Child Days in Vermont
Long ago, when I was very young, we used to go visit my great grandfather in Vermont. “Pop,” we called him, was a minister. He was a minister at Riverside Church in New York City, just two blocks from where my husband and I have lived for the past 25 years. Pop and Nana, my great grandmother, spent summers in Greensboro, Vermont, right on a lake, facing the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The lake was pristine. So clean you could drink the water. So cold even in summer, you had to wait until afternoon to swim. So cold fires burned in the fireplace in the mornings. I was scared of fire back then and remember crying and Pop took me back to his little office in the woods where he often had a fire going, to give me a lecture about fear. He told me if you were careful and knew what you were doing and had respect for it, fire was safe in the fireplace and I should not be afraid.
Early in the mornings my Dad and Pop and a neighbor would go fishing for perch for breakfast. They would come home with many fish and then would clean the scales into a bucket off the kitchen. Nana would cook them and serve the fish with fluffy eggs, and soft, buttered toast. And there was sweet, home-made marmalade with bits of peel to relish. We would eat out on the sun porch at a long table in the warm, but not hot, bright yellow sun.
Usually I went to Greensboro with my parents but sometimes Pop would drive me up at nighttime. Twelve hours on old back roads, passing through dark, sleeping towns. There were no highways then. I loved Vermont, and Nana and Pop’s house on the lake. I loved walking along the brook that flowed through their backyard. I loved looking at the blood-red poppies in their garden. But I didn’t like the swarms of gnats that hung in the fresh, warm air. Nor the snakes. Neither did Nana. I remember Nana using a garden tool to cut a garter snake in half. This seemed horrific and puzzling at the time, and seems even more grizzly today. I didn’t understand why we had to kill the snakes.
Nana was very strict, an old New England schoolmarm. My pajamas had to be neatly folded under my bed pillow or else they wound up in the “pound”, a big wooden chest, filled with other untidy things. A child had to pay money to get things out of the pound. I had almost no money then so this was a very effective form of punishment. It is true I was given a modest sum of money when we went to the general store in town. With it I would buy colorful fake wax miniature soda bottles. You would bite off the waxy top and drink the sweet liquid inside the pretend soda bottle. I learned a valuable lesson. The liquid was gone in a second– there was a flash of intense pleasure– and then you were left broke, with an unpleasant wad of wax in your mouth.
Town was miles away. The mail boxes were far away but you could walk to them along the driveway. And the nearest neighbors were far away, too. You had to walk along the lake, through the woods, to get to their house. Upon arrival, the grown-ups would have drinks and play cards and talk about this disease you got in the winter when the snow would cover the front door. It was called “cabin fever.” My mother tried to explain to me what kind of sickness it was but I never understood.
The neighbors had a young teenage boy named Andy and I had a crush on him, declaring him my boyfriend. He barely spoke to me but nevertheless when Nana gave me chocolates, I saved them and brought the bag of chocolates through the woods to the neighbors’ house for Andy. The gift went unacknowledged. Even in those days of relative innocence, I had found my first of many love obsessions. It would be several failed relationships and 30 long years spent in pursuit of love before I would find someone I loved. Someone who has loved me back, mental illness and all, in a marriage of almost 25 years. Not that long in the scheme of things.
Pop dying was the first loss I experienced. I remember not understanding death at all, sitting on Nana’s lap and asking where he had gone. She could not answer me. Nana and I corresponded by letter after that until she died many years later.
It was in those days of cool summers that I fell in love with nature and the countryside, although as a city girl, I was scared of the pitch black nights. It would take me 50 years before I would escape the city when my husband and I got a little barn in rural upstate New York.
As I sit recuperating from a recent illness, I ponder the turns my life has taken and wonder what lies ahead, not without fear, but with growing equanimity.
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