In 1973 my widowed father married my wonderful stepmother. I was 8 at the time. My stepmother came into our lives with great love for my father, a yellow VW Bug, half a house in Vermont (which she owned with her sister and brother-in-law) and 12 new cousins for me. I’d only been to Vermont once before. And I’d only been on one ski vacation to Lake Placid before Vermont became such a huge part of our lives. I was the child of a sailing family. I knew nothing about life in the mountains. Nothing.
My mother had died a year and a half before I started skiing with my new cousins. I was the baby in my family, and then the baby in my family who lost her mother at 7. I was doted on and spoiled...by my father, my two older siblings, my grandmother, and many others....and then I wasn’t. When I joined all these new family members at this house in Vermont I was thrown into the pack. All of a sudden I was in my Lanz nightgown in an old farmhouse, bunking in the same room with all the girl cousins, waking at the crack of dawn, eating a hot breakfast I did not like, and tossed into the way back of a cold but fabulous vintage Landrover with my packed lunch and hand me down ski sweaters on the way to catch the first Okemo chairlift. And it was fun as hell. Yes, fun as hell! (For clarification purposes, it’s important to note that the “hot breakfasts I didn’t like” were lovely spreads of pancakes and eggs made by my aunt and uncle. I was Lucky Charms and Poptart girl. The issue was all mine.)
I didn’t want to take ski lessons. I’d done that for a week at Whiteface the winter before. I felt like a dork and hated being that baby in lessons. I’m a youngest child, youngest children do not like to be left in the dust by kids who know more. For some reason my parents and aunt and uncle all thought that given my aversion to ski school... it would be a great idea for my youngest two cousins to teach me to ski. They were excellent skiers. The whole family was. It apparently never bothered any of the adults that my new cousin ski instructors were 9 and 11! I seem to remember them receiving about 3 sentences of instruction with the basic theme of “don’t loose her.” Both of my cousins happily took me off to ski with them. If they weren’t happy to have me in tow, they never let on. They made me feel like one of the pack. They also didn’t allow this tag along to alter their plans. I was going to ski, I was going to keep up with them. I was going to quickly learn to navigate all forms of lifts. And we were going to start our lessons at the TOP of the mountain. It’s actually a brilliant, although crazy idea. I was forced to learned quickly. There was only one way to get down to hot chocolate. To this day, I can keep up with anyone and I’m not afraid. My form is not so beautiful but I’m smiling with glee all the way down the mountain.
This theme of kids going off on adventures continued.
This is the dairy farm which was next to our house. We were all told never to go over there. We were also told we were not allowed near any of the cows. Although these two rules are actually the same message delivered twice, we didn’t listen. One day when the parents were otherwise occupied or most likely not home, we walked right over there and crawled into the closest pen with the cows. Somehow, real or imagined we decided one of the cows was “charging us” so we ran and dove under the rusty barbed wire fence. Being the slowest runner and fearing for my life, I didn’t notice that the barbed wire was cutting a line across my lower back. This created a new predicament, I was wounded, there was no possible explanation for the parents. Again the youngest cousins... who were about 10 and 13 at this point became my medics. There were secret rubbing alcohol cleanses and smearing whatever else we could find in the medicine cabinet on my wound, one that I could not reach nor see without a mirror. It’s amazing now that I think about it, that the 3 of us in the bathroom together did not alert one of the mothers to trouble! The horror of the issue at hand was on the light side of the scale of justice, when we considered the consequences of the parents finding out we had been in the cow pen. I remember leaving that Sunday eve promising my cousins I would hide my wound from my parents when I got home. I don’t think any of us told anyone until we were in our 30s! I will be forever grateful I never got lockjaw or anything else you can get from rusty wire in a dirty cow field!
These adventures continued. Suburban children in the mountains with their parents. Shooting cans, playing in the fields, riding tractors, hiding up in the trees from wildlife creatures. It was my own version of “Little House on the Prairie.” My wonderful new stepmother and her very fun sister made sure we did it all, some experiences were new and some were to keep the family rhythms flowing. My father and I were the only Protestant members of this large devoted Catholic family. Saturday mass happened on the way home from the mountain in ski boots and the ski sweaters. I often wondered what I was doing in this new church while my father and uncle were in the car reading the newspaper while the women and children were inside. I was told by my father I was welcome to join them in the car if I didn’t want to participate in mass. I tried this once or twice and decided an hour with old men reading the paper was 9 thousand times more boring than giggling with my cousins in the pews. As a result of years of family time in Vermont, I am as comfortable now in a Catholic Church as I am on a ski mountain.
I grew to love the seasons in Vermont. Winters were spent on the mountain, cozied up reading books at night, and family dinners around the table or at local Inns. I learned to quickly love pre dinner cocktail time around a fire at an old Vermont Inn. An Inn with a dog and board games in a real win! Summers were spent visiting the Jelly Mill, riding the Bromley slide, and swimming in Emerald Lake. All things my own children would grow up doing
We were weekenders... we left Bronxville on Friday nights after my father came home from work in New York City. We drove our family wagon to Vermont. No seatbelts. Sleeping bags in the way back of the wagon. We left after a full day of activities on Sunday. I remember feeling so tired when I crawled into my comfy Snoopy sleeping bag. Now I realize, my parents must have felt even more so!
I moved to Vermont 17 years ago. A soon to be divorced mother with five small children between the ages of 3 and 9. A girl from Bronxville came via New Canaan and Houston. My husband Donald came 30 years ago from Michigan via Palo Alto and Santa Fe. We both found Vermont through Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. We met here, married here. Our children are not weekenders. They are the real deal. They have Vermont in the hearts. And so do I.