Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Hoarding Friend(-ship)


Doug and Dick were friends. No, they were best friends in a relationship that spanned six decades and included their wives and extended to their children, grandchildren and even great grands.

They, as most friends do, shared many core values. They were hard working in their small businesses and believed in participating in making changes instead of just complaining. They loved their families and where tireless ambassadors for the states in which they lived (Dick in Rhode Island and Doug in Vermont). They valued common sense which they often perceived to be short supply. They could be tough task masters but also kind and generous. Their early morning (4 or 5 am) email threads were legendary sessions sharing tidbits about business, politics, finances and family; it was as bracing a start to the day as that first sip of joe. Dick mentored Doug in ham radio and Doug showed Dick how to strip furniture. 

AND they were both borderline hoarders!

No attic, basement, closet or shed was immune from stashes of miscellany that these two thought might be valuable or useful – someday. Dick’s collection of “stuff” was top-heavy with radio paraphernalia of every shape age and size. Doug’s stash included a Home Depot’s worth of hardware, tools, plumbing parts and small motors.

SO, that is the back story. 

Doug passed away in December of 2014. 

We, his family, are still finding odd bits of interesting things in backrooms and cubbies some seven and a half years later. One day I found a small brown plastic radio high up on a shelf. The Bakelite case was cracked and the dial, sporting a graphic of an airplane, was dingy though intact. Perhaps Doug had saved it for his friend. Perhaps Dick could salvage something from this shabby radio remnant? Perhaps. Off to Dick it went.

Yesterday, I was gifted the little brown vintage radio back. In the months it had been with our friend, it had been lovingly restored to working condition using old radio tubes from his “hoarded” stash. It appears to be a somewhat rare -- and maybe valuable -- little 1940-1950s electronic treasure that was used to monitor air traffic. Dick is the one in a million that has/had the parts, the knowledge and the desire to fix up this long-hoarded relic, this bit of history that honored a frugal and saving lifestyle and a four-generation friendship.  

It was a gift touching beyond measure and will have a place of honor. Not to be too maudlin, but if we could hoard friends like these, wouldn’t we?

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Monday, May 9, 2022

Flair, Sass and Familial Respect: Mother's Day 2022

My mother, Maisie Schweitzer

 I wanted to post this on Mother’s Day. But I was too busy watching my great grand-children run and swing and tumble together in the welcome spring sunshine.  I rarely get caught up in -- or bogged down by -- holiday memories of departed loved ones. If a memory creeps across my mind it is usually humorous or has profound significance.

 So it was this Mother’s Day. I obsessively watch “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” because that is my mother’s era and because Mom could be talked into dancing a mean Charleston -- without the benefit of alcohol or weed.  I imagine her flair and sass and clothes to be just like Miss Fisher’s.  I construct this image in my head from partial cues; a slightly bawdy photo, a flapper’s headband in an old trunk, a pair of satin heels. I like to think of her that way but of course that would have been a version of her that existed long before I was born. 

 My actual memories of her are embodied by chocolate chip cookies and gallons of tomato soup with crisp grilled cheese sandwiches. The memories include hours of musical practice on the piano or saxophone, church on Sunday, gymnastics on Tuesdays and Campfire Girl meetings on Fridays. She was a joiner and participant and she expected me to be too.

True confession:  She failed to make me musical. I can barely find middle C on the piano and I have not so much as looked at a saxophone in over 60 years.  I am not a “clubby” woman and mostly avoid anything beyond an occasional book club. Like most mothers and daughters, Mom and I locked horns, butted heads and disagreed on boyfriends, clothes and lifestyle.

What then were the profound lessons that flitted across my mind?

 I learned even from our differences.  Differences do not need to alienate … if you do not let them. Love goes deeper, broader and wider when enhanced by listening and respect. We learned this together --sometimes with tears and sometimes with side-splitting laughter at our absurdities.

She was a fierce advocate of education for women before it was popular and accepted. She was deeply spiritual, turning over to God without reservation the depth of her gratitude and fears and longing.

AND, she was adamant that no one in the family speak ill of anyone else in the family. Like Disney’s Thumper she held to “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”  I am not naïve enough (nor was she) to believe that never happened behind closed doors or in private thoughts. But she set a tone of positivity. She would have positively loved the rough-and-tumble camaraderie of her progeny, generations removed on this Mother’s Day 2022.  She would have giggled and laughed and scolded. And no doubt injected a dose of positivity because she believed in its benefits so wholeheartedly.

Thanks Mom …

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Sunday, March 13, 2022

Time Out

The predicted late winter snow storm is ramping up with its companion wind, gusty and brittle.

