Stories of Yesteryear: Horse & Buggy Days by Harry H. Brown is a charming reprint of Harry Brown’s tales of Halifax, Massachusetts and New England at the turn of the century and earlier. Harkening back to days before cars, or even electricity, these vignettes are in turns amusing and moving, as it tells an important story about a bygone era. Much of what Brown writes about is lost to history, which makes this reprint by his family and important and worthy enterprise.
At only a page or so apiece, these stories are easy to read and ingest, and have a “can’t read just one” quality. Telling stories of everyday life from as early as the 1600s to the early part of the 20th century, the book covers the small details of people’s daily lives, as well as some tall tales. Brown is a highly knowledgeable narrator who obviously has a great love for his hometown, and these short vignettes are both quaint and authentic.
The most moving chapters are when Brown talks about his own life and the life of his family. Other chapters read more like folklore, and there’s a nice balance between the personal and the historical. The book also includes a number of illustrations by Brown himself. By no means professional, their quality adds to the down home feel of each story. The book comes off as a real labor of love, made the more so by this book being re-released by his admiring family.
The only real weakness is that these stories are so spare. While that’s in part part of the book’s charm, some readers may want a deeper history of the area, and New England in general. That’s not really what this book is for – more it could be used as a companion to a fuller history to get a feel for the people of the region. Some readers may long for more dialogue to give a more-detailed slice of life, but again, the overall feel of the book is an encyclopedia of small, somewhat inconsequential stories, not a traditional historical narrative. For such short chapters, Brown really does pack in a lot of information.
One should not feel as well that this book is meant only for New Englanders. Those from Halifax and the surrounding environs will most certainly feel a deeper kinship with these stories, but the collection of tales are universally appealing, as the book gives a general perspective on what life used to be before modern life we know today. As it harkens back to a “simpler time,” many problems of the era are not always addressed in Brown’s nostalgic take, but the book isn’t lightweight, so much as comforting – the literary equivalent of sitting by a fireside.
Stories of Yesteryear is a calming, amusing, and informative read. It’s not overly flashy or ambitious, but you will be compelled to keep reading these quiet tales of New England, as Brown is such an appealing and knowledgeable narrator.
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