Oak Hill in the Snow

I had to wait until it snowed before I could write this. It is a memory that is awakened only by snow.

Every year when the atmosphere turns suddenly thick and dark with falling snow, so that the neighborhood gets more three-dimensional as the distance fades out in gray, it makes a more clearly defined sense of proportion in the world we occupy.

For me it awakens a sense that transcends time, and opens doors to the past.

As the snow builds up on the ground it is slowly erasing the familiar world, creating a blank canvas where any kind of landscape might be latent.

It was a day like this — dark gray, the world slowly being swept away behind gusts of snow — the first time I picked up The Green Bay Tree as a young man.

It is the first book, the first bestseller, by Louis Bromfield: a story that takes place in Mansfield. As I turned the pages of the old novel the modern city around me drifted, blurred, darkened; and in the book that other Mansfield — the city from 100 years ago — stirred and took life.

It was the experience of reading Louis Bromfield’s first novel set in Mansfield that awakened in me the sense of mythic awareness of our town: that the very streets and bricks and reflecting windows are layered with lives and stories and many meanings: like true poetry. There is something about those printed and bound words telling a story of our town that gives richer meaning to every sidewalk and curb and old creaky stairway downtown.

The Book

The novel was written in 1924, and the story spans a time period between 1898 and 1920. Bromfield imagined his own great-aunt transformed into the literary character Julia Shane, and his great-aunt’s four daughters were recomposed into two fictional girls: Irene and Lily Shane.

It was his great-aunt’s home, which Bromfield knew in his childhood as Oak Hill Cottage, that he transformed into a largely symbolic setting called Shane’s Castle.

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For more background on Louis Bromfield and his Mansfield novels watch this 16-minute documentary by Timothy Brian McKee, Richland Source Columnist: