'Being pickity'

“Being Pickity”

By Wendy Walter

Golden Books, Random House

83 pages. $22.

In 1976, Judith and David Walter turned a red colonial house and 10 acres of woodlands in Mason into Pickity Place. Last month, their daughter, Wendy Walter, turned Pickity Place into a celebratory book she titled “Being Pickity.” The house served as the model of Little Red Riding Hood’s home. The house has a history:

Elizabeth Orton Jones, nicknamed “Twig,” fell in love with New Hampshire when she came here on a business trip in 1945 and ended up buying the cottage. She put down roots in Mason, and was a mainstay in town until her death at the age of 94 in 2005.

Jones won the 1945 children’s picture book Caldecott Medal for “Prayer for a Child.” Lucille Olge, her editor at Little Golden Books, enticed Jones to illustrate another book of her own choosing.

“Jones loved the wooded paths and large ash tree adjacent to the back entrance of Pickity Place,” writes Wendy Walter.

So Jones and Olge collaborated on retelling a centuries-old fairy tale: “Little Red Riding Hood,” choosing Pickity Place as “the perfect setting for her book.”

Jones used her own home as the model for other illustrations. “I pretended Little Red Riding Hood was in my home. She was standing right over there in front of that fireplace.”

In the Jones and Olge version, once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood‘s mother asks Little Red Riding Hood, who always wore a red cloak with a red head covering, to please visit Grandmother and deliver a piece of cake and a glass of wine to strengthen her. She was not feeling well. The wine was too much for some.

Outraged members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union sent hundreds of letters to Olge over the behavior of her character: “A young lady drinking wine!?”

The Big Bad Wolf got rid of Grandmother, got into her bed and pretended to be her. You know how the folktale goes:

Said Little Red Riding Hood, “Grandmother! Your voice sounds so odd.”

“Oh, I just have touch of a cold.”

“But Grandmother! What big ears you have.”

“The better to hear you with, my dear.”

“But Grandmother! What big eyes you have.”

“The better to see you with, my dear.”

“But Grandmother! What big teeth you have.”

“The better to eat you with, my dear,” growled the wolf, who leaps out of bed.

And so it happened in the next edition of “Little Red Riding Hood” that wine was replaced with a piece of cake, a pat of butter and a bottle of grape juice. And knocking on the front door was deemed too scary.

Wendy Walter credits her father David’s overarching vision for the enterprising New England family in the big woods. The original 18th-century Pickity barn was converted into a gift shop in 1981 and the family home transformed into Grandmother’s Room and the Teahouse for what the Walters described as an Earth-celebrating Pickity Restaurant.

Wendy’s father David, she writes, “was intelligent, logical, innovative, and willing to take risks.”

So how did the Picks get their name and move to Nutting Hill Road off the beaten track in Mason?

Wendy Walter tells all:

“It was one of those made-up words that springs from the imagination when you are having fun. The Picks bubbled up spontaneously as a nickname. Anything David and Judith, or Mr. and Mrs. Pick, liked with a certain sensibility became ‘Pickity.’ ”

The house David built in Krane Wood Shores in Moultonborough was the original “Pickity Place.” Over the years, the name has been misheard as “Rickity Place” or “Picket Fence,” among others.

Six months after the Picks moved to Nutting Hill Road, friend Bobbi Macozek of Maine offered to sell her herb gardens, copies of all her herbal recipes, craft ideas, and various jars and props.

Bobbi’s gardens then were dug up in one trip and transplanted into raised bed boxes David built behind the carriage house (which would later become the Pickity gift shop).

The garden beds were planted and the original Pickity shop came alive in a single room. The shop “was a rustic old barn with a time-worn creaky floor.”

Ancient windows were royalized with bright yellow curtains. A woodstove radiated the only source of heat in winter. An antique wooden cash register worked the exchanges.

And Judith Walter made it known that “computers were not to be used in the shop — ever! — in order to maintain an old-fashioned aesthetic. Wild herbs and flowers hung from the rafters and from old wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling. And no white lines were to be painted in the parking spaces.

During the second year of Pickity Place, the Walters created a mail-order catalogue that became so popular that David Walter quit his job as purchasing manager. Seven years later, the size and scope of the catalogue became too large to handle with so small a staff, and it was discontinued.

The small highway sign reads “The Shop at Pickity Place” above the deft-colored drawing of the little Red Riding Hood colonial house in the woods. There’s also a “Herbs &. Country Crafts” sign and a restaurant.

Operating a restaurant has its challenges and constraints. Wendy writes of the day a visitor fell face-first into his soup. “His wife, she describes, “too embarrassed to do anything, simply sat there. A nurse enjoying lunch lifted his head from of his soup. Emergency 911 was called and it turns out the man hospitalized had changed his medication, It was adjusted, and he was fine.

One day a nursing home bus tour brought elderly residents for lunch. The group refused to disembark into the deep woods. They were afraid of New Hampshire’s woods, as they were no sidewalks. And they didn’t want to eat lunch with herbs.

When a fortune-teller was employed for a weekend festival, visitors questioned whether Pickity Place “was invoking some kind of malevolent energy because one of the specialized gardens was called The Witches Garden growing good and bad plants.”

This garden is divided into two parts with a center cauldron. On the right grows benign Mugwort, a member of the aromatic daisy family growing in the northern temperate zone. On the left grows belladonna, known as “deadly nightshade.”

The culinary garden is marked with the sign “Please handle the herbs.” They are used in the cooking and garnishing of restaurant meals and in making tea.

The dye garden grows plants that were the major source for dyes before 1850. The Shakespeare garden consists of many flowers in English gardens that were brought over by the early colonists. These were inspired by lines from Shakespeare’s references. For example: “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows.” — Midsummer Night’s Dream

Pickity Place turned 20 years old in 1996. In 1999, the family grossed $1 million in a single year.

Pickity Place was sold in 2000 and has since been under the wing of Keith Grimes. Wendy Walter writes: “It continues its yearly cycle of seedlings, sprouting, growing, blooming and harvesting.”

The reverberations of “Being Pickity” has changed many lives. While David and Judith may have moved on to another universe, Wendy concludes their energy continues to awaken others to a joyful, earth-centered life to their power and purpose.

Steve Sherman reviews books related to New England by subject or author on alternating Sundays. Submit newly published books and a news release to The Keene Sentinel, 60 West St., Keene N.H. 03431, or query stvsherman@aol.com.

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