Nine winters ago Emily and I were plugging away at our Plank Road book, snatching time from our families and other responsibilities–“sneaking away to write,” I called it. When we weren’t scribbling, we were daring to dream about what our summer would be like if I received a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship.
I got the grant.
After much whooping and hollering we finalized our plans for the Plank Road Trip–a week of travel to historic sites with a Dickensian entourage (two authors, our mother, Emily’s husband Franklin, our sister Gretchen, and six children, ages four to ten) followed by a week of digging in archives and scribbling without the entourage (courtesy of Mom and Dad and Gretchen, who looked after the children while we snuck away to write).
Many of Wisconsin’s best-known historic sites are relevant to Plank Road Summer: Wade House was an inn on a plank road, Pendarvis was settled by Cornish immigrants, and Milton House was an Underground Railroad station. The Scotch Settlement church building attended by the McEachrons now stands in Stonefield Village. The living history interpreters at Old World Wisconsin and other sites provided us wonderful details about daily life in pioneer households.
“We’re the Demuth sisters — we’re writing a book.” That line opened doors and drawers and cupboards for us, as volunteers and staff members shared what they knew, eager to discuss the making of strawberry preserves or the threshing of wheat.
Nine winters later, we are planning a reprise of the Plank Road Trip, this time to schedule book signings.
At this point we don’t know whether our entourage will be quite as Dickensian, but we do know how much we owe to the volunteers and staff at historic sites who share our passion for the past.