At Home in Mitford: The Mitford Years, Book 1 is the first book in a series of four, written by Jan Karon. Here, in book one, we learn what the newspaper reporter meant when he said, “Mitford is delightfully out of step with contemporary America.” We meet the main characters who soon become like our own neighbors—both the sweet and the slightly annoying.
Mitford is the ultimate quintessential town. Still, it has a cast of characters from awful to zealot. Young and old, canine to feline, all seem to need a piece of Father Tim who strives, in earnest, to make everyone feel at home in Mitford. At age 40, Father Tim is still a bachelor.
He was engaged once, briefly, but that was years ago. Now, he is sitting, dumbfounded, on the stoop of his new neighbor, Cynthia, who just asked him if he would like to “go steady.” (He ended up on her stoop because he had crashed through their adjoining hedgerow when he heard ungodly screaming and cat yowling moments before.) He had just done what any caring neighbor would have done.
He broke up a fight between two tomcats, and climbed down into the coal shoot to save poor Violet, Cynthia’s cat. And now this! Father Tim wasn’t sure what “going steady” really entailed, but, for now, he had to gather himself up and get back home to Dooley, who was waiting for help with his homework.
Dooley is an anxious, vivacious, twelve-year-old boy who is staying with the rector while his grandpa is in the hospital. He had come into his grandfather’s care because his mom was an alcoholic and couldn’t take care of her kids very well at this time. The whole town is praying for them.
Praying is big in Mitford, and, indeed, God seems to shine there. (If Mitford was to have a sister-city, it would be Lake Wobegone… but Mitford would get to wear the halo.) When a series of mysterious events—starting with a broken lock and culminating with a sack of precious gems found inside a cremation urn—can no longer be ignored, Father Tim summons the police.
Could there be a criminal amongst them? While the case is still a mystery, a stranger steps up in front of the congregation and begins to tell his tale.George Gainer probably could have hidden in the loft of the parish house, stealing what he needed to get by, for a long time—but he turned himself in after stealing Father Tim’s bible…and reading it.
Such is life in Mitford, where complex issues take on a sort of charm, where sorrow is always of a peaceful kind, and where, when things go wrong, you believe, somehow, that everything will be okay. I guess it does have a lot to do with faith. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this “feel good” story, but the folks in Mitford, for the most part, are.
You may just want to listen-in and hear the zany gossip, knowing that you, personally, wouldn’t want to live in a place like Mitford. Well, that’s okay, because, as the Mayor, Ester Cunningham, says, “We want people to come and visit, but we’re not real interested in having them stick around. The college town of Wesley, just 15 miles away, is perfect for that. Mitford would simply like to be the pause that refreshes.”
Jan Karon, author, reads her story beautifully.