We drove early this morning to drop the boys and a friend at an access point to the Long Trail, where they intend to spend three days hiking their way southward. This must be painfully obvious by now, but I like driving through the rural working class landscape of northern Vermont, past spray-painted lawn signs pitching firewood and snow plowing, maple syrup and cow manure. There’s a quiet dignity to way folks inhabit this land, not asking a whole lot and generally receiving somewhat less, but having understood how it’d be from the get-go not prone to lament. To be sure, there are those who seem to have surrendered, but under what pressures it’s hard to know and even fathom. Perhaps even they don’t understand the pressures themselves; they only feel the weight of them.
I grew up in northern Vermont, and I guess it’s true how a place gets inside you, the easy familiarity of it, even the way it smells. The little quirks of regionalized character – how people wave, for instance, or the lilt of their speech. I like the way you come to trust people you share a place with. Maybe you trust them too much sometimes, because for every local who doesn’t wave with just two fingers off the steering wheel, there’s probably one you can’t quite trust. But even most of those can be relied on in a fashion; they might stretch the truth or on occasion even break it, but they’re not out to get you.
What I remember from growing up here is pretty thin and sort of random. I remember getting firewood with my father, which is sort of strange, because I don’t think we did a whole lot of that. But I have a very specific memory of him bucking hardwood with his old Jonsereds chainsaw and me begrudgingly throwing the rounds into the back of whatever car he drove back then. A Honda Civic hatchback, I think, circa 1978 or so. He still has that chainsaw, though I doubt it’s been started in a decade or more. The Civic is long gone.
I remember the musty, wet-wood smell of the cabin we lived in, but that’s kind of a cheap memory, because in my experience all cabins smell like that, or some variation thereof. I remember a little bit the bar my dad frequented, though I can’t understand why I would’ve been there. But I was, at least enough to have a sense of it. Skiing up the hill to the cabin behind my mother. I think I remember that.
Every once in a while I catch myself wondering what my sons will remember. Probably not the things I’d choose for them to, such as the constant selfless sacrifice on the part of their mother and me. Sometimes I want to say, “hey, remember this,” but I know the minute one of my parents said that to me, I probably would’ve banished it from my mind forevermore, so I don’t. I’ll let them choose their memories, the good ones and the bad. Hopefully more of the former than the latter, but who knows.
Not long after we dropped the boys off, watched them disappear down the trail without so much as a glance back, Penny and I drove past a snack bar near a lake not far from where I grew up. My parents and I used to go to that lake, and unlikely as it seems four decades on, I know for certain we went to that snack bar. I don’t even know why I’m so sure, but I am. After we passed, I watched it in the side view mirror until we crested a hill and it dropped out of sight. Chances are, I’ll never see it again.