How Ferns Got Its Name
“Old Lady Fern” hailed from our quaint Town of Carlisle. Born in the 1870s and raised right near the village center, Fern lived life entirely on her terms. She was quite the lady – though a bit outspoken for a woman of those times. Being an independent Yankee, she felt it her duty to speak her mind regardless of what others thought. However, most people liked Fern good enough. Except for the occasional few who got on her wrong side for some reason or another. That’s something you never, ever wanted to do. It could take a couple of years to get back in her good graces. But even though Fern was strong-willed, she was kind to the core. Fern was quite the looker in her day. Handsome and statuesque with her long coppery hair drawn up in a regal bun (that was often slightly mussed). When she walked into a room, her air of determined confidence drew all eyes. She pretended not to notice the appreciative glances of the menfolk, but many think she secretly enjoyed the stir she created at town gatherings and social events. Yes indeed, Fern was something to see. And she broke many a heart along the way.
Word has it she fell hard for a handsome, spirited man that blew into town one day. No one knew where Lou Brimfield hailed from but he kept everyone intrigued by his tales of places he’d been and jobs he’d held (often told right here at this very country store). Why, he even was part of the early years of the Boston Red Sox and sported #10 on his shirt! The locals took to him right away. He’d spent years up in the north woods as a logger and guide and talked of how he’d be weeks on end deep in the woods searching for trees that would produce the highest quality lumber – the ones the mills would pay top dollar for. Lou wasn’t one for clear cutting. No siree.
As the story goes, Fern saw him one day across the room in the Old Country Store. He was sitting there next to the pot-bellied stove with the town politicians, laughing away. When he glanced her way and smiled, she knew right away that this was the man her heart had been waiting for. His brilliant blue eyes danced with amusement. His face was deeply tanned from long days out of doors and his neatly trimmed handlebar moustache was tinged with gray. Their eyes held for a moment. Fern blushed, but she smiled back of course. It was the neighborly thing to do. And after that, Fern was seen a lot more often around the Old Country Store. A coincidence? We think not.
And so it was that their long courtship began. Everyone was happy for Fern because for the first time, she had that special glow about her. Fern and Lou were always together and could been seen taking leisurely strolls about town arm in arm. Although there were rumors about a pending marriage they never said either way. It was pretty common knowledge that Lou had moved in with Fern, which created lots of local gossip for sure. But most everyone in Town reveled in their love and devotion.
However, every now and then Lou’s other love – for the backwoods – pulled him away. He’d take off for a few months at a time and head north to take on a logging gig. Folks up there were glad when he came around to help out.
To wile the time away, Fern took on duties as Postmistress at the Country Store. That way she figured she’d be the first to receive Lou’s letters from up north. He had a way with words and the romantic pictures he painted in his letters had her walking on clouds for days on end.
One crisp fall day, word came from up north that there had been a tragic accident. Seems that there was an enormous white pine being felled by a young lad. The tree twisted under its mighty weight and started to fall back towards him. He froze in fear. Lou happened to be nearby and quick as a deer bolted over and shoved the lad clear of danger. And Lou? He never had a chance. Fern was never quite the same after that. She was still her graceful, caring self. But her broken heart showed in her saddened eyes. And what remained of her heart she never gave to anyone else.
Lou’s friends from up north stopped by one day and brought her a large wooden bench with a slab top made from the very tree that took Lou’s life. Fern placed the bench under the apple tree where they both used to sit, holding hands and sipping lemonade, whiling the hours away. (Indeed, that very bench is now the counter tops used in our store’s coffee Bakery & Coffee Dept.)
Fern never did marry, choosing to instead live her life quietly on her own in her rambling old home. Many said she became a bit of an eccentric. She enjoyed her afternoon tea in the company of her four Siamese cats and seemed happiest when fussing over her beautiful gardens that were doused with color all season long. Along with her cats, the abundant wildlife that visited her gardens seemed to be her closest and most trusted friends.
An old photo of Lou graced the table next to Fern’s favorite chair by the fireplace. Friends that visited in her later years said she’d sometimes pause, glance at the photo, sigh softly and dab the corner of her eye with a crisp white hanky. Even after all those years, her love for Lou never wavered.
Though she never talked about him, her friends knew that the pain of her loss grew with each passing year. One day when they hadn’t heard from Fern for a few days, a neighbor stopped by and found her body. There she was sitting in her chair by the fireplace with the old sepia-toned photo of Lou clutched in her frail hands, her fingers gently touching the face of the man she so loved. She wore a soft smile – as if she knew that she’d finally be joining him.
While renovating the store in 2003, we discovered some yellowed letters and an old diary that Postmistress Fern had apparently stashed away in a secret wall panel. We were completely taken by this woman who lived life on her own terms, who spoke up for what was right, who loved gardening, wildlife and our town, and who remained devoted throughout her life to her one and only love. And that’s how it came to be that we decided to name our country store after Fern…..
….. Nah. We made the whole story up. Truth is, it’s just a nice plant that’s common in Carlisle. And who are the two handsome folks you ask? Beats me.
(c) 2004 (With appreciation to Jill Clerkin for lending her phenomenally creative copy writing and editing skills. Along with Larry, they concocted this story because everyone kept asking how we came to name Ferns “Ferns”)
– – Old Lady Fern