy decides then and there that what he has been looking for his entire life is not to be found in the “real world” where he lives and in a moment he jumps up and makes his way back to find his Brigadoon. When we left the theater and headed back to the car we talked about the musical and if everyone enjoyed it and they all pointed out the line about the farm in New Hampshire, asking if that’s why I liked it so much. Truth be told I didn’t remember that line at all, at least not consciously, but then life is funny that way. Maybe I remembered it very well somewhere deep inside where the closest thing to the real you lives and maybe, like Tommy I have been looking for it ever since, like everyone else in that playhouse. Funny thing is, I have found it.
The kids offered to take care of all the cleanup and tired and exhausted I made my way home just before full dark. I stripped out of my clothes and lay down on our bed with the windows open, smelling of smoke and sweat. The fireworks show began just before I closed my burning eyes my son climbed into the bed next to me and together through the windows we watched the chrysanthemum blooms of the big shells bursting just above the treeline, one after another. The distant sound of each explosion was muffled by the miles of leafy trees and open lake between us and the muster field where the pyrotechnics were arranged. A slight breeze moved the flowered curtains in and out as if the walls were breathing and deeply sated and utterly tired, we both drifted off to sleep for a hundred years.