It is mid-March and Vermont has already had a few days of balmy, faux spring tricking my senses into believing that wintertime has passed. Now, my sense of time is reversed, plunged back to January. 

As if I needed more disorientation, the news reminds me that today is also when we change our clocks, losing  a precious hour of sleep and throwing my circadian rhythm into disarray. I can now put to rest my November procrastination of changing my car clock. How did time go so fast?

I think I have a partial answer. For my great-grandson, Carter who is 10, a year is one tenth of his life, a relatively large fraction and long portion his life. For me, a year is quite a different matter, only a small fraction of my octogenarian life. I blink and a year has gone; the announcement of a pregnancy is now a bouncing baby.  

The time represented by the last couple of years has seen such drastic changes … people moving in and moving out … businesses closing, job concepts altering, politics changing, controversy and conspiracy rampant. Never a fan or believer that the “good old days” were all that good, I am exercising a woman’s prerogative to slightly change direction. I want to blink and again experience a simple, more trustworthy time. But who among us has not occasionally chanted Elizabeth Akers Allen’s poem (even if we did know the source)?

     Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,

    Make me a child again just for tonight!

 But this cannot be. 

Despite the momentary time-warping disorientation, there are orientating markers. The glorious sun rises on another day. The morning coffee brewed and savored and the pesky cat meowing to be fed anchor my morning and defy time and age. There are chores to be done … the fridge needs cleaning and the laundry needs doing. A birthday card needs sending and a child needs hugging before the sun flames below the horizon of another day.

Time to get to it ...

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Thanksgiving Carol

In the few days that remain before the most gustatory holiday of the season, not only am I pulling recipes out of my ancient, stained and spattered recipe box, I am pulling memories to the surface.

In a Dickensian vibe a la “A Christmas Carol,” I go to Thanksgivings past. But these memories bring a bubble of laughter. Unlike Scrooge, whose ghost of the past was bitter and sad, my ghost of Thanksgivings past is more Casper-like, flitting merrily across my mind. 

In the early years of our marriage, we were asked to host my hubby’s rather difficult grandmother in our Rhode Island home. With other family too distant to either her or us, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn some old holiday cooking tips and bond with this frugal ex-pastor’s wife. Her big tip was to drape a clean, white tea towel like a blanket of fresh snow over the mountaintop crest of the turkey’s gigantic breast. Every 20 or 30 minutes, the gathering juices would be sucked up in a baster and squirted generously over the tea towel to keep the bird moist and succulent. Over the hours of cooking before the great unveiling, both the turkey and the tea towel took on a golden, fragrant hue.

After the meal, with our bellies full of the delicious turkey and all the trimmings, it was time to clean up before the pumpkin pie was served for dessert. All three of us -– husband, wife and grandmother-in-law -- helped to wash and package up the leftovers.  Nana admonished me to wash and save the tea towel for future turkeys. But, for some reason, I could not find that tea towel, crusted as it was with fond and dried brown juices. Finally, my husband pointed to a large pot on the back burner of the stove where he was boiling the juices out of said tea towel enroute to making turkey soup!  I knew I had married into a frugal family, but really! Even his Nana was surprised, and I remember seeing a smile creep across her usually dour face.

A year or two later, I am in the cabin in Sandgate for the holiday (we had not yet made the move to Vermont). The men are out hunting while am preparing a somewhat simplified meal. There was turkey, of course, and pumpkin pie.  I had been to the cabin often so I knew what to bring and what I could source from the cupboards -- or I thought I did. I rolled out a tender crust and fluted it with a pretty, ruffled edge. I combined the other ingredients, carefully carrying the pie to the still-hot oven. Everything would be ready for the returning hunters. But my pride in the meal was dashed the moment the first forkful of pie hit my husband’s mouth. Apparently, I had sweetened my pie with a full cup of salt!  Sugar was the stuff that came in 5-pound bags, right? And salt was always packaged in those deep blue cylindrical boxes with the pop-out metal spouts, right? Lesson learned, I would never again cook operating from such partial cues for, indeed, salt does sometimes come in 5-pound bags that, to the unaware, resemble sacks of sugar. 

The men were convulsed with laughter at my culinary faux pas and claimed they were too full for dessert anyway. Bless them!

Those November holidays stand out like shiny threads in the warp and woof of a fabric that stretches from my childhood to the childhood of my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Some had a shadow of illness and loneliness, some were interrupted by the need to work or by minor strife. Like other days, some Thanksgiving Days were better than others but they were universally filled with abundant food and great gratitude.  

My ghosts of Thanksgiving present and future are more tangled and sparring.

