A Yankee Notebook

November 2 2015


ORLEANS COUNTY, VERMONT – Mother and I had lunch at the lakeside restaurant in Newport about half an hour ago, and we’re off again, headed south into central Vermont. Her little Prius hums along like a slot car, its wipers clearing occasional spots of rain from the windshield, and the radio silent to encourage conversation and reflection. I’m remembering our nine-hour honeymoon and its interruption, exactly 56 years ago this hour, by an utterly clueless elderly woman in a cloth coat, carrying a shopping bag and soliciting pledges for the church. We were resting at my parents’ address, but how she mistook a skinny post-pubescent wearing nothing but a pair of blue jeans for my father, the Reverend, beggars imagination.

We had spent our wedding night, a Saturday Halloween then as again this year, driving, in those pre-interstate highway days, from central Virginia to central New York so that the Reverend could make his Sunday morning services. Actually, he drove, as was his wont; we snoozed in the back seat, along with one of the ushers, until about dawn we finally reached Syracuse.

Our first anniversary – we had moved to the Adirondacks – was only a little less memorable: We – there were three of us now – piled our laundry into the trunk of our Jaguar roadster, which was that evening miraculously running, and headed for the laundromat in Lake Placid. A puddle near Cascade Lakes stunned our British electric system into silence; but in a few minutes, with the help of an orange mechanic’s rag, a long screwdriver, and the heat of the engine, I got it started again, and we celebrated with clean laundry and a pair of 35-cent 7-ounce pony beers.

Over half a century of hard labor later, with vehicles that no longer let us down, with Triple-A coverage in case they do, and a cell phone and credit cards as anchors to windward, we set out yesterday in search of a much less adventurous commemoration of our nuptials. MapQuest, another feature of life unheard of in our salad days, advised that we’d get to Quebec quicker if we drove east to St., Johnsbury on US Route 2, and then north on I-91. But that’s hardly a getaway. We chose back roads instead, through Hardwick and Glover and the heart of the Kingdom.

We used to think that our Halloween anniversary was a bummer because of the need to stay home to greet trick-or-treaters or take our own kids around. Later, when that was pretty much over, we dressed up nicely and went out to eat, only to discover that this was the evening that mature (I use the word loosely) Halloweeners dressed as witches, warlocks, and clowns and also went out to eat. It was quite difficult to feel romantic-by-candlelight while a sweating 300-pound pink pig-costumed celebrant gyrated and sweated only a few feet away

Eventually we sought quieter venues, but found they cost a lot more. So now we head north, to Montreal or the townships, to inns where elegance and French hospitality prevail. I hate the feeling of knowing that I’m living a day during which the money’s running out faster than it’s trickling in, but reflect that we’re allotted only a limited number of these occasions during our lifetimes. So I quote my favorite philosopher, the penniless, homeless, and half-dead mehitabel the cat – wotthehell little archy wotthehell it s cheerio my deario that pulls a lady through exclamation point - and suck it up.

A little bit north of East Montpelier, headed upstream beside the Kingsbury Branch of the Winooski River, we begin to pass small patches of my favorite trees, tamaracks. Almost invisible among the spruces and pines all summer, they turn a magnificent burnished copper at the end of October and almost seem to burn among the dull green of their younger cousins. Shortly afterward, as we reach the height of land between south- and north-flowing streams, and open, abandoned beaver swamps, they’re everywhere. They love to get their feet wet.

We made a reservation this year at a lovely lakeside inn named Auberge Ripplecove. It started out in the 1940s to be a fishing camp; old photographs on the walls attest to its success. But eventually the lake trout fishing went south, as it has almost everywhere, and the proprietors began to switch to French-accented elegance.

Taking Mother to any place even remotely French is a stroke of genius on my part. Not for her the chatty, robust ambiance of blueberry pancakes and fellow tourists at a New England bed-and-breakfast. Give her instead a quiet squad of formally clad French waiters serving a multi-course dinner (included in the package, but  I didn’t say so) with a fire on the hearth, the dim light of candles and discreet recessed ceiling fixtures, and a live piano player tinkling old favorites (think “Moon River” with so many frills that you have to work to hear what Mancini intended). We followed it with a cup of strong French roast, truffles, and a relaxing session in an outdoor hot tub watching the lights of camps and homes reflected across the waters of Lac Massawippi. Our original wedding night, cramped in the back seat of a ‘58 Chevy Biscayne, passing through dozens of towns with toilet paper-bedecked trees, jack-o-lanterns on porches, and kiddies with costumes and shopping bags, seems like like another world, in more ways than one. You can’t imagine the gratitude I feel that all the years between have led to the ability to do this, even if only briefly.

It was the fall-back night to standard time, so of course we woke up and appeared early in the lounge. Undaunted, André, the concierge, hustled downstairs for a tray of coffee. Everyone was unbelievably pleasant and helpful there. Now we’ve passed successfully through Customs again and left the interstate to head down the back roads through the tamaracks for another year.

Photo by Willem lange