by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – We had an overnight guest coming, which set the housekeeping staff (me) a-humming. I laundered the sheets and pillowcases in the guest room, hung a fresh towel in the guest bathroom, and even dressed up my end of the house, making up the bed with the flannel winter sheets and wrangling a new denim duvet cover over the old comforter. There was a slight fly in the ointment: the kitchen sink drain was slowing to a crawl, but I could live with that for a few days.
With no rain in the forecast, I could see my guest and I zooming up over Smugglers Notch in the roadster, calling ahead from the notch for an outside table at the restaurant in Jeffersonville, and after lunch, tooling south past Mount Elmore in time to take Kiki for her walk in Hubbard Park. Then crackers, cheese, and a chatty drink before dinner at a local restaurant. A perfect plan.
However, as I rinsed the coffee cups Saturday morning before setting out, I couldn’t help but notice that the sink drain had finally gone on strike. Half an hour later, as we approached the Waterbury exit at I-91 we found exiting traffic backed up half a mile onto the interstate. The realization struck all at once: other people were hoping to go to Stowe and Smugglers Notch and look at leaves; Route 100 would be bumper-to-bumper and stop-and-go all the way; other drivers would be frustrated, too; and it was a holiday weekend. Truly, as the saying goes, we are not alone.
The left-turning off ramp was empty. I took it, sensing the suspicion of the drivers I was passing that I was planning to jump the line up front. In that roadster, I get no sympathy and little respect. Hell, I wouldn’t like me if I saw me go by. But we were just getting out of the way. It was the beginning of a full day of sorry-we’re-full and we’re-closing-early. But it ended happily, at a restaurant with room for us and, next day after another walk, with a shared quesadilla and extra-friendly service downtown before my guest left for the road south.
Sunday evening, during our twice-weekly Zoom call, I was venting my frustration to my kids in Arkansas, when my son suggested an alternative. How did the old car run? When I responded, “Oh, like a Swiss watch! I really like that car!” he suggested I focus this week on happy things: the random treasures I’ve accumulated over the years that have become like works of art. Almost everyone has them.
He suggested my old Winchester, which he’ll inherit. I bought it in Saranac Lake in 1958 for $58. Over the years, its sights have been changed to accommodate my changing vision, but the sound of that silky lever action, I’d know anywhere. The stock is black walnut. A few little notches cut into its underside trigger memories of youth, strength, and death on cold November afternoons.
The 1964 DeWalt radial arm saw in the shop has never faltered when I’ve touched its switch. I bought it when I was building my first house, and it cut everything from studs and rafters to the fancywork in the cupola. I converted it to 240 volts when it arrived at its current home in Vermont, and it really zings. It’s going nowhere else as long as I have anything to say about it. We’ve been together too long.
When I first went into the woods to work, I noticed that all the old-timers carried Case knives. It was instant love, but mine doesn’t rest in a drawer; I use it every day in the kitchen. When I do, I can almost smell birch kindling, beech stove wood, kerosene, and bacon.
The guide boat took forty years to acquire. It truly is a work of art, with poetry in its every line and nine-foot cherry oars that flex as I pull. Behind the boat, the twin swirls of their passing stretch away as far as I can see. In a sense, I can watch myself from a distance, and revel in the motion.
The little silver German roadster was almost sixty years in arriving. Finding her was pure serendipity. She’s old, and I’m old. I promised her when we met that I’d be as thoughtful as possible. So far, so good. She’s powerful, but quiet, which I love, emitting only a little “foot” when I shift gears. In these last fall days before she gets covered for the long winter, I sit back, help her do so beautifully what she was built to do, and rejoice that we were both old when we found each other.