The August that Never Was
September 16, 2009 § 1 Comment
If you haven’t been in Vermont this summer then you might not know what a weird, wet, clammy time it’s really been around here. June was tepid and iffy; July was a soppy, mosquito-filled bust. Gardens everywhere around here were looking like the setting for a horror flick entitled “Attack of the Slimy, Water-Treading Slugs from Heck!” (Movie slogan: “Would you be ready if your tomatoes… never ripened?!?Aieaaagh!!!”) People have been applying raincoats instead of sunscreen and- brace yourself- carrying umbrellas. I know! That’s how drastic things have been. Our driveway runneth over.
August was the only month presenting a respectable semblance of some summery-ish weather, and the annual monster heat wave? You know the one: the heat-wave-that-inspires-you-to-finally-give-in-and-haul-the-AC-unit-out-of-the-four-million-degree-attic-and-give-yourself-a-triple-hernia-in-the-process? Never came.
One night my husband and I were exclaiming over a slight rise in humidity when he had a bright idea- “hey!” he said, “I could, you know, open these windows!” Oh yeah! They open! That’s the kind of summer it’s been.
And then, last Friday, it suddenly became Fall-with-a-capitol-“F.” Overnight, it went from tank-top-optional to “Darn, where’d I put my long sleeve shirts/ fuzzy slippers/ eskimo parka again?” In a perfectly timed response, our daughters both immediately woke up with sore throats. In the higher elevations we drove by and blinked uncomprehendingly at trees that had begun ever so slightly to (gasp) turn… in August.
What with reports of rain forecast for the weekend, and the fact that the first day of school was looming ever more ominously on the kitchen calendar, we decided to make Friday a play-hooky-day. We packed the family up in our Prius and headed out- with only a hint of desperation- for our last summer hurrah.
Calvin Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth is one of our favorite day trips in Vermont. It’s worth the twisty-turnsy drive that always makes me a bit queasy, because when we get there it is always like walking into an antique picture postcard. Calvin Coolidge was born here (you can see not only the room where he was born, but the bed) grew up here (here’s where he chopped wood; here are his boots and milking coat), where took the emergency oath of office after the sudden death of President Harding (his father swore him in in the family dining room) and where he set up his own version of the summer White House in the upstairs of the general store (want to sit at the president’s glorified-card-table-I-mean-desk?)
The country store is still set up as such, so you can get your penny candy (for more than a penny) and scented candles and t-shirts featuring dry New Englandy witticisms from our 30th president. (quote)
But you really must not forget to visit the cemetery on your way out, because that is where, of course, Cal is buried, along with his wife and son and parents. Despite all the preparations you’ve been given at the museum, you’ll nonetheless be amazed at the shocking plainness of the grave of this U.S. president. Save for the presidential seal, there is nothing to indicate Calvin Coolidge did anything much but live between the years of 1872 and1933. Understated to the last; it’s very him.
And because we were already in the neighborhood- sort of- after the homestead we continued over to Woodstock for another family favorite: Marsh Billings. (More officially: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller-National-Historical-Park-And-Billings-Farm-and-Museum-Phew!) There are so many facets to this place, Vermont’s only National Park: hiking trails, the historic house museum, but our favorite thing to do is to wander over to the “working-farm-museum” and gape at the animals, watch milking in progress (not for the faint of heart- large cows equals especially large drool and frighteningly large poop), and maybe watch someone turn milk into butter or some other such utterly foreign and exotic endeavor. Yes, even though we live in Vermont we will pay perfectly good money to see still more cows, sheep and horses doing what they do reliably all over the state: stand in a field and eat grass.
Our last stop for the day was a new one: I had read about the Farmer’s Diner in Quechee and realized we were just around the corner- sort of- so why not push just a little further east and give it a try for dinner?
Barbara Kingsley wrote about the Farmer’s Diner in her book Animal Vegetable Miracle which I read this summer. Most of the time my mouth was agape at some of the things I learned about our national food supply, the rest of the time my mouth was watering at the recipes she includes which were part of her and her family’s year of eating locally. She makes a point to visit this diner in her travels because the Farmer’s Diner specializes in local foods and strives to have 80% of their menu derive from local sources.
But another equally compelling reason to eat there, I found out, is that it is the most diner-y diner I have ever been in (which is saying something)… this is the pre-plastic era people! Sleek, deco-style wood paneling and booths, chrome backsplashes and the original marble counter all point to diner perfection in my book. Although you can eat in the spacious, additional attached dining room, or visit the nice, modern bathrooms over there, the compact, original diner car is really where you’re going to want to be.
Oh, and order anything you want- everything was pretty good. But for God’s Sake don’t forget to order the maple milkshake. In fact, I’m thinking you could just order that and leave really, just ridiculously happy.
So I’m realizing our Before-School-Bonanza had an incidental theme, a bit of a detour into the past of varying degree. When things were more local, more agrarian, more simple… When a president could don his apron and go milk a cow between meetings. Maybe that’s what draws me to this area in the first place so strongly, that thinner veil between now and the recent past that seems to exist…. if you squint your eyes in just the right way you can almost see it…
Now, I’m not quite ready to give up umbrellas, our honkin’ AC wall unit, or nice, modern bathrooms mind you, but it’s a thought.