... making the most of a move
Part one of this tale is in the previous issue, (click here)
As it turned out there was no work for Russ in either of Bill’s ventures because the winter of 1990 was hard on the land and the economy. The week before our first Christmas in the White Mountains, Russ borrowed forty dollars from his brother in order to buy a few presents for the girls. He took them out to chop down their very own tree and together we decorated it with bits of twine, ribbon and tin foil. Mr. Vernon would not allow us to use electric tree lights, but I have never seen a tree sparkle more than this one did on that Christmas morning.
In time Russ managed to find work at a general store twenty miles away. Left to our own devices, the girls and I spent our days roaming the snow-laden land around us dressed up like Eskimos. It was scary to venture forth into this immense, silent landscape, and easy to pretend we were the first hardy settlers to see these mountains and the great, dark woods. We’d plan where we would build our own cabin over cups of hot chocolate back at Mr. Vernon’s.
Dressed for the season with Waits River frozen at the dam, Bradford, Vermont.
I didn’t realize it then, but the spirit of our pioneering forefathers had taken a hold of our imagination. We drew upon on their fortitude as we faced that first harsh winter together. We learned how to deal with raging snowstorms, keeping the fires burning in the two ancient woodstoves downstairs, cooking a whole meal on a one-burner hot plate and deciphering the images on our one-channel, snowy television screen. I know it sounds like a far cry from what our ancestors lived through, but living on Cape Moonshine Road was a far cry from what we had experienced in our previous life in Melrose, Wakefield and Saugus.
Sometimes the girls and I would hitch a ride with Russ for the thirteen-mile ride into Piermont Village in order to visit the library. By the time Monique and Ayla were able to walk, they had learned a lot about libraries. We all knew we had found someone special when we met Nancy Underhill, the town librarian. She was engaging, thoughtful and kind. She never blinked an eye at how many books we checked out and waived the expiration date until our next trip into town. We did not know it then, but this connection with the library was to provide the strong thread that would help weave us into the tapestry of village life in Piermont and still keeps us tethered to the North Country today.
We survived our first winter and in May when the land all around us revealed it’s awesome beauty, Mr. Vernon announced, "Well, I don’t know, but I don’t see any use in you folks to hang around here too much longer. Won’t be burnin’ wood now that spring is here.”
A few days later when I told Nancy Underhill our predicament, she offered to rent to us the vacant ‘farm hands’ building on her property. She warned me that this would put her at odds with her neighbors who refused to rent to ‘flatlanders’. Townsfolk looked upon outsiders as being most likely to come up with fancy ideas on how to raise local taxes. She waived all these admonitions and within less than a week’s time, we were living in a real home on a working farm.
The girls and I worked side by side in the immense vegetable gardens. We learned to work the land and enjoyed the satisfaction of reaping the rewards of our labor. Armed with books from the library, we’d set out on treasure hunts designed to help us identify the flora and fauna around us. Many times we were followed by a small herd of heifers that were curious to know why we were in their pasture. We visited the sheep, pigs, fallow deer, and Highlander cattle and occasionally helped in rounding up escapees. One day I answered what I thought was a knock at the door only to be met by a flock of sheep that were huddled together on our front porch. I was so shocked I forgot to close the door behind me and they all rushed in, baaing to beat the band, but this story is better left for “another telling”, as we say up here.
We had moved into Piermont Village, which is best described as a one-blink town. However, being accepted by its townsfolk didn’t happen in the blink of an eye. They stonewalled us until I unknowingly found the key to cracking the veneer that overlays their fear of outsiders. It was one simple word: volunteer. After several months of volunteering to teach Sunday school in the mornings and helping to keep the library open on these afternoons, the walls between the townsfolk and us began to shatter. It was easy to dismiss a selfless church member with a nod, but when I appeared as their librarian, they found their voice and soon we were engaged in friendly chatter. True to the old hymn that says, “and the walls came tumbling down”, they did.
Out of all the events we experienced in moving to this awesome territory, the most fortuitous one happened when we enrolled the girls in Piermont Village School. It provided their students, grades K-eight with an education unsurpassed by any public or private school I have yet to encounter. Seventy-five percent of their graduating students would go on to be placed in the National Honor Society or on the Honor Roll of the high school of their choice. Upon graduation from Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vermont, both Monique and Ayla were awarded several scholarships which set them apart from their peers.
Monique will graduate this spring from Lyndon State College with degrees in Graphic Arts and Website design. She is considering the offer of an Assistant Professorship position there, while she applies to graduate schools. Ayla is pursuing a career in Art Therapy while working with adolescents in a drug rehabilitation facility.
Moving to the North Country was not an easy transition for us to make because it was filled with many uncertainties, hardships and struggles, but I don’t regret our decision for a moment. Our children thrived here. We learned to respect the natural beauty of its granite mountains, lush valleys and unpredictable weather. It shaped us all, just as it did our forefathers, into self-sufficient, hardworking individuals with an eye for a cozy fireplace and an ear for a friendly chat.
April 4, 2008