After six months of living in the quiet village of Willingham, Massachusetts, I had accumulated no friends and few acquaintances. Don’t pity me; that was precisely my vision when I chose to retire here after a long and brutal career in Manhattan real estate. Instead of running for president like one of my former competitors, I putter in the garden or in my basement workshop, stroll to the town common and enjoy the occasional late afternoon cocktail—all unencumbered by the demands of human companionship. In early December, however, my solitary bliss was disturbed by a resolute knock on my front door.
My first instinct was, as always, to ignore it. The odds were that the rapping noise presaged a gaggle of sniveling children peddling waxy chocolate to fund some rough and tumble sport the school system could no longer afford. When the sound persisted in disturbing my perusal of several back issues of This Old House (on a quest for the perfect handle for the downstairs commode), I strode to the door and flung it open.
“Yes?” I barked. The tall gray-haired woman on my front steps appeared unmoved by my terse greeting.
“Mr. Reed?” she inquired, pulling a piece of paper from her boiled wool jacket. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. My name is Ivy Faircloth. You might be interested in this.” She thrust the paper at me.
Although I didn’t appreciate the intrusion, I was intrigued by the woman’s identity. The Faircloths were the founding settlers of our fair village and it was my understanding that Ivy, who must be on the dark side of eighty, was the last of her lot. Notwithstanding her years, the local newspaper tossed weekly on my doorstep revealed Ivy to be a continuing force in the community—chairing the greens sale for the garden club, organizing church white elephant sales, or giving sparsely attended lectures on her forebears at the Willingham Historical Society.
I took the paper and struck an apologetic tone. “Please excuse my abrupt welcome, Ms. Faircloth. How can I help you?” At worst, I calculated, I’d be asked for a donation to decorate the lampposts on Main Street in Christmas finery.
“Miss Faircloth, please,” she replied. “I’ve never been interested in concealing my marital status. I’m here to talk to you about Willingham Woods.”
I examined her offering. It appeared to be a template for a real estate brochure featuring a smiling blond family of four in front of a mock colonial behemoth of a house. Willingham Woods—Where Wonder Awaits was emblazoned above the pseudo-father’s left eyebrow.
“I’m not sure of the connection to—” I began and she cut me off.
“May I come in?” she asked. “I’ll explain.”
I reluctantly led her into my front parlor where she perched, spine erect, on the velvet loveseat, her legs neatly crossed at the ankles. Although Miss Faircloth was not a gifted story-teller, her information chilled me to the bone. One of the main attractions of my beautiful Federal home (known in Willingham as the old Bowen place) was its location. My street was a quiet, dead-end road. The houses enjoyed ample lots and mine was the last one on the left. Beyond my abode was a simple stone wall, demarcating the wooded acres that Ezekiel Bowen had deeded to the town over two hundred years ago.
According to Miss Faircloth, my peaceful existence now was threatened by a housing development proposed by Jonathan Banks, a wealthy property developer from a neighboring town. Unless it was stopped, that housing development, aka Willingham Woods, would first bring the noise and inconvenience of major construction and then, even worse, would replace the expanse of majestic red maple trees with cul-de-sacs, tricycles and lawnmowers.
“I don’t understand,” I sputtered. “I thought the woods belonged to the town, not to some upstart developer.” I had researched the neighborhood extensively before I moved from New York City; what had I missed?
“The woods do belong to Willingham,” Miss Faircloth informed me. “Under the terms of Ezekiel’s will the property is to be used for the benefit and enjoyment of the town. However, the town selectmen have decided that selling the woods will provide for the benefit and enjoyment of Willingham; they want to use the funds to build a new high school. There are many complaints about the current building.”
“What’s a little asbestos and a leaky roof to a collection of teenagers? They’re young; they’re resilient. Why coddle them?”