Autumn In Peyton Place


Indian summer is like a woman.  Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.

This is the quote that runs through my mind on any autumn day when summer-like temperatures breathe their last breaths – much like this past Friday when an October day, with its changing leaves and angled sunlight, seemed to conflict with the June-like temperature.

The quote is actually the opening sentences of Peyton Place, a story about the moral hypocrisy in a fictional New England town.  First published in 1956, it had everything that popular fiction of the time did not:  extramarital sex, rape, incest, gossip, and murder.  It was the Fifty Shade of Grey of its time, a complete affront to the stringent moral code of Eisenhower’s America and, specifically, New England Puritanism – and it was all written by a woman, Grace Metalious.

There are many reasons that keep pulling me back to Peyton Place.  For starters, it takes place in New England, one of the most scenic places in the country.  In my romantic mind, New England is the place where fall is best celebrated with blazing foliage and apple festivals and the like.  I live on Long Island, which is neither New England nor Mid-Atlantic.  It is, well, Long Island – a stretch of pavement east of NYC where each community blends into the next.

Nevertheless, I like to keep up the delusion that I live in a small town.  It’s one of the reasons I do my food shopping first thing on a Sunday morning.  There’s very little traffic on roads that are otherwise quite congested, and I’m usually the second person in the supermarket, just behind the gentleman who is always number one.  Even if I arrive in the parking lot ahead of him, I always let him go first.  It’s the  neighborly thing to do.

My early morning shopping trip gives me a chance to chat with Diana in the deli, Anthony the stock boy, and Sue the cashier.  We exchange pleasantries – and even the other early-to-rise shoppers are much more friendlier than the shoppers and employees who arrive later in the day.  It may not be New England, and it may not be a small-town, but it helps restore, for me, what I think has been lost in our hectic world.

I also enjoy the idea of turning over a rock and finding what crawls out from underneath.  In the case of Peyton and so many places, where there are those who would like to pass judgment and tell others how to live, it’s somewhat poetic to get a glimpse of what is truly happening beyond the manicured lawns and lace curtains that are pleated just-so.  Now that I think of it, it’s no wonder that “Harper Valley PTA,” a song that cites Peyton Place, is one of my favorite make-me-smile songs.

And then there is the woman behind the novel, Grace Metalious – a 1950’s housewife with no formal education and a near-genius IQ who had spent much of her life living in poverty.  Peyton Place was her first novel, and with its publication came a whirlwind of publicity, success, and ostracism – all of which did nothing to curb her battle with alcoholism.   She died on February 24, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver.  She was 39.

Some scholars and experts say Ms. Metalious was a feminist ahead of her time, a woman trapped by society’s conventions.  Had a man written such a book, would he have been as vilified?

I’m not sure where I stand on the issue, but I do know that if not for Peyton Place (the book, the movie, and the television series), there might not have been “Dallas” or “Dynasty” or even Fifty Shades of Gray.

I also wonder what sort of blogger Ms. Metalious would have been?  I’m sure she would have posted great reads – and on her landing page, she might have even had the opening lines of Peyton Place.

Which reminds me.  A cold front worked its way through on Saturday, and early this Sunday morning as I stepped outside to go to the supermarket, the air was dramatically cooler.  Indian summer came and went as she pleased – and in my mind, I was back in Peyton Place.

27 thoughts on “Autumn In Peyton Place

  1. I remember Peyton Place, the television version. I used to watch with my mom. What a beautiful post for this cool Sunday in Indiana (my home state). It was cool and tomorrow morning it will be in the 20’s here. Indian Summer came and went without much to talk about. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post 😉

  2. Enjoyed reading your commentary on Peyton Place – it also aired here in Australia – New England is a place I hope to visit some time.

  3. Very good read early this am, Kevin.I remember PP but did not know about the author’s sad life. The image of the leaves as your story ends is magnificent. Cold here in Virginia, our leaves just at the beginning of turning color, with plenty of rain. Perfect cocoa weather. Have a great week!

    • Cathyann! Always nice to hear from you. Glad I was able to give you a read this chilly morning. Our temperatures here are getting colder by the second, and I am waiting for the rain to begin. When things dry out, it will be time to break out the rake. Take care!

  4. Great post and book! You and I must be in sync because I was thinking of Peyton Place on Saturday while cleaning up my yard and pulling out the last of my tomato plants. 😦

    Twenty years ago, a dear friend gave me Peyton Place as a birthday gift. I had just finished reading Valley of the Dolls and he said if I enjoyed Valley, I would enjoy Peyton. I never read the book. Until last year, September 2011, when I finally opened the book and began reading it. You see, I was going through a divorce, my court date was set for September 14 and I took the week off from work to withdraw and cope. Peyton Place was the perfect escape from my divorce. I remember spending hours reading the book on my back deck. In fact, I devoured the book. I have since given the book away, but after reading your blog, I now wish i had hung onto it so I can read it again.

