Tom-Foolery

Weren’t he funny…

Dear Rosa,

Being a staunch, pragmatic Vermonter, I can only imagine how hard you had to work, the daily chores you had to tend to, the garden that needed to thrive for survival come winter. With all these stresses and cares, I hope you had a chance to find joy. Good jokes, silly stories, you know, the kind of stuff that brings a smile. I was gonna say “laugh” but I know better. Even as a kid, I never heard Gram so much as snicker. It’s like the punchline to Mark Twain’s story…

…about how he was performing on stage in a New England theater and no one would laugh at his witty jokes. Afterword, he snuck outside and listened to the people as they left the theater.

“Weren’t he funny,” said one old lady. “Weren’t he funny. It was all I could do to keep from laughing.”

There’s pain in the Northeast right now and suffering. Too many have lost hope along with their power. Far too many lost their lives to this storm. Please let me indulge for a moment. Yesterday I grieved and prayed with you. Today, I’d like to smile.

So, here they are… some of my favorite Vermonterisms taken from one of my favorite books “The Vermont Owner’s Manual” by Frank Bryan and Bill Mares. This is truly a delightful book.

Here are some snippets from Chapter 4 (Ground Hog Day and other important dates on your Vermont calendar)

LABOR DAY

“Work like hell. Winter’s coming.”

THANKSGIVING

“Remember this: Even Dunkin’ Donuts is closed! Here is a generic Vermont turkey blessing in case you need one:

Bless this turkey, oh Lord, and all the other turkeys in the state – many of whom are relatives. Bless the game warden for being on the other side of town when I shot this baby out of season. We call your attention to Uncle Charlie and ask you to help him find his way out of Victory Bog where he went hunting last Tuesday…. Finally, as we partake of the bounty this great state has delivered, keep us from chomping down on any of the No. 2 shot with which I blew this magnificent bird off the top of Wayne Wheeler’s manure pile.”

JANUARY 4

“This is the worst day of the year in Vermont and therefore the best. Is is often 20 below and cold white covers every horizon. But Vermonters know something very important. It is a teensy bit lighter at 4:00 p.m. than it was on January 3rd.”

GROUND HOG DAY

“Vermonters, especially, welcome the appearance of the first “woodchuck.” The best thing about Ground Hog Day is that it’s only a month from Town Meeting Day, which is only a month from trout season. Vermont is one-third nostalgia and two-thirds hope.”

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This is one of my favorite Vermont jokes. Yes, my children are groaning right now…

An old-timer pulled up to a gas station to fuel up his moped when along came a flatlander driving a fancy red automobile. The two eyed each other with wariness, finished their tasks and went on their way.

A light step on the gas pedal and the flatlander quickly passed the old man. He watched with great satisfaction as the moped disappeared in his rear view mirror.

A few seconds later, though, he noticed the tiny dot growing larger and larger until the old man whizzed on by him.

Indignant, the flatlander stepped a bit harder on the aforementioned pedal and passed the old man with ease. The evil grin disappeared when the moped, a tiny dot in his rear view mirror didn’t stay tiny for very long.

Before the flatlander could yell “Where’s the local McDonald’s!” the old man flew by once again.

Not to be outdone by an old geezer, he downshifted, passed the man and left him chewing on dust.

Indignation turned to astonishment when the tiny dot in his rear view mirror once again grew larger and larger until…

Well, you get the picture.

The flatlander could take no more. He slowed his car, eased it to the side of the road and climbed out to confront the now-panting old man on the moped.

“What is that you’re driving?” he demanded.  “How did you do that?”

The old man, his white hair in disarray and scarlet cheeks fought to catch his breath.

“Well?” He demanded again. “Tell me how fast you were going?”

“Don’t know,” the old man finally answered. “Got my suspendah caught on your door.”

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To complete this post, I’d like to leave a toast for you. It was printed in a little booklet called “The Story of Old Vermont in Pictures.” Though Captain William Watson was speaking to the English in the Revolutionary War, I’ll modify this and name the enemy. If superstorm “Sandy” was a human, I would kick her ass…

“To Sandy, the Enemy of our Country! May she have cobweb breeches, a porcupine saddle, a hard-trotting horse and an eternal journey.”

I hope your day has at least one moment of joy, one instance of hope and peace. You are all in my heart.

Sue

Tom-Foolery

a wandering pony for Sue…

(this post was inspired by a dear cyber-friend who noticed my fixation on wandering ponies. )

Dear Rosa,

I wonder if you would’ve understood my magnificent obsession, my love affair with the horse? For you they were survival. For me they were high fantasy.

