• Bits and Pieces

    At the annual Ox Roast last August, I was watching two steamship rounds of beef move herky-jerky on the makeshift sheep-fence rotisserie. John Wayne, who helps me carve up and slice the beast, told me about his bear problems. Early one morning, he heard a scratching on the side of his house. He opened the door a crack, and there was a 220-pound black bear, trying to get in. He gave John a nasty “Where’s breakfast?” look, turned and walked away. A week later, he came back, and this time headed for the bird feeder. He sniffed, realized that it was empty, and then gave John, who was once again watching, another nasty, “I can’t believe you didn’t fill it” look, and slowly departed. John got mad, spent 6 hours building a sturdy gate to protect his front porch, and then strung a bunch of copper wire on it hooked up to a 120-volt system. One day, John came home from work, found the gate torn apart, the wire all balled up, and tracks on his porch. Guess the bear was mad about the new fence too.

    Another neighbor at the Ox Roast announced that he was building a fish and chips restaurant right on his property. It will be called the Crashing Boar, a pun on uninvited guests who, over the years, have preyed on his hospitality. The punch line? It will be “by invitation only.” Doug Wright recently reminded me of the time he had a gorgeous young model from NYC pumping gas; he had done some work on her car, she didn’t have enough money to pay, and so she worked it off. Soon enough, the gas station was lined up with pickups, every red-blooded male in the county getting their tank topped off—a dollar, fifty cents—even if they had just filled up. As she commented, “Vermonters sure are cheap!”

    As a law student, Calvin Coolidge ate at a boardinghouse where hash was frequently served. The lady proprietor had a dog and cat, so when the hash was set on the table, Coolidge looked gravely concerned and would ask, “Where’s the dog?” The dog would be brought out from the kitchen and presented. Then he would ask, “Where’s the cat?” The cat would be found and brought down for a viewing. Only then would a look of relief appear on his face and he would tuck into supper.

    On a recent trip to the Coolidge homestead in central Vermont, Adrienne and I ran into John who worked at the same store that Coolidge’s father used to run a hundred years ago. In fact, John remembers when it was still a going concern, not a tourist shop. He also remembered a story from his father. It was 1910 and his dad came running home yelling, “I’ve seen the antichrist!” John’s grandfather followed the boy out to the road and, sure enough, there it was: a brand-new Model T Ford, the first car ever in that part of Vermont. Another neighbor liked to have fun with the party line. Just before going to bed he would ring his own number and then hang up the phone. After three or four rings he would pick it up and then listen until he heard a few clicks on the line. Then he shouted out, “Goodnight, neighbors!”

    Years ago, a young man and his uncle set out from Beartown, the northern part of our village, hiking over the mountain to attend a country fair. On the trek back, the uncle lay down in a field to take a nap. The young man, seizing the opportunity, put a good-sized helping of “pasture patty” in the uncle’s outstretched right hand and then tickled his nose with a length of timothy. He got the desired effect but had to run hard all the way home—his uncle moved as fast as a man half his age.

    Speaking of Beartown, a hundred years ago a new family in town was renting a farmhouse and they were disturbing the peace and tranquility of their neighbors. Late one night, one of the young farmers tacked up a length of fiddle string to the house and ran the other end into the bushes where he was hiding. Then, using a fiddler’s bow, he scratched out a high, haunting noise. After a couple of weeks, the family was so spooked that they moved away.

    Two years ago, a drunk turkey showed up at Sherman’s store (fermented apples, we think) and had a public face-off with the owner’s small dog. Some say the turkey won. Meanwhile—this was hunting season—a couple of hunters helped themselves to a few illegal deer right in the game warden’s backyard; they figured that was the last place he would look. A dim-witted hunter showed up last year at Sherman’s to brag about it and weigh in the spike horn he had just shot. Vermont had changed the law the year before (now only three-pointers are legal). Someone called the game warden and the young man was hauled off.

    Vermonters have a habit of living across the street from their ex-wives, just to keep an eye on them. The famous cartoonist Don Trachte built a house high on a hill looking down on his Betty, who had remarried. Darryl Brown, our local plumber, did the same thing. Our town gave up outhouses reluctantly. Not too long ago, our neighbor John used to give the early morning weather report while sitting in his. (His outhouse had only one modern convenience: phone service.)

    My favorite local story, one I heard repeatedly in the 1960s, was about Chester and Clark Hayes who, one night, decided to jack a deer up at the Bartlett Lot. They hitched up a cart to a workhorse and set off hunting. They got lucky, shot a large doe and, on their way back, Chester said to Clark in a worried voice, “We’re coming up to Charlie Randall’s place. He’ll peek out the window and catch us red-handed.” Clark suggested that they prop the doe up between them on the buckboard and commented, “Charlie can’t see too good anyhow.” Sure enough, they rode by and saw Charlie’s round face peeking through the window. The next day, Chester saw Charlie, who crabbed right up to him and says, “Who was that comin’ down with you last night?” Chester shot back, “Oh, just a local girl.” Charlie grinned and said, “Well, kinda ugly ain’t she?”

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