A New Song (Mitford Series #5) [NOOK Book]

Overview

In A New Song, Mitford's longtime Episcopal priest, Father Tim, retires. However, new challenges and adventures await when he agrees to serve as interim minister of a small church on Whitecap Island. He and his wife, Cynthia, soon find that Whitecap has its own unforgettable characters: a church organist with a mysterious past, a lovelorn bachelor placing personal ads, a mother battling paralyzing depression. They also find that Mitford is never far away when circumstances "back home" keep their phone ringing off...
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A New Song (Mitford Series #5)

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Overview

In A New Song, Mitford's longtime Episcopal priest, Father Tim, retires. However, new challenges and adventures await when he agrees to serve as interim minister of a small church on Whitecap Island. He and his wife, Cynthia, soon find that Whitecap has its own unforgettable characters: a church organist with a mysterious past, a lovelorn bachelor placing personal ads, a mother battling paralyzing depression. They also find that Mitford is never far away when circumstances "back home" keep their phone ringing off the hook. In this fifth novel of the beloved series, fans old and new will discover that a trip to Mitford and Whitecap is twice as good for the soul.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Literary comfort food.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this fifth volume of Karon's popular series (Out to Canaan, etc.) set in the quaint North Carolina town of Mitford, where people chuckle and say "dadgummit," Father Timothy Kavanagh is leaving town for a post-retirement interim appointment at a small island parish off the coast of North Carolina. After what seems (even to the minister and his wife) to be an endless round of good-byes, he and his wife, Cynthia, set off in a brand-new red convertible. Stormy weather, which closes in on them as they near Whitecap Island, presages the many struggles to come. Once on the island, Fr. Tim tries to befriend a seemingly hostile and isolated neighbor while he and Cynthia take over the care of a three-year-old boy whose mother is suffering from depression. Back in Mitford, meanwhile, Dooley, the mountain boy who is like a son to Fr. Tim, is thrown into jail, and the quiet woman who seemed the perfect tenant for the rectory house surprises the minister with a lawsuit. Additionally, an unexpected storm moves in off the ocean with devastating force. Karon adds a dash of suspense to her homey brew with the increasingly suspicious behavior of Fr. Tim's tenant, whose story emerges in a compelling confession. Newcomers to the series may find they have much to catch up on, but readers making a return trip to the Kavanaghs' world will be happily swept up in the maelstrom of small-town and spiritual drama that characterizes the novel.
Library Journal
In this fifth entry in the Mitford series (Out to Canaan, LJ 5/1/97), Father Tim Kavanagh heads for the islands to serve as an interim priest. Although most of the book takes place in his new parish, fans of Mitford's eccentric citizens are not left bereft. Frequent bulletins keep Father Tim up-to-date as well as worried about his former flock. While juggling news of mysterious thefts, the arrest of his adopted son, Dooley, and fights over historic properties, he also must deal with congregational squabbles, being a foster parent to an active three-year-old, surviving a terrible storm, and bringing a lonely man out of decades of solitude. As usual, Father Tim handles it all with the generous faith and soul-healing warmth that has made Karon's books popular in public libraries and best sellers for Christian book stores. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/98.]--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Everything that, in the wee hours of the night, you like a book to be, warm-hearted and funny, with a hero marked by...profound inner strength.
USA Today
Literary comfort food.
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Get off the interstate, get off the internet and get into the world of [Jan Karon]. Your health, your soul, and your outlook on life will be all the better for the visit.
Kirkus Reviews
This fifth installment in Karon's popular Mitford Saga (Out to Canaan, 1997, etc.) follows Father Tim Kavanagh and his wife, Cynthia, as they wander farther afield to Whitecap Island, North Carolina. Now retired from his longtime post as rector of the Episcopal parish of Mitford, Father Tim accepts a position as "interim minister" at a parish on a small coastal island just off the nearby Outer Banks. Karon is an old-fashioned writer — she even addresses her opening lines to a Gentle Reader — and much of her story revolves around the homely details of cooking, socializing, and keeping house that are familiar to any minister's wife or daughter. But domestic crises arise as well, and Father Tim and Cynthia both have to find ways to help parishioners who suffer from loneliness, depression, and other (usually secret) griefs. Much of their concern is for Dooley Barlowe, a "mountain boy" Tim took into his home at Mitford five years before and raised almost as his own son, sending him to a Virginia prep school for education and guidance. Dooley, now in his teens, has stayed behind in Mitford but soon finds himself back in the kind of trouble from which Father Tim and Cynthia have worked hard to extract him. A story of small traumas and small victories, Karon's account manages to avoid the worst excesses of sentimentality and to provide a rather charming portrait of life in the slow lane.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101078723
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/1/2000
  • Series: Mitford Series , #5
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 30,650
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jan Karon

Jan Karon, born Janice Meredith Wilson in the foothills of North Carolina, was named after the title of a popular novel, Janice Meredith.



Jan wrote her first novel at the age of ten. "The manuscript was written on Blue Horse notebook paper, and was, for good reason, kept hidden from my sister. When she found it, she discovered the one curse word I had, with pounding heart, included in someone's speech. For Pete's sake, hadn't Rhett Butler used that very same word and gotten away with it? After my grandmother's exceedingly focused reproof, I've written books without cussin' ever since."



Several years ago, Karon left a successful career in advertising to move to the mountain village of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and write books. "I stepped out on faith to follow my lifelong dream of being an author," she says. "I made real sacrifices and took big risks. But living, it seems to me, is largely about risk."



Enthusiastic booksellers across the country have introduced readers of all ages to Karon's heartwarming books. At Home in Mitford, Karon's first book in the Mitford series, was nominated for an ABBY by the American Booksellers Association in 1996 and again in 1997. Bookstore owner, Shirley Sprinkle, says, "The Mitford Books have been our all-time fiction bestsellers since we went in business twenty-five years ago. We've sold 10,000 of Jan's books and don't see any end to the Mitford phenomenon."

Biography

Jan Karon, born Janice Meredith Wilson in the foothills of North Carolina, was named after the title of a popular novel, Janice Meredith.

Jan wrote her first novel at the age of ten. "The manuscript was written on Blue Horse notebook paper, and was, for good reason, kept hidden from my sister. When she found it, she discovered the one curse word I had, with pounding heart, included in someone's speech. For Pete's sake, hadn't Rhett Butler used that very same word and gotten away with it? After my grandmother's exceedingly focused reproof, I've written books without cussin' ever since."

Several years ago, Karon left a successful career in advertising to move to the mountain village of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and write books. "I stepped out on faith to follow my lifelong dream of being an author," she says. "I made real sacrifices and took big risks. But living, it seems to me, is largely about risk."

Enthusiastic booksellers across the country have introduced readers of all ages to Karon's heartwarming books. At Home in Mitford, Karon's first book in the Mitford series, was nominated for an ABBY by the American Booksellers Association in 1996 and again in 1997. Bookstore owner, Shirley Sprinkle, says, "The Mitford Books have been our all-time fiction bestsellers since we went in business twenty-five years ago. We've sold 10,000 of Jan's books and don't see any end to the Mitford phenomenon."

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Janice Meredith Wilson
    2. Hometown:
      Blowing Rock, North Carolina
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lenoir, North Carolina

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Angel of Light

Dappled by its movement among the branches of a Japanese cherry, the afternoon light entered the study unhindered by draperies or shades.

It spilled through the long bank of windows behind the newly slipcovered sofa, warming the oak floor and quickening the air with the scent of freshly milled wood.

Under the spell of the June light, a certain luster and radiance appeared to emerge from every surface.

The tall chest, once belonging to Father Tim's clergyman great-grandfather, had undergone a kind of rebirth. Beneath a sheen of lemon oil, the dense grain of old walnut, long invisible in the dark rectory hallway next door, became sharply defined. Even the awkward inscription of the letter M, carved by a pocketknife, could now be discovered near one of the original drawer pulls.

But it was the movement and play of the light, beyond its searching incandescence, that caused Father Tim to anticipate its daily arrival as others might look for a sunrise or sunset.

He came eagerly to this large, new room, as if long deprived of light or air, still incredulous that such a bright space might exist, and especially that it might exist for his own pursuits since retiring six months ago from Lord's Chapel.

As the rector of Mitford's Episcopal parish, he had lived next door in the former rectory for sixteen years. Now he was a rector no more, yet he owned the rectory; it had been bought and paid for with cash from his mother's estate, and he and Cynthia were living in the little yellow house.

Of course-he kept forgetting-this house wasn't so little anymore; he and his visionary wife had added 1,270 square feet to its diminutive proportions.

Only one thing remained constant. The house was still yellow, though freshly painted with Cynthia's longtime favorite, Wild Forsythia, and trimmed with a glossy coat of the dark green Highland Hemlock.

"Cheers!" said his wife, appearing in jeans and a denim shirt, toting glasses of lemonade on a tray. They had recently made it a ritual to meet here every afternoon, for what they called the Changing of the Light.

He chuckled. "We mustn't tell anyone what we do for fun."

"You can count on it! Besides, who'd ever believe that we sit around watching the light change?" She set the tray on the table, next to a packet of mail.

"We could do worse."

They thumped onto the sofa, which had been carted through the hedge from the rectory.

"One more week," he said, disbelieving.

"Ugh. Heaven help us!" She put her head back and closed her eyes. "How daunting to move to a place we've never seen ... for an unknown length of time ... behind a priest who's got them used to the guitar!"

He took her hand, laughing. "If anyone can do it, you can. How many cartons of books are we shipping down there, anyway?"

"Fourteen, so far."

"And not a shelf to put them on."

"We're mad as hatters!" she said with feeling. During the past week, his wife had worked like a Trojan to close up the yellow house, do most of the packing, and leave their financial affairs in order. He, on the other hand, had been allowed to troop around town saying his goodbyes, sipping tea like a country squire and trying to keep his mitts off the cookies and cakes that were proffered at every turn.

He had even dropped into Happy Endings Bookstore and bought two new books to take to Whitecap, a fact that he would never, even on penalty of death, reveal to Cynthia Kavanagh.

She looked at him and smiled. "I've prayed to see you sit and relax like this, without rushing to beat out a thousand fires. Just think how the refreshment of the last few weeks will help you, dearest, when we do the interim on the island. Who knows, after all, what lies ahead and what strength you may need?"

He gulped his lemonade. Who knew, indeed?

"The jig, however, is definitely up," she said, meaning it. "Next week ..."

"I know. Change the furnace filter next door, weed the perennial beds, fix the basement step, pack my clothes ... I've got the entire, unexpurgated list written down."

"Have your suit pressed," she said, "buy two knit shirts-nothing with an alligator, I fervently hope-and find the bicycle pump for Dooley."

"Right!" He was actually looking forward to the adrenaline of their last week in Mitford.

"By the way," she said, "I've been thinking. Instead of loading the car in bits and pieces, just pile everything by the garage door. That way, I can check it twice, and we'll load at the last minute."

"But it would be simpler to-"

"Trust me," she said, smiling.

Barnabas would occupy the rear seat, with Violet's cage on the floor, left side. They'd load the right side with linens and towels, the trunk would be filled to the max, and they'd lash on top whatever remained.

"Oh, yes, Timothy, one more thing ... stay out of the bookstore!"

She peered at him with that no-nonsense gleam in her sapphire eyes, a gleam that, for all its supposed authority, stirred a fire in him. As a man with a decidedly old-shoe nature, he had looked forward to the old-shoe stage of their marriage. So far, however, it hadn't arrived. His blond and sensible wife had an unpredictable streak that kept the issues of life from settling into humdrum patterns.

"Anything wonderful in the mail?" she asked.

"I don't know, I just fetched it in. Why don't you have a look?"

His wife's fascination with mail was greater even than his own, which was considerable. William James, in his opinion, had hit the nail on the head. "As long as there are postmen," James declared, "life will have zest."

"Oh, look! Lovely! A letter from Whitecap, and it's to me!"

He watched her rip open the envelope.

"My goodness, listen to this....

Dear Mrs. Kavanagh, We are looking forward with great enthusiasm to your interim stay in our small island parish, and trust that all is going smoothly as you prepare to join us at the end of June.

Our ECW has been very busy readying Dove Cottage for your stay at Whitecap, and all you need to bring is bed linens for the two bedrooms, as we discussed, and any towels and pillows which will make you feel at home.

We have supplied the kitchen cupboards with new pots, and several of us have lent things of our own, so that you and Father Kavanagh may come without much disruption to your household in Mitford. Sam has fixed the electric can opener, but I hear you are a fine cook and probably won't need it, ha ha.

Oh, yes. Marjorie Lamb and I have done a bit of work in the cottage gardens, which were looking woefully forlorn after years of neglect. We found a dear old-fashioned rose, which I hear your husband enjoys, and liberated it from the brambles. It is now climbing up your trellis instead of running into the street! We expect the hydrangeas and crepe myrtle to be in full glory for your arrival, though the magnolias in the churchyard will, alas, be out of bloom.

Complete directions are enclosed, which Marjorie's husband, Leonard, assures me should take you from Mitford straight to the door of Dove Cottage without a snare. (Leonard once traveled on the road selling plumbing supplies.)

Please notice the red arrow I have drawn on the map. You must be very careful at this point to watch for the street sign, as it is hidden by a dreadful hedge which the property owner refuses to trim. I have thought of trimming it myself, but Sam says that would be meddling.

We hope you will not object to a rather gregarious greeting committee, who are bent on giving you a parish-wide luau the day following your arrival. I believe I have talked them out of wearing grass skirts, but that embarrassing notion could possibly break forth again.

When Father Morgan joined us several years ago, he, too, came in the summer and was expecting a nice holiday at the beach. I'm sure you've been warned that summer is our busiest time, what with the tourists who swell our little church to bursting and push us to two services! We all take our rest in the winter when one must hunker down and live off the nuts we've gathered!

Bishop Harvey was thrilled to learn from Bishop Cullen how greatly you and Father Kavanagh were appreciated by your parish in Mitford! We shall all do our utmost to make you feel as welcome as the flowers in May, as my dear mother used to say.

Goodness! I hope you'll forgive the length of this letter! Since childhood, I have loved the feel of a pen flowing over paper, and often get carried away.

We wish you and Father Timothy safe travel.

Yours sincerely,

Marion Fieldwalker, vestry member of St. John's in the Grove, and Pres. Episcopal Church Women

P.S. I am the librarian of Whitecap Island Community Library (35 years) and do pray you might be willing to give a reading this fall from one of your famous Violet books. Your little books stay checked out, and I believe every child on the island has read them at least twice!

His wife flushed with approval. "There! How uplifting! Marion sounds lovely! And just think, dearest-trellises and old roses!"

"Not to mention new saucepans," he said, admiring the effort of his future parishioners.

She drank from her perspiring glass and continued to sort through the pile. "Timothy, look at his handwriting. He's finally stopped printing and gone to cursive!"

"Let me see...."

Definitely a new look in the handwriting department, and a distinct credit to Dooley Barlowe's Virginia prep schooling. Miss Sadie's big bucks, forked over annually, albeit posthumously, were continuing to put spit and polish on the red-haired mountain boy who'd come to live with him at the rectory five years ago.

"Hey," he read aloud from Dooley's letter, "I have thought about it a lot and I would like to stay in Mitford and work for Avis this summer and make money to get a car and play softball with the Reds."

"I don't want to go to the beach."

"Don't be mad or upset or anything. I can live in the basement with Harley like you said, and we will be fine. Puny could maybe come and do the laundry or we could do stuff ourselves and eat in Wesley or at the Grill or Harley could cook."

"I will come down to that island for either Thanksgiving or Christmas like we talked about."

"Thanks for letting me go home from school with Jimmy Duncan, I am having a great time, he drives a Wrangler. His mom drives a Range Rover and his dad has a BMW 850. That's what I would like to have. A Wrangler, I mean. I'll get home before you leave, Mr. Duncan is driving me on his way to a big meeting. Say hey to Barnabas and Violet. Thanks for the money. Love, Dooley."

"Oh, well," said his wife, looking disappointed. "I'm sure he wanted to be close to his friends...."

"Right. And his brother and sister...."

She sighed. "Pretty much what we expected."

He felt disappointed, himself, that the boy wouldn't be coming to Whitecap for the summer, but they'd given him a choice and the choice had been made. Besides, he learned a couple of years ago not to let Dooley Barlowe's summer pursuits wreck his own enjoyment of that fleeting season.

It was the business about cars that concerned him.... Dooley had turned sixteen last February, and would hit Mitford in less than three days, packing a bona fide driver's license.

"Knock, knock!" Emma Newland blew down the hall and into the study. "Don't get up," she said, commandeering the room. "You'll never believe this!"

His former part-time church secretary, who had retired when he retired, had clearly been unable to let go of her old job. She made it her business to visit twice a week and help out for a couple of hours, whether he needed it or not.

"I do it for th' Lord," she had stated flatly, refusing any thanks. Though Cynthia usually fled the room when she arrived, he rather looked forward to Emma's visits, and to the link she represented to Lord's Chapel, which was now under the leadership of its own interim priest.

Emma stood with her hands on her hips and peered over her glasses.

"Y'all won't believe what I found on th' Internet. Three guesses!"

"Excuse me!" said Cynthia, bolting from the sofa. "I'll just bring you a lemonade, Emma, and get back to work. I've gobs of books to pack."

"Guess!" Emma insisted, playing a game that he found both mindless and desperately aggravating.

"A recipe for mixing your own house paint?"

"Oh, please," she said, looking disgusted. "You're not trying."

"The complete works of Fulgentius of Ruspe!"

"Who?"

"I give up," he said, meaning it.

"I found another Mitford! It's in England, and it has a church as old as mud, not to mention a castle!" She looked triumphant, as if she'd just squelched an invasion of Moors.

"Really? Terrific! I suppose it's where those writing Mitfords came from-"

"No connection. They were from th' Cotswolds, this place is up north somewhere. I had a stack of stuff I printed out, but Snickers sat on th' whole bloomin' mess after playin' in the creek, and I have to print it out again."

"Aha."

"OK, guess what else!"

"Dadgummit, Emma. You know I hate this."

She said what she always said. "It's good for you, keeps your brain active."

As far as she was concerned, he'd gone soft in the head since retiring six months ago.

"Just tell me and get it over with."

"Oh, come on! Try at least one guess. Here's a clue. It's about the election in November."

"Esther's stepping down and Andrew Gregory's going to run."

She frowned. "How'd you know that?"

"I haven't gone deaf and blind, for Pete's sake. I do get around."

"I suppose you also know," said Emma, hoping he didn't, "that the restaurant at Fernbank is openin' the night before you leave."

"Right. We've been invited."

She thumped into the slipcovered wing chair and peered at him as if he were a beetle on a pin. Though she'd certainly never say such a thing, she believed he was existing in a kind of purgatory between the inarguable heaven of Lord's Chapel and the hell of a strange parish in a strange place where the temperature was a hundred and five in the shade.

"Will you have a secretary down there?" she asked, suspicious.

"I don't think so. Small parish, you know."

"How small can it be?"

"Oh, fifty, sixty people."

"I thought Bishop Cullen was your friend," she sniffed. She'd never say so, but in her heart of hearts, she had hoped her boss of sixteen years would be given a big church in a big city, and make a come-back for himself. As it was, he trotted up the hill to Hope House and the hospital every livelong morning, appearing so cheerful about the whole thing that she recognized it at once as a cover-up.

Cynthia returned with a glass of lemonade and a plate of shortbread, which she put on the table next to Emma. "I'll be in the studio if anyone needs me. With all the books we're taking, we may sink the island!"

"A regular Atlantis," said Father Tim.

"Speakin' of books," Emma said to his wife, "are you doin' a new one?"

"Not if I can help it!"

He laughed as Cynthia trotted down the hall. "She usually can't help it." He expected a new children's book to break forth from his energetic wife any day now. Indeed, didn't she have a history of starting one when life was upside down and backward?

Emma munched on a piece of shortbread, showering crumbs in her lap. "Do you have those letters ready for me to do on th' computer?"

"Not quite. I wasn't expecting you 'til in the morning."

"I'm coming in th' morning, you all th' late-breakin' news. But," she said, arching one eyebrow, "I haven't told you everything, I saved th' best 'til last." I just wanted to run by and tell you all th' late-breakin' news. But," she said, arching one eyebrow, "I haven't told you everything, I saved th' best 'til last."

His dog wandered into the study and crashed at his master's feet, panting.

"If you say you already know this, I'll never tell you another thing as long as I live. On my way here, I saw Mule Skinner, he said he's finally rented your house."

She drew herself up, pleased, and gulped the lemonade.

"Terrific! Great timing!" He might have done a jig.

"He said there hadn't been time to call you, he'll call you tonight, but it's not a family with kids like Cynthia wanted."

"Oh, well ..." He was thrilled that someone had finally stepped forward to occupy the rectory. He and Harley had worked hard over the last few months to make it a strong rental property, putting new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, replacing the stair runners, installing a new toilet in the master bath and a new threshold at the front door ... the list had been endless. And costly.

"It's a woman."

"I can't imagine what one person would want with all that house to rattle around in."

"How quickly you forget! You certainly rattled around in there for a hundred years."

"True. Well. I'll get the whole story from Mule."

"He said she didn't mind a bit that Harley would be livin' in the basement, she just wanted to know if he plays loud rock music."

Emma rattled the ice in her glass, gulped the last draught, and got up to leave. "Before I forget, you won't believe what else I found on th' Internet-church bulletins! You ought to read some of th' foolishness they put out there for God an' everybody to see."

She fished a piece of paper from her handbag. "'Next Sunday,'" she read, "'a special collection will be taken to defray the cost of a new carpet. All those wishin' to do somethin' on the new carpet will come forward and do so.'"

He hooted with laughter.

"How 'bout this number: 'Don't let worry kill you, let th' church help.'"

He threw his head back and laughed some more. Emma's life in cyberspace definitely had an upside.

"By th' way, are you takin' Barnabas down there?" She enunciated "down there" as if it were a region beneath the crust of the earth.

"We are."

"I don't know how you could do that to an animal. Look at all that fur, enough to stuff a mattress."

Barnabas yawned hugely and thumped his tail on the floor.

"You won't even be able to see those horrible sandspurs that will jump in there by th' hundreds, not to mention lodge in his paws."

Emma waited for an argument, a rationale-something. Did he have no conscience? "And th' heat down there, you'll have to shave 'im bald." Father Tim strolled across the room to walk her to the door. "Thanks for coming, Emma. Tell Harold hello. I'll see you in the morning."

His unofficial secretary stumped down the hallway and he followed.

He was holding the front door open and biting his tongue when she turned and looked at him. Her eyes were suddenly red and filled with tears.

"I'll miss you!" she blurted.

"You will?"

She hurried down the front steps, sniffing, searching her bag for a Hardee's napkin she knew was in there someplace.

He felt stricken. "Emma! We'll ... we'll have jelly doughnuts in the morning!"

"I'll have jelly doughnuts, you'll have dry toast! We don't want to ship you down there in a coma!"

She got in her car at the curb, slammed the door, gunned the motor, and roared up Wisteria Lane.

For one fleeting moment, he'd completely forgotten his blasted

diabetes.

"I'm out of here," he said, kissing his wife.

"Get him to leave something for the island breezes to flow through, darling. Don't let him cut it all off."