I always wanted a pony. As a girl, I passed through the ritualistic time of early teenage years wanting, craving, BEGGING for a pony.

Just a small one? I pleaded.

Not even a small one.

We could use the old barn…

Nope, that’s for storing dead cars and wood (okay I added the “dead” part) and besides, we don’t have a pasture.

Ah, I said, knowing I’d thought everything out in meticulous detail, we can make one in the back yard…

Back yard floods every spring, Tudes. We’re not getting a pony.

Mooommmmm…

You heard your father, she answered from the other room.

Drat. Foiled again.

My teenage obsession grew into a love affair with all things horses. I lived, breathed and planned for these wonderful creatures to be part of my life someday. I begged for lessons and got a few. Not many, just enough to satisfy the craving, not enough to fall in love with any particular horse. Then the day came when one decided to take me for a ride, literally. There was no stopping the beast that simply wanted to head home; to warm oats, its companions and greener pastures.

I was shaken, not harmed, and learned a valuable lesson that day. Such beauty came with a price tag; one I wasn’t willing to pay. So I gave up my obsession and settled into to adulthood loving horses from afar.

Flash forward a few years and enter my world as parent of a pre-teen girl. Yup, you guessed it. The obsession it turned out was hereditary.

What do you want for your birthday this year, Sarah? She was turning 9. I should’ve guessed.

A wandering pony (okay, I added the “wandering” part).

Nice try.

Okay, riding lessons?

There was no mistaking the hopeful tone in that little voice.

Lessons? Doable.

And so we did and well, one thing led to another and soon we owned that magnificent, ornery, beautiful, cranky mare called Sadie. My mistake letting her fall in love with her lesson pony.

Flash forward a few years again.

Sarah still rides Sadie. She’s loyal to that moody mare when all I want to do is… well, let’s say sell her because that’s much kinder. It beats the heck out of me how that horse will let a three-year-old ride, smooth as silk and kick her heals up at Sarah.

And how shall I describe her?

Sadie’s a love. She’s a devil. When Sarah decided our pure-blood American Quarter horse should have a show name, I suggested “Sadie Sweet and Sour.”

And me? Now that I own one of these creatures, has my magnificent obsession come back?

You betcha.

Do I ride?

Nope. Ain’t nothing on God’s green earth gonna get me on the back of that beast. I’ve watched Sarah manage every buck, spook and quiver. I’ve watched her sail with unnatural grace over Sadie’s head and pop up unharmed when I would’ve broken every bone in my body, even the ones in my nose.  I’ve listened to stories about how that horse took her for a little “ride” in the pastures only stopping at the last-minute and on her agenda, not Sarah’s.

Brat horse. Goober. Dufus. She comes to all those names.

So, you might ask, why do we keep her?

Sigh. She is kinda pretty, with that velvet copper-color coat, those long black leggings and plump rump. She can be sweet when she wickers at my approach. She does SO love to be groomed, pampered and petted. I’ve no skill in the saddle, but apparently I am a horse whisperer.

I discovered that when you pet a horse’s ears, it puts them to sleep.

Tom-Foolery

Tommy and Shotgun…

Were we ever that young? That’s Tom, little blonde to the left of Dan, the one with the glasses and doesn’t he look happy?

Dear Rosa,

The crows were loud this morning. Seems it’s the only sound this time of year. Most Vermonters have a hate/hate affair with this pesky, coal-black bird. Ask anyone and they’ll describe them as loud, grating, garbage-spreading nuisances. But my brother, Tommy, he would’ve described them a bit differently.

Seems he had one once as a pet.

So, Tom, I asked recently, tell me about Shotgun.

Got your pen ready, Tudes? Here we go…

It was nigh on 35 years ago, I was driving with Dad up Dole Hill. We were gonna do some partridge hunting. (I’ll edit this next part for those of you who do not condone hunting…) In the hubbub, a crow was caught by some buckshot…

Can I keep him? Poor bird had a broken wing and was flopping all over the place.

Sure, Dad said.

And why is it my father let him keep this dang creature? All I wanted was a pony for crying out loud! But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, back to the story about ANOTHER brother who got to take one home…

Why would you shoot at a crow? I had to ask.

Tom chuckled and said in that direct, forceful way of his. I was fifteen! Do you know how many red squirrels I took out? I was the Terror of the Pines…

I laughed then, but not for all those sad little squirrels, but for the imagery Tom was painting… of him, the mighty hunter, one eye cocked and listening for the savage squirrel to attack.

