A Bit of the Old Sod…in Old Salem.

One sunny day in January we walked around the graveyard in Salem, peering at the carvings of skulls and angels on the stones. As always it’s age-at-time-of-death that catches your eye: infants and teenagers, a rare octogenarian. But this graveyard also holds the remains of the witch trials’ judge, John Hathorne (great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne) who unlike some of the other judges, never repented his actions.

On the other side of the graveyard wall is a memorial to those killed in the witch trials, including Elizabeth Howe from Michael’s hometown of Ipswich, and Giles Corey, ‘pressed to death’. It’s impossible not to be moved by the quiet simplicity of the memorial and the horror it represents.

Salem town is  a good place to visit in winter – excellent coffee shops, a fantastic museum (the Peabody) and hardly a tourist (other than ourselves) about. And then there are all the interesting wee shops in the town. A great comic shop we lost at least an hour in, a cute pet shop (The Barking Cat), a shop for Austenites (which unfortunately wasn’t open), and loads of ‘Magic’ shops. Some are very much aimed at the tourists but others are serious witchcraft shops, full of fascinating books (if you happen to be a witch or a children’s writer) and stuff for curing and fixing.

It was minus 12 outside and we seemed to be the only shoppers in town that day, so I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised at the sour look we got from an owner when the first thing we did on walking into her shop was burst out laughing. We couldn’t help it. Right inside the door was a table loaded down with PEAT BRIQUETTES.

Machine cut and pressed…broken into individual bricks… each with piece of ribbon tied around… labelled ‘Piece of Ancient Irish Bog’… $6.

We swallowed our sniggers and wandered around the dark shop. There was a glass case full of beautiful hand-carved wands which would have been at home down Diagon Alley in Ollivanders’ wand shop. I itched to take a photo but remembered my manners and asked if it was all right to do so. ‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ came the reply. No smile. ‘No problem,’ I said. ‘Thank you for asking,’ she said. But still no smile. I couldn’t really blame her for not smiling; she must have been bored silly sitting in a cold shop all day with no customers. I wandered off to look at some herbal remedies.

‘They sell them in gas stations in Ireland,’ Michael said to the woman. She stiffened.

‘In gas stations,’ said Michael. ‘You know, with bags of coal and logs. We burn them.’ The woman’s eyebrows shot into her hair.

‘He means the peat briquettes,’ I said, suddenly tuning in to what was going on.

‘What?’ she snapped.

‘He’s talking about the turf,’ I said. ‘Not the wands.’

I didn’t dare laugh. At least not until we were half way back to Ipswich.

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