"You always say that."

"Yes, well, you come home looking like a skinned rabbit. I don't know what Joe Ivey does to you."

Considering what Fancy Skinner had done to him time and time again, Joe Ivey could do anything he wanted.

"Leavin' us, are you?" Joe ran a comb through the hair over Father Tim's left ear and snipped.

"Afraid so."

"Leavin' us in th' lurch is more like it."

"Now, Joe. Did I preach to you when you went off to Graceland and left me high and dry?"

Joe cackled. "Thank God I come to m' senses and quit that fool job. An' in th' nick of time, too. I'm finally about t' clean up what Fancy Skinner done to people's heads around here, which in your case looked like she lowered your ears a foot an' a half."

"My wife says don't cut it too short."

"If I listened to what wives say, I'd of been out of business forty years ago. Do you know how hot it gits down there?"

If he'd been asked that once, he'd been asked it a thousand times. There was hardly anything mountain people despised more than a "hot" place.

"I'm an old Mississippi boy, you know."

"An th' mosquitos ...!" Joe whistled. "Man alive!"

"Right there," he said, as Joe started working around his collar. "Just clean it up a little right there, don't cut it-"

Joe proceeded to cut it. Oh, well. Joe Ivey had always done exactly as he pleased with Father Tim's hair, just like Fancy Skinner. What was the matter with people who serviced hair, anyway? He had never, in all his years, been able to figure it out.

"I hear it's a ten-hour trot t' get there," said Joe, clearly fixated on the inconvenience of it all.

"Closer to twelve, if you stop for gas and lunch."

"You could go t' New York City in less'n that. Prob'ly run up an' back."

"There's a thought."

Joe trimmed around his customer's right ear. "I'm gettin' t' where I'd like t' talk ..."-Joe cleared his throat-"about what happened up at Graceland."

"Aha."

"I ain't told this to a soul, not even Winnie."

There was a long pause.

Father Tim waited, inhaling the fragrance from Sweet Stuff Bakery, just beyond the thin wall. Joe's sister, Winnie, and her husband, Thomas, were baking baklava, and he was starting to salivate.

"You couldn't ever mention this to anybody," said Joe. "You'd have to swear on a stack of Bibles."

"I can't do that, but I give you my word."

Joe let his breath out in a long sigh. "Well, sir, there towards th' end, I got to where I thought Elvis might be ..."

"Might be what?"

"You know. Alive."

"No!"

"I ain't proud t' admit it. Thing is, I was gettin' in th' brandy pretty heavy when I went up there. My sister's husband, he was laid off and things was pretty tight. Plus, their house ain't exactly th' Biltmore Estate when it comes to room, so ever' once in a while, I'd ride around after supper t' give Vern and my sister a little time to theirselves."

"That was thoughtful."

"I took to lookin' for Elvis ever'where I went, 'specially at th' barbecue place, they all said he was a fool for barbecue. My sister, when she heard I was lookin' to sight Elvis, she started pourin' my brandy down th' toilet. A man can't hardly live with somebody as pours 'is brandy down th' toilet."

"That would create tension, all right." Heaven knows, he'd tried for years to get Joe to quit sucking down alcohol, but Joe had told him to mind his own business. Something, however, had happened in Memphis that sent his barber home dry as a bone.

"Then one night I was drivin' around, I said to myself, I said, Joe, Elvis wouldn't be cruisin' through a drive-in pickin' up a chopped pork with hot sauce, he'd send somebody. So I said, if I was Elvis, where would I be at?

"Seem like somethin' told me to go back to Graceland, it was about eleven o'clock at night, so I drove on over there and parked across th' street with my lights off. I hate to tell you, but I had a pint in the glove department, and I was takin' a little pull now and again."

Joe took a bottle off the cabinet and held it above his customer's head. "You want Sea Breeze?"

"Is the Pope a Catholic?"

"First thing you know, I seen somethin' at th' top of the yard. There's this big yard, you know, that spreads out behind th' gate an' all. It was somethin' white, and it ..."-Joe cleared his throat-"it was movin' around."

"Aha."

Joe blasted his scalp with Sea Breeze and vigorously rubbed it in. "You ain't goin' to believe this."

"Try me."

Joe's hands stopped massaging his head. In the mirror, Father Tim could see his barber's chin quivering.

"It was Elvis ... in a white suit."

"Come on!"

"Mowin' 'is yard."

"No way!"

"I said you wouldn't believe it."

"Why would he mow his yard when he could pay somebody else to do it? And why would he do it in a suit, much less a white suit? And why would he do it at night?"

Joe's eyes were misty. He shook his head, marveling. "I never have figured it out."

"Well, well." What could he say?

"I set there watchin'. He'd mow a strip one way, then mow a strip th' other way."

"Gas or push?"

"Push."

"How could he see?" Father Tim asked, mildly impatient.

"There was this ... glow all around him."

"Aha."

"Then, first thing you know ..."-Joe's voice grew hushed-"he th'owed up 'is hand and waved at me."

Father Tim was speechless.

"Here I'd been lookin' to see 'im for I don't know how long, and it scared me s' bad when I finally done it, I slung th' bottle in th' bushes and quit drinkin' on th' spot."

His barber drew a deep breath and stood tall. "I ain't touched a drop since, and ain't wanted to."

Father Tim was convinced this was the gospel truth. Still, he had a question.

"So, Joe, what's that, ah ... bottle sitting over there by the hair tonic?"

"I keep that for my customers. You don't want a little snort,

do you?"

"I pass. But tell me this ... any regrets about coming back to

Mitford?"

"Not ary one, as my daddy used to say. It's been a year, now, since I hauled out of Memphis and come home to Mitford, and my old trade has flocked back like a drove of guineas. Winnie gave me this nice room to set my chair in, and th' Lord's give me back my health."

Joe took the cape from his customer's shoulders and shook it out.

"Yessir, you're lookin' at a happy man."

"And so are you!" said Father Tim. "So are you!"

After all, didn't he have a new haircut, a new parish, and a whole new life just waiting to begin?

He couldn't help himself.

As the bells at Lord's Chapel pealed three o'clock, he turned into Happy Endings Bookstore as if on automatic pilot. He had five whole minutes to kill before jumping in the car and roaring off to Wesley for a bicycle pump, since Dooley's had turned up missing.

"Just looking," he told Hope Winchester. Hope's ginger-colored cat, Margaret, peered at him suspiciously as he raced through General Fiction, hung a right at Philosophy, and skidded left into Religion, where the enterprising Hope had recently installed a shelf of rare books.

He knew for a fact that the only bookstore on Whitecap Island was in the rear of a bait and tackle shop. They would never in a hundred years have Arthur Quiller-Couch's On the Art of Reading, which he had eyed for a full week. It was now or never.

His hand shot out to the hard-to-find Quiller-Couch volume, but was instantly drawn back. No, a thousand times no. If his wife knew he was buying more books to schlepp to Whitecap, he'd be dead meat.

He sighed.

"Better to take it now than call long-distance and have me ship it down there for three dollars."

Hope appeared next to him, looking wise in new tortoiseshell glasses. No doubt about it, Hope had his number.

He raked the book off the shelf, and snatched Jonathan Edwards's The Freedom of the Will from another. He noted that his forehead broke out in a light sweat.

Oh, well, while he was at it ...

He grabbed a copy of Lewis's Great Divorce, which had wandered from his own shelves, never to be seen again, and went at a trot to the cash register.

"I'm sure you're excited about your party!" Hope said, ringing the sale. Margaret jumped onto the counter and glowered at him. Why did cats hate his guts? What had he ever done to cats? Didn't he buy his wife's cat only the finest, most ridiculously priced chicken niblets in a fancy tinfoil container?

"Party? What party?"

"Why, the party Uncle Billy and Miss Rose are giving you and Cynthia!"

"I don't know anything about a party." Had someone told him and he'd forgotten?

"It's the biggest thing in the world to them. They've never given a party in their whole lives, but they want to do this because they hold you in the most edacious regard."

"Well!" He was nearly speechless. "When is it supposed to be?"

"Tomorrow night, of course." She looked at him oddly.

Tomorrow night they were working a list as long as his arm, not to mention shopping for groceries to feed Dooley Barlowe a welcome-home dinner of steak, fries, and chocolate pie.

He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. He'd be glad to leave town and get his life in order again.

"I'll look into it," he muttered, shelling out cash for the forbidden books. "And if you don't mind, that is, if you happen to see Cynthia, you might not mention that, ah ..."

Hope Winchester smiled. She would never say a word to the priest's wife about his buying more books. Just as she certainly wouldn't mention to him that Cynthia had dashed in only this morning to buy copies of Celia Thaxter's My Island Garden, and the hardback of Ira Sleeps Over.

He knocked on the screen door of the small, life-estate apartment in the rear of the town musuem.

"Uncle Billy! Miss Rose! Anybody home?"

He couldn't imagine the old couple giving a party; his mind was perfectly boggled by the notion. Rose Watson had been diagnosed as schizophrenic decades ago, and although on daily medication, her mood swings were fierce and unpredictable. To make matters worse for her long-suffering husband, she was quickly going deaf as a stone, but refused to wear hearing aids. "There's aids enough in this world," she said menacingly.

He put his nose against the screen and saw Uncle Billy sleeping in a chair next to an electric fan, his cane between his legs. Father Tim hated to wake him, but what was he to do? He knocked again.

Uncle Billy opened his eyes and looked around the kitchen, startled.

"It's me, Uncle Billy!"

"Lord if hit ain't th' preacher!" The old man grinned toward the door, his gold tooth gleaming. "Rose!" he shouted. "Hit's th' preacher!"

"He's not supposed to be here 'til tomorrow!" Miss Rose bellowed from the worn armchair by the refrigerator.

Uncle Billy grabbed his cane and slowly pulled himself to a standing position. "If I set too long, m' knees lock up, don't you know. But I'm a-comin'."

"Tell him he's a day early!" commanded Miss Rose.

"Don't you mind Rose a bit. You're welcome any time of th' day or night." Uncle Billy opened the screen and he stepped into the kitchen. The Watsons had cooked cabbage for lunch, no two ways about it.

"Uncle Billy, I hear you're giving ... well, someone said you're giving Cynthia and me ... a party?"

The old man looked vastly pleased. "Got a whole flock of people comin' to see you! Got three new jokes t' tell, you're goin' t' like 'em, and Rose is makin' banana puddin'."

Father Tim scratched his head, feeling foolish.

"Y' see, th' church give you 'uns a nice, big party an' all, but hit seemed mighty official, hit was anybody an' ever'body, kind of a free-for-all. I said, 'Rose, we ought t' give th' preacher an' 'is missus a little send-off with 'is friends!'" The old man leaned on his cane, grinning triumphantly. "So we're a-doin' it, and glad t' be a-doin' it!"

"Well, now-"

"Hit's goin' to be in th' museum part of th' house, so we can play th' jukebox, don't you know."

"Why, that's wonderful, it really is, but-"

"An' me an' Rose took a good bath in th' tub!"

He had seen the time when Uncle Billy and Miss Rose could empty two or three pews around their own....

Miss Rose, in a chenille robe and unlaced saddle oxfords, stood up from her chair and looked him dead in the eye. He instantly wished for the protection of his wife.

"I hope you didn't come expecting to eat a day in advance," she snapped.

"Oh, law," said her mortified husband. "Now, Rose-"

She turned to Uncle Billy. "I haven't even made the banana pudding yet, so how can we feed him?"

"Oh, I didn't come to eat. I just came to find out-"

"You march home," said Miss Rose, "and come back tomorrow at the right time."

Uncle Billy put his hands over his eyes, as if to deny the terrible scene taking place in front of him.

"And what time might that be?" shouted Father Tim.

"Six-thirty sharp!" said the old woman, looking considerably vexed.