Named him Shotgun, he continued, because, well he was shot. By a shotgun.

Another example of how terribly uninspired my family was when it came to naming. Want more examples? More proof? Go to my post called “Quaker-Duck.” Just the name says it all…

Kept him in the basement, fed him canned corn and fresh worms I bought from the local store.

He was beautiful, I added and smart. I remember how he’d tilt his head when you talked to him, like he was trying to understand.

Yup, yup, Tom agreed, smacking his lips. He was all that.

So, what happened to him? I prompted. I remember it was cold – didn’t you take him outside or something?

Lost him to a snowball fight.

Come again?

It was winter. I had him out back in my snow fort. He was my sidekick.

Your sidekick.

Sure, sure. Steve was hunkered down behind his snow fort and I decided to rush him. I yelled to Shotgun “hold the fort” and leapt out. When I came back, he was gone.

He has a way with words, my brother, doesn’t he? I have to thank him for being brave, for admitting all the gory details of how Shotgun came to be. I have to give him props for confessing, unlike another brother of mine. One who once brought home a baby duck…

Tom-Foolery

Sock-wackers

Dear Rosa,

See now, this I know we got from you – as direct descendants from poverty, my generation learned how to make do, how to craft simple games from scavenged items and find joy with no money involved. Tag was for the weak, the uninspired. And football? Baseball? Kickball? How boring, unless, of course, you combined all three. At the same time.

On long, rainy fall days, my brothers and I would roam restlessly through the house, looking for God knows what and driving our mother to distraction. Our whining knew no limits until she finally lost her remaining thread of patience and kicked us out.

Go, make something up, she said and pointed to the front door.

But mooommmmm…. it’s wet outside, we bleated, and it’s getting darrrkkkk…

Now.

The order was not to be disobeyed.

Wind had arrived with the rain, bringing the leaves down in a carpet of reds and golds. Beautiful, but we were kids, who cared about that stuff.

You know, Jimmy, I said, kicking the leaves with my foot. This could be kinda fun…

Too wet to jump in sis – unless you want to go ahead.

No, I murmured, not jump in…

But wack with, he finished my sentence.

We flew into the house, ignoring my mom’s protests of wet shoes and mud tracking to seek the bottom drawer of the coat closet.

Ah yes, the bottom drawer. A place of wonder and secrets and treasures. Among other things, Dad and David kept their wool hunting socks there… you know the kind- long, grey with a band of orange on top? And just what was with that splash of color – what idiot would tuck their pants into their socks? Oops, they did, apparently.

We secreted our treasure outside…

And packed the ends, just the toes, with the wettest, most smelly decayed leaves we could find. Jim’s grin said it all.

The first wack left a wet smudge just below my knee. My aim was true-er and he took a hit full force on the back.

Peels of laughter now rang out in the dark, a mysterious calling that beckoned the local kids to rouse from their wood stove-induced lethargy and venture outside to see what all the commotion was about.

It didn’t take long for more to join in.

Soon there were a half-dozen screaming, running, wacking kids in our yard.

A moment of peace, that’s all Mom wanted and that’s what we were giving her. Well, at least we were outside…

After countless strikes, the socks lost their elasticity and began to stretch, but we didn’t mind. In fact, we liked it – longer socks gave us room to manuever. One didn’t have to venture as close to the enemy to get in a good hit.

Did we catch holy-hell for this malarky?

Sure we did.

Was it worth it?

You betcha.

Did we do it again?

Countless times, only we used the same socks so they would never know. Please don’t tell them, it’s a secret.

Tom-Foolery

Quacker-duck

Dear Rosa,

With two sons you must’ve known the mischief they would make. The daring deeds they would seek to accomplish. The stitches they would need.

With four brothers there was never an end to the shenanigans in sight for my poor parents. And Jim, the youngest, the cutest, always seemed to get away with the most. Take, for instance, the day he brought home a baby white duck.

Dad peered into the box and looked at Jim. Where’d you get him? It was more of an accusation and not so much of a question.

Found him.

Wanna try that again?

Found him by the road.

And why would Dad leave it at that? Was it because the duck was so fluffy, innocent and harmless looking? And what if I’d brought a wandering pony home, would he’ve let me keep it? Dang, wished I tried…

Our clan were poor namers. Sorry, just saying. For proof, one need only know we named our dog Whiskers because he had long whiskers and our guinea pig Wheet-Wheet because it said, well, wheet-wheet. Thus Quacker-duck was named and it stuck.

