Home away from home: Conversations at Orchard House #2

By Trix Wilkins
All photographs courtesy of Orchard House

I must confess, I am feeling really sad at the moment not being at the Summer Conversations in Concord and meeting such kindred spirits in person. I wish I were at Orchard House right now. I’d ask around about the anonymous staff member who took the time to converse with me through the written word, and beg her for a tour!

What a thrill it was to discover that there was at least one other out there in the world who a) found a role model in Jo March and wrote journals as a girl, b) really liked the real life May Alcott (even if she didn’t like Amy March), c) finds that it is the people that make the best part of any home…

Orchard House brown PIC

How did you first become involved with Orchard House?

In my heart, I became involved with Orchard House on my very first visit.

I was six years old, I believe, and my grandmother was in town. A lifelong Little Women fan, she was eager to take a tour, even though she had visited Orchard House before. My grandmother, mother, and I began our tour, and I was mesmerized! I wanted to stay forever.

Not long after, my mom read Little Women with me, and my interest in Orchard House just grew and grew. I found a role model in Jo March. I began waking up early in the mornings to go sit in this tiny room under the staircase at our family home, where I would write.

Orchard House little women PIC

My mother bought me a Little Women journal from Orchard House, and especially knowing that the Alcott sisters kept journals, I would write in it faithfully.

I wanted to learn more about the real-life family, so I read Invincible Louisa.

And I visited Orchard House. Countless times! On a free weekend, it would always be my request that we tour Orchard House. Many times we did; I was very lucky. I fantasized about giving my own tour there someday. I liked seeing different guides’ styles.

One of my dress-up playing friends had her birthday party at Orchard House! The Director, Jan Turnquist, portrayed Louisa May Alcott, and I absolutely loved it. I kept coming back.

Years later, I was in high school, and a friend of mine began guiding at Orchard House. She happened to e-mail a few of us to say there might be some more guiding openings, in case we were interested.  Needless to say, I was interested!  I replied right away.

I remember practicing my sample tour to a very gracious acquaintance in homeroom; we became closer from that. I already liked how the Alcotts were bringing people together.

Happily, my tour was approved, and I began by giving tours mostly on weekends in high school. My dream came true.

Orchard House dining room PIC
 Orchard House dining room

What is your favorite thing about Orchard House?

My favorite thing about Orchard House is the people. My co-workers are beyond wonderful. Sympathetic, helpful, funny, kind, generous, open-minded, forgiving, I could go on…I would say they possess many Alcott traits!

Among other things, there are excellent storytellers here, and it is just a pleasure and inspiration to spend time together.

Other folks involved with the House are also absolutely lovely. The Alcotts, too, certainly, I love “spending time” with them. From their own items, letters, and journals, it is incredible to “know” them.

Thanks, too, to the many writers who have brought the Alcotts to life. Writings which are so fascinating, well-researched, and informative. Not only do they help me do a better job here, they are also genuinely a pleasure to read! Authors that sometimes visit are delightful as well.

And our guests! It is an absolute joy to meet our many visitors, who come sometimes with tears in their eyes. Other times, they have never heard of the Alcotts and are totally bored at first! I like them, too. I like them all.

I really like how people from all different backgrounds, with different personalities, are brought together by Orchard House. There is something magical about being gathered together, all these different people, in the Alcott Parlor, say.

Orchard House parlor PIC
Orchard House Parlor

I remember once I was taking a group through the House. One woman was visiting with her daughter, and she explained to the group at one point that she had come all the way from India, had waited her entire life to visit Orchard House, and that this experience was a dream come true.

At the end, a young man from the tour approached me to confess that he’d been dragged on this tour by his girlfriend, prepared to be miserable, and then, lo and behold, he found himself tearing up in the Parlor when the woman from India shared her story.

I love that! I love how Orchard House has this special quality. It is a joy to share it with people.  Orchard House surprises people, touches, connects them, and all while providing a sense of history, belonging, and inspiration.

Orchard house painting PIC
A painting in the study

Tomorrow at the Summer Conversation Series…

July 18 at the Summer Conversations at Orchard House – these next three are sessions I really would have loved to have joined! Hope you get a chance to 🙂

From Story to Action: Social Justice in Louisa May Alcott’s Fiction with Cathlin Davis

Cathlin started reading Louisa May Alcott’s books at the age of 11, and never stopped. Among her collection is a first edition of Little Women, which she once read with cotton gloves on.

Bread, Roses, and One-Liners: Jokes and Feminism from Louisa May Alcott to Tina Fey with Gabrielle Donnelly

Gabrielle was born in London and had known that she wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. The Little Women Letters is her fifth work.

The Alcotts at Hillside: Their Beliefs and Actions with Michelle Blees & Jane Sciacca

Michelle has been a Park Ranger for fifteen years, and supervises operations of The Wayside (also known as Hillside). Jane has studied the Concord authors for over thirty years and has written several guides to The Wayside.

Summer conversations PIC

P.S. Tomorrow’s conversation: A Little Women reading list…

Thank you again to the lovely staff member at Orchard House with whom I wish this conversation had taken place in person! Tomorrow we’re touching on what she plans to read this summer…

Would love to have you join the conversation 🙂 If you’ve been to Orchard House, what do you love most about it? If not (and you’d like to go), what are you most looking forward to encountering?

Author and book sale PIC

2 thoughts on “Home away from home: Conversations at Orchard House #2

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