His wife went pale.

He felt like putting his hands over his own eyes, as Uncle Billy had done.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know how to say no. Uncle Billy is so excited.... They've never given a party before."

"Why in heaven's name didn't they let us know?"

"I think they invited everybody else and forgot to invite us."

"Lord have mercy!" said his overworked wife, conveniently quoting the prayer book.

They had collapsed on the study sofa for the Changing of the Light, having gone nonstop since five-thirty that morning. He had made the lemonade on this occasion, and served it with two slices of bread, each curled hastily around a filling of Puny's homemade pimiento cheese.

"I can't even think about a party," she said, stuffing the bread and cheese into her mouth. "My blood sugar has dropped through the soles of my tennis shoes."

Ah, the peace of this room, he thought, unbuttoning his shirt. And here they were, leaving it. They built it, and now they were leaving it. Such was life in a collar.

"Timothy, are you really excited about going to Whitecap?"

"It comes and goes in waves. One moment, I'm excited-"

"And the next, you're scared to death?"

"Well ..."

"Me, too," she confessed. "I hate to leave Mitford. I thought it would be fun, invigorating, a great adventure." She lay down, putting her head on one of the faded needlepoint pillows that had also made it through the hedge. "But now ..." Her voice trailed off.

"We're pretty worn out, Kavanagh. This is a stressful thing we're doing, pulling up stakes. I've hardly been out of Mitford in sixteen years. But we'll get there and it will be terrific, wait and see. You'll love it. The freedom of an island ..."

"The wind in our hair ..."

"Gulls wheeling above us ..."

"The smell of salt air ..."

It was a litany they'd recited antiphonally over the last couple of months. It always seemed to console them.

He pulled her feet into his lap. "How about a nap? We've got a tight schedule ahead."

"Tonight," she said, "Puny helps us clean out all the cabinets.... Dooley comes tomorrow evening just before the Watson party, and will have supper with his mother. Then a day of shopping with our threadbare boy and moving him in with Harley, followed by your meeting with the new tenant, and Dooley's steak dinner. Then, of course, there's the grand opening at Lucera on Thursday night after we finish packing the car, and on Friday morning we're off. I don't think," she said, breathless, "that we'll have time to celebrate your birthday."

His birthday! Blast! This year, he would be sixty-six, and just think-in four short years, he would be seventy. And then eighty. And then ... dead, he supposed. Oh, well.

"Don't be depressed," she scolded. "And for heaven's sake, dearest, relax. You're sitting there like a statue in a park."

"Right," he said, guzzling the lemonade.

He had noted over the last few days that the late June light reached its pinnacle when it fell upon the brass angel. Because of the exterior overhang of the room, the direct light moved no higher than the mantel, where the angel stood firm on its heavy base of green marble.

He had found the angel in the attic at Fernbank, Miss Sadie's rambling house at the top of the hill, now owned by Andrew and Anna Gregory. Only months before she died in her ninetieth year, Sadie Baxter had written a letter about the disposition of her family home and its contents. One thing she asked him to do was take something for his own, anything he liked.

As Cynthia rambled through Fernbank seeking her portion of the legacy, he had found the angel in a box, a box with a faded French postmark. Though the attic was filled with a bountiful assortment of inarguable treasures, he had known as surely as if someone had engraved his name upon it that the angel in a box belonged to him.

The light moved now to the angel, to its outspread wings and supplicating hands. It shone, also, on the vase of pink flowering almond next to the old books, and the small silhouette of his mother, which Cynthia had reframed and hung above the mantel.

As long as he could remember, he'd been afraid to sit still, to listen, to wait. As a priest, he'd been glad of every needy soul to tend to; every potluck supper to sit to; even of every illness to run to-thankful for the fray and haste. He'd been frightened of any tendency to sit and let his mind wander like a goat untethered from a chain, free to crop any grass it pleased.

He was beginning to realize, however, that he was less and less afraid to do what appeared to be nothing.

In the end, he wasn't really afraid of moving to Whitecap, either; he'd given his wife the wrong notion. He had prayed that God would send him wherever He pleased, and when his bishop presented the idea of Whitecap, he knew it wasn't his bishop's bright idea at all, but God's.

He had learned years ago to read God's answer to any troubling decision by looking to his heart, his spirit, for an imprimatur of peace. That peace had come; otherwise, he would not go.

He inhaled the freshness of the breeze that stole through the open window, and the fragrance of oak and cherry that pervaded the room like incense.

Then, lulled by the sight of his dozing wife, he put his head back and closed his eyes, and slept.

—Reprinted from A New Song by Jan Karon by permission of Penguin USA, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Jan Karon. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Angel of Light

Dappled by its movement among the branches of a Japanese cherry, the afternoon light entered the study unhindered by draperies or shades.

It spilled through the long bank of windows behind the newly slipcovered sofa, warming the oak floor and quickening the air with the scent of freshly milled wood.

Under the spell of the June light, a certain luster and radiance appeared to emerge from every surface.

The tall chest, once belonging to Father Tim's clergyman great-grandfather, had undergone a kind of rebirth. Beneath a sheen of lemon oil, the dense grain of old walnut, long invisible in the dark rectory hallway next door, became sharply defined. Even the awkward inscription of the letter M, carved by a pocketknife, could now be discovered near one of the original drawer pulls.

But it was the movement and play of the light, beyond its searching incandescence, that caused Father Tim to anticipate its daily arrival as others might look for a sunrise or sunset.

He came eagerly to this large, new room, as if long deprived of light or air, still incredulous that such a bright space might exist, and especially that it might exist for his own pursuits since retiring six months ago from Lord's Chapel.

As the rector of Mitford's Episcopal parish, he had lived next door in the former rectory for sixteen years. Now he was a rector no more, yet he owned the rectory; it had been bought and paid for with cash from his mother's estate, and he and Cynthia were living in the little yellow house.

Of course -- he kept forgetting -- this house wasn't so little anymore; he and his visionary wife had added 1,270 square feet to its diminutive proportions.

Only one thing remained constant. The house was still yellow, though freshly painted with Cynthia's longtime favorite, Wild Forsythia, and trimmed with a glossy coat of the dark green Highland Hemlock.

"Cheers!" said his wife, appearing in jeans and a denim shirt, toting glasses of lemonade on a tray. They had recently made it a ritual to meet here every afternoon, for what they called the Changing of the Light.

He chuckled. "We mustn't tell anyone what we do for fun."

"You can count on it! Besides, who'd ever believe that we sit around watching the light change?" She set the tray on the table, next to a packet of mail.

"We could do worse."

They thumped onto the sofa, which had been carted through the hedge from the rectory.

"One more week," he said, disbelieving.

"Ugh. Heaven help us!" She put her head back and closed her eyes. "How daunting to move to a place we've never seen...for an unknown length of time...behind a priest who's got them used to the guitar!"

He took her hand, laughing. "If anyone can do it, you can. How many cartons of books are we shipping down there, anyway?"

"Fourteen, so far."

"And not a shelf to put them on."

"We're mad as hatters!" she said with feeling. During the past week, his wife had worked like a Trojan to close up the yellow house, do most of the packing, and leave their financial affairs in order. He, on the other hand, had been allowed to troop around town saying his goodbyes, sipping tea like a country squire and trying to keep his mitts off the cookies and cakes that were proffered at every turn.

He had even dropped into Happy Endings Bookstore and bought two new books to take to Whitecap, a fact that he would never, even on penalty of death, reveal to Cynthia Kavanagh.

She looked at him and smiled. "I've prayed to see you sit and relax like this, without rushing to beat out a thousand fires. Just think how the refreshment of the last few weeks will help you, dearest, when we do the interim on the island. Who knows, after all, what lies ahead and what strength you may need?"

He gulped his lemonade. Who knew, indeed?

"The jig, however, is definitely up," she said, meaning it. "Next week..."

"I know. Change the furnace filter next door, weed the perennial beds, fix the basement step, pack my clothes...I've got the entire, unexpurgated list written down."

"Have your suit pressed," she said, "buy two knit shirts -- nothing with an alligator, I fervently hope -- and find the bicycle pump for Dooley."

"Right!" He was actually looking forward to the adrenaline of their last week in Mitford.

"By the way," she said, "I've been thinking. Instead of loading the car in bits and pieces, just pile everything by the garage door. That way, I can check it twice, and we'll load at the last minute."

"But it would be simpler to -- "

"Trust me," she said, smiling.

Barnabas would occupy the rear seat, with Violet's cage on the floor, left side. They'd load the right side with linens and towels, the trunk would be filled to the max, and they'd lash on top whatever remained.

"Oh, yes, Timothy, one more thing...stay out of the bookstore!"

She peered at him with that no-nonsense gleam in her sapphire eyes, a gleam that, for all its supposed authority, stirred a fire in him. As a man with a decidedly old-shoe nature, he had looked forward to the old-shoe stage of their marriage. So far, however, it hadn't arrived. His blond and sensible wife had an unpredictable streak that kept the issues of life from settling into humdrum patterns.

"Anything wonderful in the mail?" she asked.

"I don't know, I just fetched it in. Why don't you have a look?"

His wife's fascination with mail was greater even than his own, which was considerable. William James, in his opinion, had hit the nail on the head. "As long as there are postmen," James declared, "life will have zest."

"Oh, look! Lovely! A letter from Whitecap, and it's to me!"

He watched her rip open the envelope.

"My goodness, listen to this....

"'Dear Mrs. Kavanagh, We are looking forward with great enthusiasm to your interim stay in our small island parish, and trust that all is going smoothly as you prepare to join us at the end of June.

"'Our ECW has been very busy readying Dove Cottage for your stay at Whitecap, and all you need to bring is bed linens for the two bedrooms, as we discussed, and any towels and pillows which will make you feel at home.

"'We have supplied the kitchen cupboards with new pots, and several of us have lent things of our own, so that you and Father Kavanagh may come without much disruption to your household in Mitford. Sam has fixed the electric can opener, but I hear you are a fine cook and probably won't need it, ha ha.

"'Oh, yes. Marjorie Lamb and I have done a bit of work in the cottage gardens, which were looking woefully forlorn after years of neglect. We found a dear old-fashioned rose, which I hear your husband enjoys, and liberated it from the brambles. It is now climbing up your trellis instead of running into the street! We expect the hydrangeas and crepe myrtle to be in full glory for your arrival, though the magnolias in the churchyard will, alas, be out of bloom.

"'Complete directions are enclosed, which Marjorie's husband, Leonard, assures me should take you from Mitford straight to the door of Dove Cottage without a snare. (Leonard once traveled on the road selling plumbing supplies.)

"'Please notice the red arrow I have drawn on the map. You must be very careful at this point to watch for the street sign, as it is hidden by a dreadful hedge which the property owner refuses to trim. I have thought of trimming it myself, but Sam says that would be meddling.

"'We hope you will not object to a rather gregarious greeting committee, who are bent on giving you a parish-wide luau the day following your arrival. I believe I have talked them out of wearing grass skirts, but that embarrassing notion could possibly break forth again.

"'When Father Morgan joined us several years ago, he, too, came in the summer and was expecting a nice holiday at the beach. I'm sure you've been warned that summer is our busiest time, what with the tourists who swell our little church to bursting and push us to two services! We all take our rest in the winter when one must hunker down and live off the nuts we've gathered!

"'Bishop Harvey was thrilled to learn from Bishop Cullen how greatly you and Father Kavanagh were appreciated by your parish in Mitford! We shall all do our utmost to make you feel as welcome as the flowers in May, as my dear mother used to say.

"'Goodness! I hope you'll forgive the length of this letter! Since childhood, I have loved the feel of a pen flowing over paper, and often get carried away.

"'We wish you and Father Timothy safe travel.