The present (aka pandemic time), found turkey day 2020 re-configured. With gatherings and travel plans cancelled, our family met in the parking lot of our business and exchanged clam-shell takeout containers or Tupperware bowls filled with each family’s specialty dish. Some were relieved at the broken traditions (come on, admit it – you were SO tired of hosting), while others, mourning the loss of tradition, tucked in to watch the Macy’s parade and convince themselves that next year would be better. In the future they will, no doubt, tell tales of the strange and scary Thanksgiving of 2020. But for others, it was an opportunity to make new a new set of memories – some as laugh-out-loud funny and indelible as tea-towel turkey soup and pumpkin salt.

That darn ghost of Thanksgiving future, though, still refuses to fully reveal itself. Dickens’ big-three ghost saga charts a transformation from greedy to generous, from cruel to kind. But transformation can go either way. Perhaps the ghost is waiting to see our collective choice? 

While I wait patiently for the final Thanksgiving ghost to arrive, I will go back to the recipe box and still my thoughts while dreaming of pecan squares and pumpkin pudding, of sage dressing and silky gravy.

May your memories be happy and your choices kind.



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Thursday, May 6, 2021

I Wrote a Book! Announcing the Arrival of "The Wayside Story - A Look Back at the History of a Vermont Country Store"


Thirty-seven years ago this week, my husband Doug and I signed on the dotted line and became the owners of the Wayside Country Store in West Arlington, Vermont.

Although I have been working on it -- and talking about it -- for two years, my little book chronicling the history of the store is finally done … just in time to celebrate this anniversary! While it is a slim volume, it manages to cover a good deal of ground and will hopefully shed some light on the families that have kept the doors open over the last century plus.

Who built the store? And why? And when?

This little book is the result of many, many hours spent searching for verifiable information to confirm -or in some cases dispel - my long-held beliefs about the origins of the business. It turns out that, while there is a lot of information out in the world about Arlington proper, West Arlington seems to have been sparsely documented (except for Norman Rockwell’s presence) so my hope is that this book will add to the rich history of our beautiful valley.

The project has been great fun and I am indebted to the many folks who helped bring it to fruition. Chief among them has been graphic artist Dave Van de Water who enhanced the photos and documents that accompany my text and is responsible for the way it is laid on the page. Without his expertise, my book would have been little more than poor-quality photocopies stuck together with a paperclip. Another one of the heavy lifters has been Christine Meyer who kept me from making a fool of myself with poor spelling, punctuation and assorted grammatical missteps. And Debbi Wraga at the Northshire Bookstore deserves a shoutout for her efforts to have the finished, printed book ready for this week’s Wayside milestone. There are many, many more to thank and I thank them all – profoundly.

The Wayside Story - A Look Back at the History of a Vermont Country Store  is available – where else – at the Wayside Country Store. For those far afield, it can also be ordered online directly from the Northshire by clicking here

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

One Hundred Days

I stopped short of titling this post “The First One Hundred Days.” Like the rest of the country -- and indeed the world -- I am hoping that there is not another 100 days like the last hundred; an unprecedented (do you hate that word yet?) period marked by the rampant spread of the novel coronavirus, conflicting  “expert” advice and the knowledge that numbers are not static but can be manipulated in startling ways.

I have been self-isolating for 100 days.  It is a milestone.  But, unlike birthdays and anniversaries, Hallmark does not (yet) have a card to pluck from the rack at the local store to commemorate the occasion. There are no pictures of ringing bells, mortarboard hats tossed into the air, explosions of confetti or flaming candles, the traditional congratulatory markers of achievement or longevity. 

The early days of the isolation were characterized by napping, reading and the sorting out of all those weird little drawers, closets and under-bed spots that had been long neglected. It was naively satisfying.  Just as the reality of isolating really started to set in, the seasons cooperated and the sorting gave way to the gardening and the taking in of great, grand gulps of fresh outdoor Vermont air.

Through each day I watched the news (channel-surfing endlessly), read countless Facebook posts (some so long they might qualify as novellas) from friends with wildly disparate views.  And I paid attention to my own emotions -- my joy, my anger, my sadness, my frustration and yes, my gratitude. 

These might not quite be what Hallmark would put on a quarantine-themed card, but what follows below are some brief, random thoughts and observations from the past 100 days -- to commemorate and celebrate the milestone!

  • Please do not confuse “fear” with “caution.”  I do not fear death but I am not going to put myself at unnecessary risk. I would not risk walking to the edge of a precipice where signs clearly indicated DANGER unless I was suicidal.

  • I miss social contact but have Zoomed into a new social world.  I Zoom church services, Zoom with far-flung relatives and Zoom with family. It helps. (The downside is that I look a lot older in the Zoom grid than I do in my bathroom mirror!)

  • Be careful with your words either written or spoken. Regret is a heavy burden and kneejerk remarks can -- and do -- hurt.  Express yourself but be careful and thoughtful when you do so.

