Last week Bill and I flew up to Vermont to do a tour of our old stomping grounds. We visited family and friends, made new friends, and revisited homes we once lived in. We spent every minute living in the rush of memories and events that took place over a span of fifteen years. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
Arriving in Burlington, we spent our first evening with my brother Zed, his son Ben, and friend, Terri. The next morning we had a lovely breakfast with Ben’s sweet mom, Brenda, and then drove south down the Champlain Valley, with spectacular views of the Green Mountains on the left and the Adirondacks on the right. Lake Champlain inserted itself every so often between us and the New York State line. It was startlingly beautiful and I wondered why we had decided to leave this unforgettable landscape. But then I remembered the long winters, heavy snows that blanketed the countryside and the biting cold that once upon a time I found invigorating.
In Rutland, we turned west toward Killington where I spent my college years waiting on tables and making beds at my parent’s ski lodge. I drove that route five days a week in sun, snow, and subzero temperatures to Castleton State College where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education. Killington is also where Bill and I first met in 1962 when he fell in love with Vermont, bought three and a half acres of land and began building a round, stone ski chalet that was finally finished just before we were married in 1965.
Driving up the mountain gave me goose bumps and as we drove into the driveway at the round house, my anxiety over revisiting the past in-person, turned into pure excitement. We were met at the door by current owners, Wiley and Kay, who moved there from New Orleans, after Katrina destroyed their city and peace of mind. They, coincidentally, are friends of very old friends of ours, who out of the blue discovered that their New Orleans friends were moving into a house in Vermont built and designed by their Virginia friends. We had a delightful time sitting and reminiscing about the process of acquiring the land and building this one-of-a-kind house that is still known in the area as the Round Rough House. Ralph and Carol, our mutual friends, drove up from Washington, DC to be at this meeting of the new owners and us old owners.
After a delicious meal we pressed on toward our next destination. But before we left the area we peeked in on the Summit Lodge, built and run by my parents. I thought of Hernando, our gray Sicilian donkey, who wandered about the property and often welcomed guests when they arrived with his large floppy ears pinned back ready to take a nip out of any hand that reached out to him.
Lots of old stories, both good and bad, haunted the drive further west to Quechee where we spent two nights in the lovely Apple Butter Bed and Breakfast. Exhausted and overwhelmed by the pace and intensity of the trip so far, we fell asleep to the rumble of thunder and rain on the roof above our heads.
We headed over to Meriden, New Hampshire, the next morning to spend the day with my nephew Jesse, his new wife, Lisa, and Jesse’s two girls, Anya and Julia, two of the most beautiful little women I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. They live in my brother Reid’s house that he built years ago in a sunny glade. I played with five-year-old Anya, pushing her on her new “horsey” swing and tried to get Julia to play. I did get a kiss out of her at one point, but she’s only two and a shy little munchkin.
While he was still alive, Reid often rented out his house to earn some income, while he lived in the old red barn a short distance from the house. It is still filled with his belongings. Jesse invited us inside to see if there was anything we might want as a keepsake. It was the very first time ever that I stepped into that barn and knew for certain that my brother had been a hoarder. Jesse has done some cleaning up, but much stuff is still where Reid had left it. Imagine three floors of barn packed to the rooftop with junk of unimaginable quantity. There are bits and pieces of metal, several refrigerators, a basket overflowing with cork floats, a few antiques, several beautiful birdhouses that Reid built and wove from tree limbs, along with notes he wrote to himself on scraps of wood tucked in every nook and cranny. I was deeply touched and saddened seeing for myself the way my brother had lived. He had been happy at times but underneath there always seemed to be a bed of burning anger, fear and blame.
We met with Amanda, (Anya and Julia’s mom) and her partner, Liz, the next morning over a stack of blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, then drove north to St. Johnsbury where our kids, Mark and Lisa, were born. We had a reunion with old friends whom we haven’t seen in years. All teachers, they had come together along with Bill in 1973 to create The Peacham School, an alternative private school for grades 7 through 12.
The following day at our old homestead, Circa 1844, in Danville, the Dowsing Capitol of the World, we soaked in the memories of planting the now huge weeping willow out back and fishing for blue perch in the pond we had dug, now surrounded by a tangle of trees and shrubs. I imagined I heard the sweet sound of bells that my sheep and goats wore around their necks. There I learned to spin yarn from the fleeces of my flock, dye the yarn with natural dyes, and then weave those fibers into a variety of products I sold at craft fairs. Invited to see the inside of the house as well, I traveled back in time to the winter when we couldn’t see out of the picture window on the north side of the house because the snow was drifted so high that it was almost touching the eaves.
Later we returned to Burlington where we flew out early the next morning to return home. My brother, Zed, had arranged a reception for us where we were introduced to his friends. I was extremely honored by the hospitality and love that we found ourselves surrounded by in every place we visited.
Happy and delighted to see my people, I was also overwhelmed, sad, and missing those who are no longer there. We’d visited Vermont two years ago for Reid’s memorial service, but had only two days. In the midst of moving and a new job for Bill, sadly there was no time to explore the roads we had once traveled. This trip wasn’t much longer, but as Bill put it on our last day there, “We dotted all of our ‘i’s, crossed all of our ‘t’s and made peace with a segment of our past lives.”
Vermont is a very special place. Those who live there are true Yankees: fiercely independent, highly spirited and able to withstand whatever the climate and the land chooses to throw their way. Last August when Hurricane Irene raged through the state with torrential rains and flooding, everyone came together to clean up and make things right again. Independent construction companies rushed out to rebuild roads and bridges after the storm without being asked to. There are still scars remaining but the spirit of the place reigns far above anything still needing to be fixed.