"'Yours sincerely,

"'Marion Fieldwalker, vestry member of St. John's in the Grove, and Pres. Episcopal Church Women

"'P.S. I am the librarian of Whitecap Island Community Library (35 years) and do pray you might be willing to give a reading this fall from one of your famous Violet books. Your little books stay checked out, and I believe every child on the island has read them at least twice!'"

His wife flushed with approval. "There! How uplifting! Marion sounds lovely! And just think, dearest -- trellises and old roses!"

"Not to mention new saucepans," he said, admiring the effort of his future parishioners.

She drank from her perspiring glass and continued to sort through the pile. "Timothy, look at his handwriting. He's finally stopped printing and gone to cursive!"

"Let me see...."

Definitely a new look in the handwriting department, and a distinct credit to Dooley Barlowe's Virginia prep schooling. Miss Sadie's big bucks, forked over annually, albeit posthumously, were continuing to put spit and polish on the red-haired mountain boy who'd come to live with him at the rectory five years ago.

"Hey," he read aloud from Dooley's letter, "I have thought about it a lot and I would like to stay in Mitford and work for Avis this summer and make money to get a car and play softball with the Reds."

"I don't want to go to the beach."

"Don't be mad or upset or anything. I can live in the basement with Harley like you said, and we will be fine. Puny could maybe come and do the laundry or we could do stuff ourselves and eat in Wesley or at the Grill or Harley could cook."

"I will come down to that island for either Thanksgiving or Christmas like we talked about."

"Thanks for letting me go home from school with Jimmy Duncan, I am having a great time, he drives a Wrangler. His mom drives a Range Rover and his dad has a BMW 850. That's what I would like to have. A Wrangler, I mean. I'll get home before you leave, Mr. Duncan is driving me on his way to a big meeting. Say hey to Barnabas and Violet. Thanks for the money. Love, Dooley."

"Oh, well," said his wife, looking disappointed. "I'm sure he wanted to be close to his friends...."

"Right. And his brother and sister...."

She sighed. "Pretty much what we expected."

He felt disappointed, himself, that the boy wouldn't be coming to Whitecap for the summer, but they'd given him a choice and the choice had been made. Besides, he learned a couple of years ago not to let Dooley Barlowe's summer pursuits wreck his own enjoyment of that fleeting season.

It was the business about cars that concerned him.... Dooley had turned sixteen last February, and would hit Mitford in less than three days, packing a bona fide driver's license.

"Knock, knock!" Emma Newland blew down the hall and into the study. "Don't get up," she said, commandeering the room. "You'll never believe this!"

His former part-time church secretary, who had retired when he retired, had clearly been unable to let go of her old job. She made it her business to visit twice a week and help out for a couple of hours, whether he needed it or not.

"I do it for th' Lord," she had stated flatly, refusing any thanks. Though Cynthia usually fled the room when she arrived, he rather looked forward to Emma's visits, and to the link she represented to Lord's Chapel, which was now under the leadership of its own interim priest.

Emma stood with her hands on her hips and peered over her glasses. "Y'all won't believe what I found on th' Internet. Three guesses!"

"Excuse me!" said Cynthia, bolting from the sofa. "I'll just bring you a lemonade, Emma, and get back to work. I've gobs of books to pack."

"Guess!" Emma insisted, playing a game that he found both mindless and desperately aggravating.

"A recipe for mixing your own house paint?"

"Oh, please," she said, looking disgusted. "You're not trying."

"The complete works of Fulgentius of Ruspe!"

"Who?"

"I give up," he said, meaning it.

"I found another Mitford! It's in England, and it has a church as old as mud, not to mention a castle!" She looked triumphant, as if she'd just squelched an invasion of Moors.

"Really? Terrific! I suppose it's where those writing Mitfords came from -- "

"No connection. They were from th' Cotswolds, this place is up north somewhere. I had a stack of stuff I printed out, but Snickers sat on th' whole bloomin' mess after playin' in the creek, and I have to print it out again."

"Aha."

"OK, guess what else!"

"Dadgummit, Emma. You know I hate this."

She said what she always said. "It's good for you, keeps your brain active."

As far as she was concerned, he'd gone soft in the head since retiring six months ago.

"Just tell me and get it over with."

"Oh, come on! Try at least one guess. Here's a clue. It's about the election in November."

"Esther's stepping down and Andrew Gregory's going to run."

She frowned. "How'd you know that?"

"I haven't gone deaf and blind, for Pete's sake. I do get around."

"I suppose you also know," said Emma, hoping he didn't, "that the restaurant at Fernbank is openin' the night before you leave."

"Right. We've been invited."

She thumped into the slipcovered wing chair and peered at him as if he were a beetle on a pin. Though she'd certainly never say such a thing, she believed he was existing in a kind of purgatory between the inarguable heaven of Lord's Chapel and the hell of a strange parish in a strange place where the temperature was a hundred and five in the shade.

"Will you have a secretary down there?" she asked, suspicious.

"I don't think so. Small parish, you know."

"How small can it be?"

"Oh, fifty, sixty people."

"I thought Bishop Cullen was your friend," she sniffed. She'd never say so, but in her heart of hearts, she had hoped her boss of sixteen years would be given a big church in a big city, and make a comeback for himself. As it was, he trotted up the hill to Hope House and the hospital every livelong morning, appearing so cheerful about the whole thing that she recognized it at once as a cover-up.

Cynthia returned with a glass of lemonade and a plate of shortbread, which she put on the table next to Emma. "I'll be in the studio if anyone needs me. With all the books we're taking, we may sink the island!"

"A regular Atlantis," said Father Tim.

"Speakin' of books," Emma said to his wife, "are you doin' a new one?"

"Not if I can help it!"

He laughed as Cynthia trotted down the hall. "She usually can't help it." He expected a new children's book to break forth from his energetic wife any day now. Indeed, didn't she have a history of starting one when life was upside down and backward?

Emma munched on a piece of shortbread, showering crumbs in her lap. "Do you have those letters ready for me to do on th' computer?"

"Not quite. I wasn't expecting you 'til in the morning."

"I'm coming in th' morning, I just wanted to run by and tell you all th' late-breakin' news. But," she said, arching one eyebrow, "I haven't told you everything, I saved th' best 'til last."

His dog wandered into the study and crashed at his master's feet, panting.

"If you say you already know this, I'll never tell you another thing as long as I live. On my way here, I saw Mule Skinner, he said he's finally rented your house."

She drew herself up, pleased, and gulped the lemonade.

"Terrific! Great timing!" He might have done a jig.

"He said there hadn't been time to call you, he'll call you tonight, but it's not a family with kids like Cynthia wanted."

"Oh, well..." He was thrilled that someone had finally stepped forward to occupy the rectory. He and Harley had worked hard over the last few months to make it a strong rental property, putting new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, replacing the stair runners, installing a new toilet in the master bath and a new threshold at the front door...the list had been endless. And costly.

"It's a woman."

"I can't imagine what one person would want with all that house to rattle around in."

"How quickly you forget! You certainly rattled around in there for a hundred years."

"True. Well. I'll get the whole story from Mule."

"He said she didn't mind a bit that Harley would be livin' in the basement, she just wanted to know if he plays loud rock music."

Emma rattled the ice in her glass, gulped the last draught, and got up to leave. "Before I forget, you won't believe what else I found on th' Internet -- church bulletins! You ought to read some of th' foolishness they put out there for God an' everybody to see."

She fished a piece of paper from her handbag. "'Next Sunday,'" she read, "'a special collection will be taken to defray the cost of a new carpet. All those wishin' to do somethin' on the new carpet will come forward and do so.'"

He hooted with laughter.

"How 'bout this number: 'Don't let worry kill you, let th' church help.'"

He threw his head back and laughed some more. Emma's life in cyberspace definitely had an upside.

"By th' way, are you takin' Barnabas down there?" She enunciated "down there" as if it were a region beneath the crust of the earth.

"We are."

"I don't know how you could do that to an animal. Look at all that fur, enough to stuff a mattress."

Barnabas yawned hugely and thumped his tail on the floor.

"You won't even be able to see those horrible sandspurs that will jump in there by th' hundreds, not to mention lodge in his paws."

Emma waited for an argument, a rationale -- something. Did he have no conscience? "And th' heat down there, you'll have to shave 'im bald."

Father Tim strolled across the room to walk her to the door. "Thanks for coming, Emma. Tell Harold hello. I'll see you in the morning."

His unofficial secretary stumped down the hallway and he followed.

He was holding the front door open and biting his tongue when she turned and looked at him. Her eyes were suddenly red and filled with tears.

"I'll miss you!" she blurted.

"You will?"

She hurried down the front steps, sniffing, searching her bag for a Hardee's napkin she knew was in there someplace.

He felt stricken. "Emma! We'll...we'll have jelly doughnuts in the morning!"

"I'll have jelly doughnuts, you'll have dry toast! We don't want to ship you down there in a coma!"

She got in her car at the curb, slammed the door, gunned the motor, and roared up Wisteria Lane.

For one fleeting moment, he'd completely forgotten his blasted diabetes.

* * *

"I'm out of here," he said, kissing his wife.

"Get him to leave something for the island breezes to flow through, darling. Don't let him cut it all off."

"You always say that."

"Yes, well, you come home looking like a skinned rabbit. I don't know what Joe Ivey does to you."

Considering what Fancy Skinner had done to him time and time again, Joe Ivey could do anything he wanted.

* * *

"Leavin' us, are you?" Joe ran a comb through the hair over Father Tim's left ear and snipped.

"Afraid so."

"Leavin' us in th' lurch is more like it."

"Now, Joe. Did I preach to you when you went off to Graceland and left me high and dry?"

Joe cackled. "Thank God I come to m' senses and quit that fool job. An' in th' nick of time, too. I'm finally about t' clean up what Fancy Skinner done to people's heads around here, which in your case looked like she lowered your ears a foot an' a half."

"My wife says don't cut it too short."

"If I listened to what wives say, I'd of been out of business forty years ago. Do you know how hot it gits down there?"

If he'd been asked that once, he'd been asked it a thousand times. There was hardly anything mountain people despised more than a "hot" place.

"I'm an old Mississippi boy, you know."

"An th' mosquitos...!" Joe whistled. "Man alive!"

"Right there," he said, as Joe started working around his collar. "Just clean it up a little right there, don't cut it -- "

Joe proceeded to cut it. Oh, well. Joe Ivey had always done exactly as he pleased with Father Tim's hair, just like Fancy Skinner. What was the matter with people who serviced hair, anyway? He had never, in all his years, been able to figure it out.

"I hear it's a ten-hour trot t' get there," said Joe, clearly fixated on the inconvenience of it all.

"Closer to twelve, if you stop for gas and lunch."

"You could go t' New York City in less'n that. Prob'ly run up an' back."

"There's a thought."

Joe trimmed around his customer's right ear. "I'm gettin' t' where I'd like t' talk..." -- Joe cleared his throat -- "about what happened up at Graceland."

"Aha."

"I ain't told this to a soul, not even Winnie."

There was a long pause.

Father Tim waited, inhaling the fragrance from Sweet Stuff Bakery, just beyond the thin wall. Joe's sister, Winnie, and her husband, Thomas, were baking baklava, and he was starting to salivate.

"You couldn't ever mention this to anybody," said Joe. "You'd have to swear on a stack of Bibles."

"I can't do that, but I give you my word."

Joe let his breath out in a long sigh. "Well, sir, there towards th' end, I got to where I thought Elvis might be..."

"Might be what?"

"You know. Alive."

"No!"

"I ain't proud t' admit it. Thing is, I was gettin' in th' brandy pretty heavy when I went up there. My sister's husband, he was laid off and things was pretty tight. Plus, their house ain't exactly th' Biltmore Estate when it comes to room, so ever' once in a while, I'd ride around after supper t' give Vern and my sister a little time to theirselves."

"That was thoughtful."

"I took to lookin' for Elvis ever'where I went, 'specially at th' barbecue place, they all said he was a fool for barbecue. My sister, when she heard I was lookin' to sight Elvis, she started pourin' my brandy down th' toilet. A man can't hardly live with somebody as pours 'is brandy down th' toilet."

"That would create tension, all right." Heaven knows, he'd tried for years to get Joe to quit sucking down alcohol, but Joe had told him to mind his own business. Something, however, had happened in Memphis that sent his barber home dry as a bone.

"Then one night I was drivin' around, I said to myself, I said, Joe, Elvis wouldn't be cruisin' through a drive-in pickin' up a chopped pork with hot sauce, he'd send somebody. So I said, if I was Elvis, where would I be at?

"Seem like somethin' told me to go back to Graceland, it was about eleven o'clock at night, so I drove on over there and parked across th' street with my lights off. I hate to tell you, but I had a pint in the glove department, and I was takin' a little pull now and again."

Joe took a bottle off the cabinet and held it above his customer's head. "You want Sea Breeze?"

"Is the Pope a Catholic?"

"First thing you know, I seen somethin' at th' top of the yard. There's this big yard, you know, that spreads out behind th' gate an' all. It was somethin' white, and it..."-Joe cleared his throat-"it was movin' around."

"Aha."

Joe blasted his scalp with Sea Breeze and vigorously rubbed it in. "You ain't goin' to believe this."

"Try me."

Joe's hands stopped massaging his head. In the mirror, Father Tim could see his barber's chin quivering.

"It was Elvis...in a white suit."

"Come on!"

"Mowin' 'is yard."

"No way!"

"I said you wouldn't believe it."

"Why would he mow his yard when he could pay somebody else to do it? And why would he do it in a suit, much less a white suit? And why would he do it at night?"

Joe's eyes were misty. He shook his head, marveling. "I never have figured it out."

"Well, well." What could he say?

"I set there watchin'. He'd mow a strip one way, then mow a strip th' other way."

"Gas or push?"

"Push."

"How could he see?" Father Tim asked, mildly impatient.

"There was this...glow all around him."

"Aha."

"Then, first thing you know..."-Joe's voice grew hushed-"he th'owed up 'is hand and waved at me."

Father Tim was speechless.

"Here I'd been lookin' to see 'im for I don't know how long, and it scared me s' bad when I finally done it, I slung th' bottle in th' bushes and quit drinkin' on th' spot."

His barber drew a deep breath and stood tall. "I ain't touched a drop since, and ain't wanted to."

Father Tim was convinced this was the gospel truth. Still, he had a question.

"So, Joe, what's that, ah...bottle sitting over there by the hair tonic?"

"I keep that for my customers. You don't want a little snort, do you?"

"I pass. But tell me this...any regrets about coming back to Mitford?"

"Not ary one, as my daddy used to say. It's been a year, now, since I hauled out of Memphis and come home to Mitford, and my old trade has flocked back like a drove of guineas. Winnie gave me this nice room to set my chair in, and th' Lord's give me back my health."

Joe took the cape from his customer's shoulders and shook it out. "Yessir, you're lookin' at a happy man."

"And so are you!" said Father Tim. "So are you!"

After all, didn't he have a new haircut, a new parish, and a whole new life just waiting to begin?

* * *

He couldn't help himself.

As the bells at Lord's Chapel pealed three o'clock, he turned into Happy Endings Bookstore as if on automatic pilot. He had five whole minutes to kill before jumping in the car and roaring off to Wesley for a bicycle pump, since Dooley's had turned up missing.

"Just looking," he told Hope Winchester. Hope's ginger-colored cat, Margaret, peered at him suspiciously as he raced through General Fiction, hung a right at Philosophy, and skidded left into Religion, where the enterprising Hope had recently installed a shelf of rare books.

He knew for a fact that the only bookstore on Whitecap Island was in the rear of a bait and tackle shop. They would never in a hundred years have Arthur Quiller-Couch's On the Art of Reading, which he had eyed for a full week. It was now or never.

His hand shot out to the hard-to-find Quiller-Couch volume, but was instantly drawn back. No, a thousand times no. If his wife knew he was buying more books to schlepp to Whitecap, he'd be dead meat.

He sighed.

"Better to take it now than call long-distance and have me ship it down there for three dollars."

Hope appeared next to him, looking wise in new tortoiseshell glasses.

No doubt about it, Hope had his number.

He raked the book off the shelf, and snatched Jonathan Edwards's The Freedom of the Will from another. He noted that his forehead broke out in a light sweat.

Oh, well, while he was at it...

He grabbed a copy of Lewis's Great Divorce, which had wandered from his own shelves, never to be seen again, and went at a trot to the cash register.

"I'm sure you're excited about your party!" Hope said, ringing the sale. Margaret jumped onto the counter and glowered at him. Why did cats hate his guts? What had he ever done to cats? Didn't he buy his wife's cat only the finest, most ridiculously priced chicken niblets in a fancy tinfoil container?

"Party? What party?"

"Why, the party Uncle Billy and Miss Rose are giving you and Cynthia!"

"I don't know anything about a party." Had someone told him and he'd forgotten?

"It's the biggest thing in the world to them. They've never given a party in their whole lives, but they want to do this because they hold you in the most edacious regard."

"Well!" He was nearly speechless. "When is it supposed to be?"

"Tomorrow night, of course." She looked at him oddly.

Tomorrow night they were working a list as long as his arm, not to mention shopping for groceries to feed Dooley Barlowe a welcome-home dinner of steak, fries, and chocolate pie.

He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. He'd be glad to leave town and get his life in order again.

"I'll look into it," he muttered, shelling out cash for the forbidden books. "And if you don't mind, that is, if you happen to see Cynthia, you might not mention that, ah..."

Hope Winchester smiled. She would never say a word to the priest's wife about his buying more books. Just as she certainly wouldn't mention to him that Cynthia had dashed in only this morning to buy copies of Celia Thaxter's My Island Garden, and the hardback of Ira Sleeps Over.

* * *

He knocked on the screen door of the small, life-estate apartment in the rear of the town musuem.

"Uncle Billy! Miss Rose! Anybody home?"

He couldn't imagine the old couple giving a party; his mind was perfectly boggled by the notion. Rose Watson had been diagnosed as schizophrenic decades ago, and although on daily medication, her mood swings were fierce and unpredictable. To make matters worse for her long-suffering husband, she was quickly going deaf as a stone, but refused to wear hearing aids. "There's aids enough in this world," she said menacingly.

He put his nose against the screen and saw Uncle Billy sleeping in a chair next to an electric fan, his cane between his legs. Father Tim hated to wake him, but what was he to do? He knocked again.

Uncle Billy opened his eyes and looked around the kitchen,

startled.

"It's me, Uncle Billy!"

"Lord if hit ain't th' preacher!" The old man grinned toward the door, his gold tooth gleaming. "Rose!" he shouted. "Hit's th' preacher!"

"He's not supposed to be here 'til tomorrow!" Miss Rose bellowed from the worn armchair by the refrigerator.

Uncle Billy grabbed his cane and slowly pulled himself to a standing position. "If I set too long, m' knees lock up, don't you know. But I'm a-comin'."

"Tell him he's a day early!" commanded Miss Rose.

"Don't you mind Rose a bit. You're welcome any time of th' day or night." Uncle Billy opened the screen and he stepped into the kitchen. The Watsons had cooked cabbage for lunch, no two ways about it.

"Uncle Billy, I hear you're giving...well, someone said you're giving Cynthia and me...a party?"

The old man looked vastly pleased. "Got a whole flock of people comin' to see you! Got three new jokes t' tell, you're goin' t' like 'em, and Rose is makin' banana puddin'."

Father Tim scratched his head, feeling foolish.

"Y' see, th' church give you 'uns a nice, big party an' all, but hit seemed mighty official, hit was anybody an' ever'body, kind of a free-for-all. I said, 'Rose, we ought t' give th' preacher an' 'is missus a little send-off with 'is friends!'" The old man leaned on his cane, grinning triumphantly. "So we're a-doin' it, and glad t' be a-doin' it!"

"Well, now -- "

"Hit's goin' to be in th' museum part of th' house, so we can play th' jukebox, don't you know."

"Why, that's wonderful, it really is, but -- "

"An' me an' Rose took a good bath in th' tub!"

He had seen the time when Uncle Billy and Miss Rose could empty two or three pews around their own....

Miss Rose, in a chenille robe and unlaced saddle oxfords, stood up from her chair and looked him dead in the eye. He instantly wished for the protection of his wife.

"I hope you didn't come expecting to eat a day in advance," she snapped.

"Oh, law," said her mortified husband. "Now, Rose -- "

She turned to Uncle Billy. "I haven't even made the banana pudding yet, so how can we feed him?"

"Oh, I didn't come to eat. I just came to find out -- "

"You march home," said Miss Rose, "and come back tomorrow at the right time."

Uncle Billy put his hands over his eyes, as if to deny the terrible scene taking place in front of him.

"And what time might that be?" shouted Father Tim.

"Six-thirty sharp!" said the old woman, looking considerably vexed.

* * *

His wife went pale.

He felt like putting his hands over his own eyes, as Uncle Billy had done.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know how to say no. Uncle Billy is so excited.... They've never given a party before."

"Why in heaven's name didn't they let us know?"

"I think they invited everybody else and forgot to invite us."

"Lord have mercy!" said his overworked wife, conveniently quoting the prayer book.

They had collapsed on the study sofa for the Changing of the Light, having gone nonstop since five-thirty that morning. He had made the lemonade on this occasion, and served it with two slices of bread, each curled hastily around a filling of Puny's homemade pimiento cheese.

"I can't even think about a party," she said, stuffing the bread and cheese into her mouth. "My blood sugar has dropped through the soles of my tennis shoes."

Ah, the peace of this room, he thought, unbuttoning his shirt. And here they were, leaving it. They built it, and now they were leaving it. Such was life in a collar.

"Timothy, are you really excited about going to Whitecap?"

"It comes and goes in waves. One moment, I'm excited-"

"And the next, you're scared to death?"

"Well..."

"Me, too," she confessed. "I hate to leave Mitford. I thought it would be fun, invigorating, a great adventure." She lay down, putting her head on one of the faded needlepoint pillows that had also made it through the hedge. "But now..." Her voice trailed off.

"We're pretty worn out, Kavanagh. This is a stressful thing we're doing, pulling up stakes. I've hardly been out of Mitford in sixteen years. But we'll get there and it will be terrific, wait and see. You'll love it. The freedom of an island..."

"The wind in our hair..."

"Gulls wheeling above us..."

"The smell of salt air..."

It was a litany they'd recited antiphonally over the last couple of months. It always seemed to console them.

He pulled her feet into his lap. "How about a nap? We've got a tight schedule ahead."

"Tonight," she said, "Puny helps us clean out all the cabinets.... Dooley comes tomorrow evening just before the Watson party, and will have supper with his mother. Then a day of shopping with our threadbare boy and moving him in with Harley, followed by your meeting with the new tenant, and Dooley's steak dinner. Then, of course, there's the grand opening at Lucera on Thursday night after we finish packing the car, and on Friday morning we're off. I don't think," she said, breathless, "that we'll have time to celebrate your birthday."

His birthday! Blast! This year, he would be sixty-six, and just think-in four short years, he would be seventy. And then eighty. And then...dead, he supposed. Oh, well.

"Don't be depressed," she scolded. "And for heaven's sake, dearest, relax. You're sitting there like a statue in a park."

"Right," he said, guzzling the lemonade.

He had noted over the last few days that the late June light reached its pinnacle when it fell upon the brass angel. Because of the exterior overhang of the room, the direct light moved no higher than the mantel, where the angel stood firm on its heavy base of green marble.