  • I have never paid much attention to age.  But I cannot deny that I am in the high-risk group based on my age alone.  I have to admit that I am hurt and shocked that we elderly seem to be viewed as no longer useful, that we’re some kind of expendable collateral damage. It makes me angry.

  • I am not a one-trick-pony. I do not think you are either. If we have a relationship, it is based on more than whether you wear a mask or not. 

  • Like most folks, I love a sunny day. But, I have never been a sun-worshipping, beach-going person. I far prefer fishing or canoeing on a Minnesota lake or tubing down the Batten Kill. Now, for the first time, I find myself basking in the sun on my patio, drinking in the healing medicine of vitamin D, utterly quiet.  I now understand sun-worshippers.

  • I am going out a bit more.  Each opportunity is met with “risk assessment.”  I remember that from my youth (when the calculus was: “Will the fun of that party be worth the trouble I might get into?”).  It makes me chuckle to realize that I have been a risk-assessor my entire life.  Nothing new here.

  • I had thought of cataloging all the divides but there are now so many things that divide us. You know them already for you post and tweet and film them. We are a culture founded on individual freedoms and that now seems to hamper instead of help the solidification of a common goal based on equality and fairness. We need uniters in politics and I don’t see many.  This is frustrating.  This is heart-breaking.

  • My day starts early.  Almost every morning I cry. Not for long but, when I wake up, I mourn for what we have lost, or for the daily complications for which we have had no preparation and over which we have scant control. Then I pray. My mind goes first to Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The burden is in my mind, an effort to understand the chaos of 2020. The tears and prayer have comforted me. I am ready for my cup of coffee. I am ready to face the day with gratitude for my blessing are many and my burdens are relatively few.   

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Stayin’ Home / Stayin’ Alive

I only know how long I have been self -isolating at home because I remember that my last day of being physically present at the Wayside Country Store was St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, I’ve been lovingly side-tracked by my family due to my age and underlying immune issues.

A few days in, I started making slash marks on my calendar but that felt curiously like being a prisoner scratching out days of a sentence served on the cell wall.  I did not yet feel like a prisoner and there was no end in sight -- then or now.

Tending to be an optimist, I cast around for productive uses of time.  A mountain of old photos needed to be sorted and I got down to the Jurassic layer (see the photo of a five-year-old me at the top of this post) pretty quickly.  I kept dozens of images and threw away hundreds – most of the latter blurry or duplicates. When I die -- hopefully no time soon and not because of Covid-19 -- I want my children to know that whatever they have to sort out is now a good one tenth of what it would have been before the isolating circumstances of the 2020 pandemic.

I’ve sorted out bits and pieces of metal and all things shiny accumulated through my jewelry-collecting hobby (and even managed to construct a few jewelry Christmas trees along the way). I’ve gardened -- pulling miles of mint roots that zippered out of the thawing soil, I’ve spent too much time on Facebook (checking Getty Images is entertaining – and illustrates the kind of ingenuity that has resulted from this quarantine).  I’ve learned to use new technology (hello Apple TV!) to get more stimulating programming (not to mention distance myself from the ubiquitous and often confusing “information” about the very virus that landed me here) as well as connect with friends and family in ways I hadn’t thought possible (hello Zoom video-conferencing!).  

I’ve texted and emailed and cleaned my cupboards, snacked way too much, played game after game of solitaire and I’ve prayed.  Oddly – given how voracious a reader I am – I have not read very much. I have stacks of books within reach but have not been able to concentrate.  I used to be able to retreat into the fantasy of fiction but right now the welfare of my family (both near and far), the welfare of my business and my concerns about the future of the country seem to lurk just below the surface. 

And, truth be told, I started thinking too much.  Case in point: Not being particularly musical, I was surprised to be visited with an “ear worm” of the Bee Gees singing “Stayin’ Alive” from the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack.  The subtext of the song is about staying alive – and perhaps even thriving -- on the mean streets of New York, which is currently the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic and frighteningly close to my corner of the world (less than 175 miles as the crow flies). 

It is no wonder that we are is obsessed with how to stay alive and to thrive; are we politically and individually doing the right thing, the best thing? Only history will tell.  We can only do what we think is right for us so we can look ourselves in the mirror, realize that our instinct to live and protect those around us is alive and well, however we manifest it.  In many ways, I feel like I’ve been through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I am beyond grateful that my multi-stage grief processing is not for a departed loved one.  Rather I grieve for the normal that was here and no longer is. What a “new normal” will look like is as uncertain as the path of the novel coronavirus itself.  I accept that. 

So, for now, I am stayin’ home – and stayin’ alive. 

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