Carlotta moved to Vermont.
But now she was no longer Carlotta, but Carly. Approaching 40, this new name sounded more youthful and sexy and it shed, with its fewer letters, a whole American Tourister showroom full of baggage. It was the outward sign of her beginning transformation.
Her recently departed mother was fond of saying: "Life is messy -- clean it up," and she could be heard muttering this mantra as she changed the kitty litter, raked up mountains of leaves in the yard, laundered greasy clothes and scrubbed crusty dinner dishes.
Now it was Carly's turn to do a major clean up on a level her mother could not have foreseen; sweeping out the clutter of a bad marriage with its garbage heap of guilt and self-doubt, getting rid of the go-nowhere job that numbed her mind, purging the bad relationships and trying to make a clean, new life.
Carly had not chosen lightly. She had looked at a number of places before finally settling on the slower pace of Vermont. She thought she knew the pros and cons. On balance, she felt that if she took her time and found just the right spot she could be quite content with what the state had to offer. Oh, she knew better than to be duped by the slick photos of iconic covered bridges and white-steepled churches that could be caught in an idyllic moment or Photoshopped to perfection. She well knew that the pretty red barns contained piles of manure and that the real black and white cows -- so cute on T-shirts and ice-cream cartons -- had to be milked both dawn and dusk and that it was hard, crappy labor.
In other words, she tried to be realistic and prayed to the God she was aware of -- but not sure of -- that her inevitable surprises would be of the pleasant variety. As the newly minted Carly, she stepped with a wrinkled but lovely optimism, as hopeful as an emerging butterfly's wings, into Vermont life ... the real thing... not the capitalized Vermont Life magazine version. And the real thing is what she got.
After a series of dingy motel rooms, she found a tiny furnished rental over a garage up a steep driveway off Wilcox Road in the west part of the Norman Rockwell's old village of Arlington. It suited her in every way except ... except that there was no camaraderie here. There was only isolation so complete that she felt she was on another planet where the inhabitants scooted around in pickup trucks or CRVs or Subaru Foresters, completing unknown missions before disappearing like rabbits down their holes into dwellings that she could only imagine.
Carly found a job in one of the outlet stores in nearby Manchester. She had to cross the level stretch of meadowland known as Wilcox flats to get to work and never failed to enjoy the changing landscape of Mount Equinox towering to her left and the cows belonging to Wilcox Dairy grazing at the foot of the slope. She had tasted the local ice cream that came from those very cows: Sweet Cream, Double Chocolate Fudge, Pumpkin and Maple Gingerbread Snap. She had graduated from the oh-too-small pints to the half gallons, savoring not only the flavors but the notion that she could, on a regular basis, see the cows that gave the cream from their full udders to become her favorite treat. It was a start to being connected and she found the very name "Wilcox" to be a kind of talisman on her journey. It had obviously been around a long time with all manner of roads, meadows and businesses bearing the name, and she was determined that she too would be here for a long time -- if she could just get acquainted with some people as well as cows.
Oh Carly tried. She went to lectures at the big independent Northshire Bookstore, she went to plays in nearby Dorset and Cambridge. She went to church and joined a gym to work off the effects of too much Wilcox that she devoured in front of endless movies alone at night. People were not unfriendly but they were not exactly welcoming either. Carly slogged through, coping on her own. Like the fabled postal carrier of old, she didn't let snow or ice or mud or flat tires or power outages get her down. But ...
Just when she was about to despair, she got invited to a party! Her co-worker, Mary, had become a savior of sorts -- not quite the bathtub-enshrined icon on the lawns of Believers kind, mind you, but a welcome source of comfort. Mary chatted about the taciturn nature and almost witness-protection privacy of the natives and adopted by newcomers that prolonged the assimilation process.
"Come," she said. "I'm havin’ a shower for my daughter, Pat. She's getting married soon and I'd like you to come meet her since I'll probably be talkin’ a lot about it. There's gonna be a lot of folks there for you to meet."
A few days later Carly received a written invitation to the "Patty's Potluck Party" bearing the curious letters BYOWC at the end. Carly just assumed it was some rural variation on the standard RSVP and since Mary already knew that Carly was more than anxious to attend and would be there come hell or high water, Carly didn’t give it a second thought, instead focusing on what to get for a gift, what to wear, and what of her marginal culinary skills would be appropriate to exercise on behalf of the gathering.
“God, this was fun!” Carly said to herself when the appointed day rolled around. This eclectic group was not exactly the social scene she had envisioned but it was surprising to feel such a part of laying out dollar-store cutlery and hanging the tissue-paper bells from the doorways. Carly had been enlisted to help arrange the trays of slippery deviled eggs, disposable tins of lasagna and tuna casserole around a centerpiece that was a wobbly chocolate cake the shape – and size -- of a tractor tire. Carly sipped "chateau screw top" wine as she learned bits and pieces about the old and the young, the rich and the poor that inhabited the valley, each nugget delivered haltingly as the evening flew by.
Carly joined in on the cleanup, watching as each woman went to her respective colorful tote bag, each one pulling out the same opaque plastic tub that was so familiar to her: the kind that held her favorite Wilcox ice cream. Leavings of macaroni salad, squares of lasagna and brownie and slippery deviled eggs were quickly divided up among the tubs.
"Carly, where are your containers?" asked Mary.
"I clearly said on the invite to BYOWC … Bring Your Own Wilcox Containers -- for the leftovers, so you can take some home, you know."
Carly didn't know. She had no idea that the Wilcox tubs were considered so valuable -- as makeshift berry baskets, paint buckets, freezer containers and pet dishes -- that no one would willingly part with one from their own supply. Carly swallowed her laughter at the mystery of the invite code but vowed that now that she was in on it she would not forget. It was as if she had been given the secrethandshake at a sorority initiation.
Next time – for she was sure there would be a next time the way her surprising clean, new life was taking shape -- she wouldn't forget.
And Lord knows, she certainly had plenty of Wilcox containers!
A Taste of Life
Will You Walk?