A Yankee NotebookColumns

A Perfect Ending

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – This one kind of fell into our laps. And we made the most of it.

On the last day of June I was scheduled to give a talk to the Montgomery Historical Society. Story-telling gigs pretty much petered out during the COVID pandemic and haven’t really returned, so I was delighted to do it. The drive up there is through gradually widening valleys and horizon-to-horizon greenery, culminating (if you wish a slight diversion, and I did) in the Revolutionary-era Bayley-Hazen military road through Hazen’s Notch and descending past steep, lively streams to the village that sprang up long ago beside all that abundant water power.

Then I noticed how close Montgomery is to the Canadian border, and another thought crept in. I queried my traveling companion, who was planning to come up from near Boston for the weekend. How about crossing into Canada next day (Canada Day, by the way), spending the night at the Chateau Montebello, and driving back to Vermont Sunday in time to get you back on the road to Nahant?

She was game, so I googled and got the last room at the Chateau that didn’t require a home equity loan, and started planning our retreat to Vermont early Sunday morning. But here came another email: “Yippee! Monday’s a holiday in the United States. We have a three-day weekend!”

You can hardly imagine the delight that occasioned. We could linger over Sunday breakfast at the Chateau, drive a bit more leisurely than usual, and have another evening of vacation (she’s still working, as, apparently – she likes to point out – so am I). She arrived mid-afternoon Friday, and off we went.

Montgomery was the usual pleasantly-surprising evening: an excellent buffet, a great audience of enthusiastic and good-humored people under a big white caterer’s tent, a good sound system (always the inspiration of fervent thanks to the electronic gods), a relaxing post-prandial Scotch and cozy room at the Black Lantern Inn. Muffins, yogurt, and coffee for breakfast, and then north by unfamiliar roads to the border.

The crossing was sleepy and lightly frequented, so we expected to be viewed as smugglers. But it appeared our only negative was that we’d interrupted a cribbage game or something. It was very shortly north again toward Montreal and the Ottawa Valley under skies surprisingly thick with gray smoke.

The less said about Montreal traffic, the better. Think a slightly kinder I-93 through Boston. In a couple of hours we were threading our way up to the huge porte-cochere of what is reputed to be the largest log structure in the world. A very friendly young lady took our names, gave me a receipt for my car, and signaled to a pair of valets, who unloaded the car and disappeared with both it and our luggage. This was the kind of treatment I could get used to, if I could afford it.

I came to the Chateau for decades as a base for the annual Canadian Ski Marathon. I think this was the first time I’d seen it in anything but a blanket of snow. It beggars description. The best way to get an impression of its history, immensity, and grandeur is to google it and view the photographs. Both it and the highway to it have been upgraded recently, so the feeling of roughing it (driving westward toward it on a February afternoon, blinded by sun and road salt) was largely gone. Which was okay with me.

The great rotunda in the center of the building was full of happy Canadians, with happy kids and dogs everywhere. Starting a conversation was a breeze. We dressed for dinner, passed a quiet, pleasant night in our top-floor room, and breakfasted on a covered veranda. Very elegant, and coffee in a pot on the table.

Montreal was again a semi-clogged drag, but it eventually spat us out over the Pont Champlain en route to the border. There wasn’t too long a wait to clear; then an epically comic and disastrous stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts run by inmates escaped from some institution. As we drove at last down State Street past the theater in Montpelier, Bea exclaimed, “Look! Indiana Jones! Want to go?”

Neither one of us had been on a movie date in at least a decade. The film was fantastic (as in unbelievable), and we laughed all the way through – a perfect ending to a nearly perfect (long!) weekend.