Somewhere between exits 7 and 8 on I-91, snaking up the east side of Vermont, and smitten with the fading autumn landscape, I decided to give my home state another chance.
To get to this point we have to journey back to June 22 a few decades ago…
When you turn eighteen and you’re in that final summer before you’re expected to Do Something With Your Life, you have one of two mindsets about Vermont: either you go or you stay. Most “go” for fear that “stay” might lead to unemployment, a penchant for flannel shirts, sandpaper retreads and searching for love amidst the piney trees.
I went. With a bus ticket and the suitcase my mother thoughtfully gave me for graduation (“Be sure to stop back and visit anytime”), I declared as I boarded the Trailways bus for Boston: “You’ll never catch me in this neck o’ the woods again.”
That lasted two weeks, which coincided with the second week of college when I ran out of money and underwear at the same time. Back on the bus. Fortunately I had a round-trip ticket.
Life has been pretty much a round trip ticket to Vermont ever since. So far I’ve moved back, hopscotching around the state, maybe five times give or take that lost three weeks in some town with a pond.
Back in the 80s it was Charles Kuralt’s fault. Remember him? The nice man from CBS who got paid to travel around and ferret out America’s backwash towns and eat in diners? That devil sold me on Cabot, VT. He did it by staging a Gone With The Wind rip off starring a local ham of a farmer lugging a milk can up a hill against the fiery summer sunset, soft choral music underpinning the whole shebang, maybe to cover the grunting and cursing from all that lugging. I reached for the phone.
Somehow if you listen to a country real estate agent he’ll make a couple of slickers feel guilty for not helping to preserve Vermont’s architectural heritage. House foundations, drinkable water, windows that don’t fall out (or in) when you try to shut them, and racoons gnawing on the steps are optional.
Taking our duty very seriously, as so many before us, we bought the tumble down farmhouse with walls that didn’t quite meet in the formal parlor, ice on the bedroom floors in the winter, and a bridge on a corner over the creek where drunk snowmobilers would hurtle into the icy water a little after midnight every Saturday night every week every winter we were there.
The first year we were there it snowed on the Fourth of July. Our youngest son turned one on July 12 and his summer party pictures featured a fully stocked woodstove, turtlenecks, a hearty stew, and an amusing picture of me standing amidst my ninety tomato plants with high heels on and a stack of old bed sheets against a killer mid-summer frost. Later I found out no one but Flatlanders bothered with tomatoes because Cabot is Zone One, just like the Arctic Circle.
In the 90s we tried it again in a condo on a ski slope in another town even further north with great views, bear stumbling around in the backyard, moose misreading the height of the clothesline, and the next door neighbor wanted by the state police and the FBI for fraud, conspiracy, and other stuff with or without weapons. We never did find out that part.
We moved. Sometime after midnight.
Then there was that junket over by Burlington in the dead of winter where the cute bungalow came equipped with antique window quilts and one giant beast loosely attached to the wall above the sliding door. You might be able to plead and finagle the smaller ones down but the beast was aiming for your head. It would wait for you to tweak the rope then hurtle toward your noggin with a force great enough to cause a concussion if you didn’t jump back in time. We usually left it on the floor. And how could I forget the footprints in the snow in the morning. No, they weren’t deer looking for apples, more like some guy’s size 10s looking for something else.
We moved. Yes, yes, I know.
The last time around I got a job so far south in Vermont the rest of the state calls it The Banana Belt and refuses to acknowledge it isn’t really part of Massachusetts. That time I lived in another condo but this one came with a cellar that acted as the town rain gauge. If the water was up to the second cellar step it was time to evacuate the trailer park down river.
I moved. Again. To New York.
Which brings me to now. How does a place without billboards and packs of angry traffic on steroids grab you? How does having coffee and a cookie and a smile at DMV sound? How about being able to find a parking space? How does half the cost of your auto insurance and house taxes sound?
When you’re young(er) you have the luxury of announcing you’ve been thrown out of better places than Vermont. When you start to feel a touch of winter in your veins, you start to appreciate a life to be lived where you have some say in the pace of your life. Calling ten cars a traffic jam works for me.