“At Home in Milford” is the first of several books written by Jan Akron about a fictional small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Mitford, North Carolina. When I happened to mention that I was going to write a book review on it, I received the unsolicited comments, “I wouldn’t write a review on that book. It’s old (first published in 1994) and it was written primarily for ladies.”
Against the aforementioned advice, I’d like to tell you about “At Home in Mitford” and I hope you will see why.
I was not impressed that the book may be more aimed toward lady readers and nearly the first half of this 446 page paperback is introducing you to at least 33 members (including a few visitors) of its population of 1,000. If your brain works like my graying one, you may want to make a few notes of the characters’ names and what they contribute to the story. Like many small towns, news travels quickly, expedited by the pesky J.C. Hogan, Editor of the town paper, “The Muse”. The majority of the community consists of loving and caring people. However, there are matchmakers, some “varmints” who cause trouble and some who help others out when they shouldn’t.
The positive side of the book is far more important. It focuses on Pastor Timothy, a 60-year-old single Episcopal priest, who is 60 feels like he’s in a rut and his sermons are “anemic.” No wonder Pastor Timothy thinks he lost some of his luster. He is called on by the community not only to be the leader at Lord’s Chapel, but to settle problems within the community, give speeches, pray for people about anything from someone needing a heart transplant to an elderly, senile, mother who takes a bath in a tub while holding an umbrella over her head because the shower head leaks.
Beside the above, Pastor Timothy makes it clear that a pastor’s life is far from easy. He lamented, “It’s almost impossible for leaders of a congregation to accept that the pastors need pastoring” (page 12). Added to his routine is adoption of a large, frisky black dog
Barnabas and “taking under his wing” the 11-year-old Dooley, who is the grandson of Russell Jacks, sexton of the church.
A few scenes in the book remind me of true life. In my estimation, a church that comes into a windfall of money has to be extremely careful how the money is handled. Miss Sadie Baxter, 86, from the oldest and wealthiest family in Milford, finds a painting stored away in her home, which is felt to be valued up to $1,000,000. She donates it to the Lord’s Chapel, the tongues start wagging and many of the parishioners know exactly how the money should be spent. Their problem of deciding the best use of the money is solved in a way so all are disappointed. This reminds me of a church we attended decades ago when an older gentleman died and left a substantial sum specifically to be used for the church’s mission program. Many had their own opinion on how to spend the money. There were two alternatives: spend the money as quickly as possible to support more missionaries on the field or invest much of the money to make it last many years in support of missionaries. This was a huge decision for the church, with pros and cons of each decision.
A second truth was imparted: You never know when telling a person the good news of Jesus Christ where your words will take root. A salesman from out of town told Pastor Tim that he had lived such a rotten life that God would never forgive him. Tim told him that Jesus Christ died on the cross and paid for all sins as long as he a person admits his sins, repents and places his faith in Christ. Little did Tim know that George Gaynor, a man whose family was dishonest (and he followed them) lived in the belfry of the church, heard the discussion below and devoted his life to Jesus Christ, as did the salesman.
Mitford is a classic small village where everybody knows everybody and what they are up to, whether it is getting married, someone who is pregnant, a health concern or Miss Sadie donating $5,000,000 to build a nursing home in town. It is also a loving, giving town as shown by members of the church visiting Homeless Hobbs’ rickety house in the woods to take a Thanksgiving dinner to him. The town I grew up in in Delaware County, although having a population of around 5,000 was somewhat similar to Mitford. There were two wonderful ladies in my neighborhood, one old enough to be my mother, named McCorkle and one that could be my grandmother, Gammie. They were well versed in the comings and goings in the town and to this day if someone is caught snooping, we refer to the person as McGammie. This book can be found in the Chester County Library System, which gives it four out of five stars, as I would also.