    [sigh]

    As always, I enjoy your wonderful posts.

    p.s. This past May, I attended a wedding in Bar Harbor, Maine. I live in Mass (South of Boston) and that was my first time visiting Bar Harbor — talk about your quintessential N.E. town! If you have a chance, I highly recommend a visit. Bar Harbor will most certainly satisfy your longing for that small N.E. town feel. 🙂

    • I’m about a week behind you when it comes to the fall clean-up — but we do seem to be on the same page. 🙂 I’ve been to Bar Harbor, and you are so right with your assessment. I feel the same way about Rockport, Maine. Thanks for sharing your PP story — hopefully, you’ll find another copy. Or how about the movie on a cold, autumn day (although you may have to read between the lines because of the production codes). Be well.

  5. Hi Kevin. I remember Peyton Place too.I think it was the first night time Soap Opera. LOL! Caused a real scandal amongst our small town. Although I do not know why all those things were happening here that were show on Peyton Place. They were whispered about amongst the small minded of the town. Maybe they did not like to be reminded that we all are human. LOL! I wish I could say that the people here have came a long way since then when it comes to judging other people but it hasn’t.
    Your autumn leaves are so lovely. I love the fall colors this time of the year and the cooler temps but I just do not want to let go of summer and the flowers. LOL!
    Have a wonderful week.

    • Lona!!! I’ve never seen the soap opera, although it began the careers of many stars. I’m more familiar with the film starring Lana Turner. Maybe they should remake it, so it’s more in line with the book. I’m with you when it comes to holding on to summer. I don’t think I’ll let go. 🙂

  6. A wonderful story, Kevin. There’s something romantic about the image of shopping first thing on a Sunday morning just to preserve the illusion of living in a small town. The closest I can get to that illusion in my life is the occassional listening to country music songs about small town life.

    • Hi Chad. My Sunday morning routine is something that I look forward to. Early food shopping. A few “how are you” conversations. Then home for some breakfast and a long read of the Sunday paper. I think most of us look for threads — whether it’s my routine or your music — to connect us to something that is simpler. Be well.

  7. Oh, I love the movie Peyton Place – it ranks right up there with Imitation of Life! Your pictures are gorgeous and make me miss New England, too! I’m in drought-stressed Oklahoma, and we aren’t seeing anything like that. I think only a hopeless romantic could envision small town life while living in Long Island. Good for you! Oh, and GiRRL_Earth is so right – you must go to Bar Harbor one day. Thanks for the good read!

    • Hi Kathy. There’s nothing like an old movie — especially a star-powered melodrama. “Imitation of Life” is a classic! I’ve visited that area of Maine, and it’s beautiful and quaint. Hopefully some cooler weather and rain will ease the stress in Oklahoma. Be well.

  8. This was so fun to read, Kevin! I wasn’t allowed to watch Peyton Place when it originally aired, but it stayed on so long I was finally old enough to watch it. I fell in love with those characters, and the actors who played them. I came in after the Mia Farrow years, but loved Barbara Parkins and Ryan O’Neal. You have me now wanting to rent those DVDs! Love your sense of Indian Summer, too. I think it’s great to continue to think of your environs as small town. I would love to find a rhythm that mirrors that, but I don’t know if I can actually pull that one off! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I’ve never seen the show, but I do love the film and the book. Classics! As for my small town life, it only exists in the Sunday morning window. All other times, it’s nothing but suburban sprawl and anonymity. Enjoy the day!

  9. I’ve never read the book or seen the show but knew it was scandalous. I love anything that breaks conventions. I’m not an early morning person so shopping first thing just ain’t gonna happen. It takes a paycheck or plane ticket somewhere fabulous to get me up early. I love the colors in the photos. 🙂

    • It was a scandal — and now the fictional name is even synonymous with the idea of scandal. Juicy stuff that Peyton Place. I’ve always been a morning person — it makes me wonder if there’s something in our DNA that pre-sets our body clocks. Hmmmm.

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  11. What is the opening verse in the movie making reference to the seasons… I’m searching all over for it. Thanks

    • Hi Camille. At last, I have it for you. I just needed some time to sit down with the movie and take dictation. Here it goes:

      “My name is Allison McKenzie. Where I was born, time was told not by the clock or the calendar, but by the seasons. Summer was carefree contentment. Autumn was that bittersweet time of regret for moments that had ended and things that were yet undone. And then winter fell, with a cold mantle of caution and chill, it nipped our noses and our arrogance and made us move closer to the warm stoves of memory and desire. Spring was promise. But there was a fifth season, of love. And only the wise or the lucky ones new where to find it.”

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  13. Hi,

    This novel was a stunning find in my formative years, 40 odd years back, a long way from where the author lived. Thanks for reminding me. I could not see the TV presentations though, for obvious reasons. I am now sorry I did not think of visiting New England on my trips to US.

    • I have a feeling that no matter where we are in the world, there is always a Peyton Place. If you ever make a return visit, try to schedule a trip to New England in the fall, just as the leaves are putting on an autumn display.

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