He had found the angel in the attic at Fernbank, Miss Sadie's rambling house at the top of the hill, now owned by Andrew and Anna Gregory. Only months before she died in her ninetieth year, Sadie Baxter had written a letter about the disposition of her family home and its contents. One thing she asked him to do was take something for his own, anything he liked.

As Cynthia rambled through Fernbank seeking her portion of the legacy, he had found the angel in a box, a box with a faded French postmark. Though the attic was filled with a bountiful assortment of inarguable treasures, he had known as surely as if someone had engraved his name upon it that the angel in a box belonged to him.

The light moved now to the angel, to its outspread wings and supplicating hands. It shone, also, on the vase of pink flowering almond next to the old books, and the small silhouette of his mother, which Cynthia had reframed and hung above the mantel.

As long as he could remember, he'd been afraid to sit still, to listen, to wait. As a priest, he'd been glad of every needy soul to tend to; every potluck supper to sit to; even of every illness to run -- thankful for the fray and haste. He'd been frightened of any tendency to sit and let his mind wander like a goat untethered from a chain, free to crop any grass it pleased.

He was beginning to realize, however, that he was less and less afraid to do what appeared to be nothing.

In the end, he wasn't really afraid of moving to Whitecap, either; he'd given his wife the wrong notion. He had prayed that God would send him wherever He pleased, and when his bishop presented the idea of Whitecap, he knew it wasn't his bishop's bright idea at all, but God's. He had learned years ago to read God's answer to any troubling decision by looking to his heart, his spirit, for an imprimatur of peace. That peace had come; otherwise, he would not go.

He inhaled the freshness of the breeze that stole through the open window, and the fragrance of oak and cherry that pervaded the room like incense.

Then, lulled by the sight of his dozing wife, he put his head back and closed his eyes, and slept.

Copyright © 1999 by Jan Karon. All rights reserved.

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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, April 12th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Jan Karon to discuss A NEW SONG.


Moderator: Welcome, Jan Karon! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How is everything in Kansas City?

Jan Karon: I love Kansas City. The sun is shining, and flowers are blooming. It is great.


Carol Ellis from Melbourne, FL: Are any of the wonderful people in Mitford modeled after people you know? Is Barnabus one of your dogs?

Jan Karon: No, my characters are composites of people and cultural behavior familiar to me over the years, with one exception -- Harley Welch was inspired by a housepainter I had several years ago, a mountain man full of Irish wit and wisdom.


Barbara Walvius from Woodbridge, VA: Do you do all your own research, or do you have someone who helps you?

Jan Karon: I have someone who helps me, but the really big stuff I do myself because I need atmosphere for the book, and it must be done in person. For example, in writing A NEW SONG, Chapter 13 was personally researched, and I will never do it again.


Jan from Mukilteo, WA: Cynthia Cavanaugh is a bestselling author. Do her frustrations (the crushing deadlines, the unwillingness to leave home for publicity tours) reflect your own feelings about writing the Mitford books? Do deadlines and expectations for "the next book" wear you down?

Jan Karon: I would say that yes, there is a lot pf pressure when you are under a contract. I have a contract for four more Mitford books, and they have very specific deadlines. Nobody really likes deadlines, but it is something that I honor. I try to be early rather than late, but writing is something that I love doing more than anything else and because people appreciate it, I am willing to take the other stuff.


Julie from Texas: Jan, when can we expect to see the Mitford cookbook in bookstores?

Jan Karon: That is about four or five years out. We have got two novels and a novella before the cookbook.


Mary from Georgia: What kind of influence did Miss Read/Dora Saint have on you?

Jan Karon: I think a great influence. Miss Read, like Jane Austen, is all about the universality of village life, and Miss Read orchestrated her village of characters just beautifully. I think my books are quite different from Miss Read's. I think the characters are often more complex, but fundamentally we are all Miss Read and James Herriot and myself -- interacting with a larger cast of characters. My main character in all of the books is Mitford, and even though we went to Whitecap Island for the new book, Mitford was still a prominent character. Thank you for the question.


Tom Edmondson from Washington State: I really enjoy the "More from Mitford" newsletter offered by Penguin/Putnam. Do you really write the newsletter? It sure sounds like you!

Jan Karon: Every single blasted word. I wouldn't let anybody else write it. I am very protective of the newsletter. Write me a letter c/o the newsletter address -- if it is good, I will publish it.


Cathy Denial from Iowa: If it were possible for Father Tim to meet anyone -- real life or fictional -- who would you have him meet and why?

Jan Karon: Great question -- I have never been asked that before. Wow, I am stumped. I will have to come back to that.


Betty Lou from Poplarville, MS: Our 14-month-old book club will be discussing your first Mitford book in May, and we are loving it. Is A NEW SONG still about Mitford? Would you consider some really good discussion questions for your books for clubs such as ours?

Jan Karon: We have discussion questions -- all you have to do is contact our web site (or email reading@penguin.com) and get the free reader's guide, and you can have as many as you want for your book club -- and the guide covers all four books. Mitford is very prominent in this new book, although Father Tim and Cynthia are spending a year at Whitecap. I think you will enjoy the reader's guide.


Melissa Miller from Oakland, CA: I love your books and have read all five. Any chance that a movie or TV series may be made? I am curious to see what your characters would look like in person! And I hope there will be more Mitford books to come.

Jan Karon: There will be more Mitford books -- two novels. Number 6 will be called IN THIS MOUNTAIN; number 7, and the final Mitford novel, will be called LIFE FROM HEAVEN, which is a line from a Wordsworth poem -- there will also be novella and a cookbook. We have been approached many times by many TV and feature film producers. I am going to be very, very careful about who gets the rights. The person who gets these rights must understand and respect the work, or they will go to the grave with me. It is not about money!


Nicholas from Mitford in my Mind: How much privacy have you lost in your daily life due to the success of the Mitford books? (I promise never to come to Blowing Rock and knock on your door!)

Jan Karon: I have lost some, of course. A lot of people are coming to Blowing Rock from all over the country to find Mitford, but let me tell you that Mitford is not something you can get; Mitford happens because of something you give.


Jan from Mukilteo, WA: Cynthia has a very famous cat, Violet. How about you? Are you more of a cat person or a dog person?

Jan Karon: I love all animals. My cat is named Bennie; he is 17 and still ruggedly handsome. I lost my little dog, Rosie, a year and a half ago and am searching for another. If I had to pick one, I guess I love dogs more -- cats are so blasted arrogant -- but I love them all.


Barbara from Pacific Northwest: In a recent interview, you said that you wish Sir Anthony Hopkins would read your books. Is this because you think he'd be the best choice to play Father Tim in a Mitford movie? If so, I agree with you 100 percent!

Jan Karon: My answer to that is: Bingo, Barbara.


Eve Hill from Strongsville, OH: You've expressed a desire to learn to fly a fabric airplane. Have you taken any ground school instruction yet, and if you took lessons would you incorporate this experience into a book using your original flying character or a new one? (My flight instructor-jet jockey husband has been volunteered to give you lessons in one of his 1046 Aeronca champs on a grass strip.)

Jan Karon: I love that! Yes, I want to take lessons. I have had no ground instructions yet. It is definitely on my agenda for my life, and thank your instructor husband for his very gracious offer.


Mary from Georgia: Uncle Billy's jokes are so funny! Where do you get his jokes?

Jan Karon: I get his jokes from my brother, from the 1930s issues of the FARMER'S ALMANAC, and from people who come out with joke anthologies. I always acknowledge my sources, but I am very picky about Uncle Billy jokes. They have to be just right, and thank you for liking his jokes. I wish people told clean jokes more often; they are such fun, and it is so wonderful to make people laugh.


Julie from Texas: Jan -- I, too, worship a God who might find it appropriate to say "ditto." Is Father Tim's theology typical of Episcopalians? Thank you.

Jan Karon: Of some Episcopalians. Remember, too, that Father Tim is part Baptist.


Marvin Young from Woodridge, IL: After 30 years of working at something I don't like, I would like to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a writer. Any suggestions? Where do you get your inspiration or ideas? Do you work every day or sporadically? Handling writer's block?

Jan Karon: If you want to write a book, get cracking. Sit down and start. It is not brain surgery. Write from the heart and don't stop till you are finished; you will know when that is. All of life is teeming with ideas. A better question would be to name a place where I don't get ideas. Ideas are everywhere all the time, but it is best not to go seeking them; it is best to keep your eyes and ears open all the time and don't be afraid or nervous if you are not getting "ideas." If you keep your eyes and ears open, the ideas will form; you can't stop them.


Barbara from Pacific Northwest: I know you are a fan of Dora Saint, a.k.a. Miss Read, and her English village novels. Based on your recommendation in the "More from Mitford" newsletter, I've started her Thrush Green series and am completely entranced. Have you had the pleasure of meeting Dora Saint in person?

Jan Karon: No, but I correspond with Miss Read. Miss Read is 86 and has retired from writing books. Her eyesight is too poor to write any longer, but in her long history of writing books, she produced more than 40. So there are plenty of them out there for you to enjoy.


Martha from Tennessee: Have you had marriage proposals from fans? I'll bet you have.

Jan Karon: No marriage proposals, but definitely a few inquiries. Mr. Right has not written me yet...


Moderator: Let's go back to Cathy from Iowa's question: If it were possible for Father Tim to meet anyone -- real life or fictional -- who would you have him meet, and why?

Jan Karon: Father Tim would of course like to meet Jesus Christ, but he will meet him anyway, since he is going to heaven, so we need to find another answer. He would like to meet either C. S. Lewis or Oswald Chambers. Either one of those two guys and possibly Ava Gardner, but that is not really a big thing -- just kidding.


Chris from Whitestone, NY: Hello. This is the first time I have ever even thought about being on a chat line. I just want to thank you for many enjoyable hours of reading. I was thrilled to find A NEW SONG at the library the other day. I am nearly finished with it and, as with every other Mitford series books, have hardly been able to put it down.

Jan Karon: Question for you: Did you enjoy the Whitecap characters, and did you feel at home on the island?


Marti Davis from Knoxville, TN: Has the enormous success of your books made it harder (or easier) for you to be a part of that special type of community that is Mitford?

Jan Karon: I don't think it has changed. I still go to the grill and eat "liver mush" sandwiches. The people in my village are proud of the series -- they don't have to hang their heads in shame because I am writing something ugly. I am about as popular in town now as the town whistle, which has been blowing for 50 years -- it goes off at noon every day.


Ginger Stanley from Los Angeles, CA: Jan -- I absolutely love your Mitford series...the characters are so charming and true to life. How did you get started as a writer? Did you just jump into the Mitford novels, or did you do any short stories or feature articles in your early career? Thanks for answering and keep writing those delightful books!

Jan Karon: Thank you for your lovely comments. I have written short stories. I wrote my first novel at the age of ten. I have always wanted to be a writer, but I slipped into the mire of advertising for about four decades. The mire that gave us John Grisham, Clive Cussler, Salman Rushdie, to name a few. I will have a story in Good Housekeeping in the next six months, "Pelargonium." I hope that will send some of my online friends to the dictionary.


Susan Perez from Tonawanda, NY: I would like Father Tim's meatloaf recipe.

Jan Karon: You really don't want this recipe -- it is too full of oatmeal because Father Tim was a frugal bachelor; if you simply must have it, it will be out in the cookbook some years to come. In the meantime, you will be better served to bake the orange marmalade cake, the recipe for which is on our web site (penguinputnam.com).


Vonnie from WV: Will you have a book signing and appearance in our state? Your latest book was the first item on my "to do" list today! Can't wait to get into it! You so entertainingly write about everyday events. God bless you for great books!

Jan Karon: I would love to come to West Virginia, but I can't come this year -- possibly on a future book tour.


Megan from NYC: What's on your reading list for the summer? Do you have any big plans -- anything you're looking forward to reading or have been saving for the summer months?

Jan Karon: Unlike most intelligent people, I hardly ever save up a book for summer or think about what I am going to read. My summers are devoted to writing a book. I don't know; I think I want to read DEAD MAN WALKING -- I saw that nun on C-SPAN last night, and she was so powerful, I was just swept off my feet. Do you have a recommendation of a newer book?


Tammi from Rochester, NY: Are we going to find out more about Dooley and his family in the new book?

Jan Karon: Absolutely! Always. In fact, we will find out more about Dooley and his family until book 7. Dooley is definitely a key player and always will be.


Moderator: You are always welcome in our Auditorium, Jan Karon! I know I speak for everyone here when I say that you are a delightful "chatter," and we hope you come back soon. Any final words for the online audience?

Jan Karon: Thank you for those nice words. I love chatting with you online, though I am not online myself -- if I were, I would never get a book written, I would be so carried away with all the wonderful things to learn and explore. I am happy to be in Kansas City with my daughter, Candace, and this is, as you know, the headquarters of Hallmark. At the end of July, Hallmark will introduce a wonderful line of Mitford cards and gifts. I have found working with Hallmark to be a most enjoyable experience. They love and understand Mitford, and I hope my readers will look for the Hallmark introduction at the end of July. I want to thank everyone for loving Mitford and say from my heart that Mitford loves you back.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 49 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2013

    This is series of 9 or 10 books, I have loved all I have read so

    This is series of 9 or 10 books, I have loved all I have read so far, I think I am ready for 6. I don't like them to end! Interesting and sweet, well written, a good clean story, lots of characters that you can't help but love.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2012

    SB

    Seven pages of awesomness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2012

    Skylanders: A New Beginning Chapter 3

    Terrafin: As we made our way to the other side of the house, I looked around for treasure. Seeing nothing, I decided to burrow down. We walked for a few more minutes before the rumbling started. No one else heard it, but I, being underground, could hear it as clear as glass. It was pretty small, so I didn't say anything to the others. We reached a large door, but it was too dark to see what it was made of. Drobot, Drill Sargeant, and Trigger Happy all shot it; Boomer and Dino-Rang threw things; Prism Break blasted it; Bash, well, bashed into the door; then I walked up. I cracked my knuckles and thrust forward. My fist connected, broke through, and pulled back, pulling the door of its hinges. There was silence, then, "TERRAFIN! TERRAFIN!" I bowed and Drobot took the lead. We stepped into the room's eerie glow. At the far end was a mirror, emanating a silver light. It was about eight feet tall and three feet wide. Bash crept forward and placed his palm on the glass. Suddenly, a huge black monster with a mouth as big as the mirror burst out of it. All of us were knocked back, but when we stood up, Bash was gone. Stealth Elf: We climbed the creaking staircase that led up to what seemed like an attic. When we reached the top, a door blocked our way. I sliced the door to pieces and led the team through. No one had challenged my taken role of leadership, probably because I was the commander's girlfriend. I was listening for danger as we walked. Lightning Rod was in the back to prevent sneak attacks, Whirlwind and Camo to watch for ambushes, and Zook, Warnado, Stump Smash, and Sonic Boom in the middle for a fighting core. We were set. As we emerged into the attic, I heard cheering below. Probably Terrafin. I darted forward towards a treasure chest, and opened it. Nothing. Chop Chop had told me to keep watch for valuables, and as I turned, I saw Zook trying a chest. He opened it and a puff of dust appeared. I walked over and looked inside. What I saw was completely unexpected... Flameslinger: As soon as Chop Chop had given his orders, my team started off. I lead, and I was NOT happy. It wasn't because I was paired with Water. It was because I was paired with Slam Bam. That show-off gets on my nerves so bad, and guess what it was today? "Why is our captain a Fire? He can't even use his moves!" I finally turned around. "You wanna lead this team? Do you wanna have to listen for danger at every foot-step? No? I didn't think so!" I led the team forward again and into the basement. There was a shout, and as I turned, I saw Whamshell fall into the stairs. Chop Chop: I set my sword on a table and threw my shield at a dark shape in the distance. It hit a stair and came back. I picked my sword back up. "Let's go." We marched into the kitchen. It was, unlike anything else, sparkling clean. The work of pixies. I told the team to stay back and walked forward with Spyro. We searched for pixie nests, and I have to admit, food. We found some food and were about to take it to base camp when pixies attacked. Spyro started to shoot fire, but I stopped him. "You'll burn the house down!" He dipped his head. "Sorry." I nodded and slashed at the pixies. We defeated them all and heard a shout. We ran to the team. Cynder was the only one not spastic. "What happened?" "The pixies took Ghost Roaster." (Hi pplz! Plz rate and review and advertise! Thx!)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Spiritual Getaway

    Jan Karon carefully weaves delight and hope into this novel. She carefully places Father Kavanaugh in a new environment which chalenges and expands his theological skills. Meet the believeable characters of a remote southern island who welcome their interim pastor with support and courage. Witness the effects of a hurricane on their lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    A heartwarming continuation of the "Mitford Series"

    After reading the first four books of the Mitford Series, A NEW SONG was needed to learn about Father Tim & Cynthia's retirement on an island. So many lives were blessed through their efforts. Difficulties were numerous and knowing how the cast of characters found fulfillment in life gave me a good feeling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2002

    The New Song is a Winner

    A New Song by Jan Karon is a wonderfully comforting tale of the simple pleasures in life as well as the not-so-simple hardships.  This was certainly not Karon's first time writing about this idea, nor about Father Timothy and his lovely wife Cynthia.  As faithful readers of the series know, one always feels a little more at peace after finishing a tale of these two.  However, the reader also experiences the inevitable disappointment of having to exit their world and come back to this one.     Readers should not be disappointed that A New Song does not take place in Mitford.  There is much reference to it throughout the book, as both Timothy and Cynthia are extremely homesick.  Besides, Father Tim has always been at keeping up with his correspondants.  All the favorites from Mitford are not forgotten in the fifth book of the Mitford series.  But the Kavanaghs are in a new town, Whitecap, where Timothy is serving as interim priest but surely to return to Mitford when he is finished.  The homey feeling and gentle spirits always portrayed in the characters of the Mitford books are found in Whitecap as well.  Father Tim finds many friends and more than enough challenges to keep him busy.     Karon seems to get it right every time with her gentle fiction. So far, each one has been an absolute pleasure to get lost in.  They are comforting touching, and incredibly witty.  I lost count of how many times I was so lost in this book that I would be laughing out loud when it might not have been the best thing to do.  For example, the chapter that had me cracking up was when Timothy went on a fishing trip that Cynthia had insisted that he go on.  He spent the entire trip leaning over the rail, turning an "odd color."  Karon has this incredible ability to make even the simplest events seem funny. For example, this advice from Emma, Timothy's old secretary; "Don't let worry kill you; let the church help." Or when Timothy was musing on his birthday, and all the other ones that would follow. He would be 60, then 70, then 80, and then, "dead I suppose. Oh well." I love the dialect in these books. I love the "dadgummits," and the broken English spoken by most of Timothy's friends. And then in contrast, the Wordsworth was commonly quoted by Timothy. It all comes together to form an enjoyable and uplifting story. While I myself found absolutely nothing wrong with this book, I would not recommend it to someone who enjoys an abundance of action. Because while there are many intriguing events in the story, they are small town events nonetheless. And for a reader who is not at all interested in the normal events of a humble life, this book might seem (I hate to say it) boring. I cannot end on this note, however, so I must point out that Karon takes these "mundane" occurences, and portrays them for what they really are. Amazing, moving, and often funny moments that are experienced by us all. In Jan Karon's A New Song, it is not just a new beginning for Timothjy and Cynthia, but also a new story of love, faith, endurance, and friendship for the readers to indulge.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2002

    A Wonderful Song!!

    Another wonderful story from Jan Karon. Sweeps you into another world, upward ever higher til you see the face of heaven. So refreshing to read uplifting,wholesome works full of grace and redemption. Very reminiscent of Shade of the Maple by Kirk Martin. Can't wait for the next one from Jan Karon!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2002

    ENJOY A MINI-VACATION!

    I love spending time in Whitecap or Mitford. I love these people. I feel like Father Tim and Cynthia are real friends of mine. These books from Jan Karon are pure magic. I feel as if I had been on a mini-vacation!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2002

    What's Next - Can't Wait!

    I have been totally absorbed into the Mitford culture - I feel like I am right there when I read - I can see Barnabas running along the beach, hear Cythnia's laughter and have been nurtured by the warm spirituality of these books. I felt very deeply moved by Father Tim's sermon at the end of A NEW SONG. I am anxious for other books to continue the saga - I hope Jan won't leave us yet - there's much more to come and I can't wait!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2001

    Started with the last first

    When people push me too hard to read a book, my stubborn streak takes over and I sometimes cut off my nose to spite my face. This happened here. I didn't read this series because everyone told me I had to and now I'm sorry I didn't meet these people sooner. I started with a New Song first, not knowing it was the latest in a series. I am now reading At Home in Mitford and have the other three on order. What a wonderful writer. How heartwarming her characters. I'm a voracious mystery reader and figured these books had nothing to offer me but was I wrong. There are enough little 'mysteries' to interest this reader. The island I create for myself while reading these books is peaceful and quiet and far removed from all of the ugliness I see on TV. Haven't read anything this heartwarming since the James Herriott series. Don't let your stubborn streak get in the way - read these books!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2001

    Jan Karon touches the heart.

    Yet another great book in the Mitford series. Karon makes me smile and weep. I love this woman's work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2000

    THE BEST

    Real people, real life, laughter, tears, makes you want to know these people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2000

    GREAT stuff

    The characters, the setting, the writing!! I REALLY appreciate authors who take the time to give their readers their best and Jan does. A new Christian writer on the scene (book is called A Force of Habit) has many similar talents although in the spiritual mystery genre. Support authors who produce quality--thank you Jan Karon

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2000

    Keeps Getting Better

    This exciting series keeps you anxiously waiting for your next adventure with Father Tim and Cynthia. Karon know how to grab your attention and makes you want to stay up all night reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2000

    Waiting Impaitently!!!!!!!!

    I can't wait for the next installment from Mitford. I am addicted to reading these books! At first, I wasn't sure about this one, because of the upcoming changes in Father Tim's life. However, I soon got caught up in the story and loved every minute of it!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2000

    Even Better the 2nd (& 3rd, and ...) Time

    I read A New Song when it was first published last year. It was a jolt out of my 'comfort zone' to be introduced to so many new characters; I truly missed those from Mitford. However, this summer I am reading it (for the 3rd time?) again. NOW I get it! I understand the new characters more fully, and have gained a deeper understanding of how God works in their (and our) lives. For those who didn't like it as much as the first four, give it some time and re-read it later.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2000

    Can't wait for the next one!

    These books are great. I savor everyone, more so than any other series. If everybody would just read one of these delightful books, the world might be a better place. Heartwarming!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2000

    Most Refreshing series I've ever read!

    I highly recommend this book to all who need a real look at the way life should be approached. All the characters are so real and refreshing. People helping people and and caring about others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2000

    The Mitford Series take my breath away!

    I have read all of the Mitford Series and can't wait for the others to come out. I will not even let anyone borrow them because I read them over and over again. If the others don't hurry and come out I am going to wear them out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    Not my usual cup-of-tea...

    Boy howdy...I have become so used to the much harder, tougher kind of novel, but, oh my...this series is so comforting and uplifting as to warm the heart. I was so pleased to find a series that I could enjoy for five entire novels that made me feel so-o-o good. Jan Karon does not disappont.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews

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