Quacker soon grew out of his small cardboard box and began roaming the yard. A beautiful thing he was with his long neck and yellow feet. And white. Pure, snow white. He was also a duck of perpetual motion. He’d tilt his head when the phone rang and wiggle his hind-end. That was my favorite part – the way he’d shake that tail…

Now, you would think we’d know better. He was a duck. So why were we surprised when the little girl next door screamed in fright, “Mommy, mommy, there’s a duck in my pool!”

Quacker loved our ’69 Chevy Impala. More to the point, he loved his reflection in the shiny chrome wheels. Thought it was another duck and just look how splendid a specimen… Took at least two of us to help mom to leave the yard with that car. She’d get in and Jim and I would chase him round and round – he simply wasn’t going to let that beauty go. He’d wait by the end of the driveway and always seemed to know when she was coming home.

With winter coming, we knew we couldn’t keep him. Didn’t have a place for him to stay warm and so Clarence, who had chickens agreed to adopt our duck. Our magnificent stallion duck could stand watch over his “ladies.”

Don’t know how long Quacker lived. Not sure if it was one winter or two. Whatever it was, Clarence delivered the bad news one day. Said there was feathers scattered throughout his yard and Quacker-duck was dead.

There aren’t any pictures of Quacker, but I do have one of the scamp that brought him home. Perhaps he would’ve been just a bit older than in this photo, but looking at all that innocence, I can now understand how helpless my mom and dad were against his charm.

So Jim, where’d you get him? I asked today.

Um, there were three ducks and I refuse to say as it may incriminate me.

A grown man and he still can’t confess.

Come on, spill it.

Let’s just say they were floating on a pond off Stonybrook Road.

Wait, I interrupted, there were three? I only remember one.

Well, the Clough boys took two, but their mom and dad made them bring them back.

I had to laugh. Perhaps I should take a page from his book and go find me a wandering pony.

Then again, I’m just not that cute.

Tom-Foolery

Kitchen tunks and parlor tunes…

Dear Rosa,

This I know you must’ve loved: the music of rural Vermont. Kitchen tunks and parlor tunes. Move the furniture aside and let the dancing begin. Bring a dish to share, a pint of the good brew and viist with the neigbors…

Summers are short in Vermont and busy. Planting, harvesting, putting up the jams and pickles. Nothing nostalgic about the life you led – it was survival come snow season.

It’s a long, brutal winter we have. Starts late October, doesn’t let up until early May. Once the canning is done, the wood’s put up and deer season’s passed, it’s time to relax by the fire and visit with the neighbors.

If your kitchen wasn’t big enough to hold them all, there was always the Grange Hall. That was were my uncles played.

Just look at them – full of the devil and just itching to take on life. The youngster on the left is my Uncle Everett. Continued to play throughout his life until the alcohol ruined his eyesight and his hands shook too much.

He could play anything, Suss, my dad said, was a concert violinist. A damn shame about the drinking…

Everett was always the poor one of the family-  the black sheep, but smart. He was an inventor and held patents. So why did he end up dead before his time? Another victim of the horrific memories of the Great War?

Earle’s fourth from the right. Played fiddle with this group – called the dances in the 1920’s. He also played guitar on the Ticonderoga – the largest steam boat that floated on Lake Champlain. Wish I could say I liked him more. But I didn’t. Don’t know many that did.

Arrogance is a trait that leaves me cold. I never existed to him, never mattered. I don’t remember him ever calling me by name or asking me how school was going. Just as well, I liked him less than he liked me.

Drank bourbon in his coffee when he came to visit Gram. Sat there like the pompous ass he was and challenged my dad to best him.

Henry, he’d say, take a look at my new Cadillac. Got it yesterday. What are you driving these days?

Dad would duly oblige and goggle at his sweet ride. Didn’t respond to Earle’s provocation – Earle knew damn well we were driving the same ’69 Chevy Impala we’d been driving for umpteen years.

Didn’t want’ to go to Earle’s funeral. The man was a right bastard and as far as I was concerned, his death meant nothing to me. But my husband understood. He knew other’s in the family would be there – Lilah, Hiram and Rae, others I might never see again. He was right, still it rankled…

I’m glad they spread their music, though, glad they had a moment of joy and shared that with others. Life was hard for both of them, yet for this one frozen moment, they were happy, young and carefree.

Tom-Foolery

Tom-foolery

Dear Rosa,

I wonder if you liked snakes as much as I did as a kid. Loved them, actually. Well, not the garter snakes that grew too big and bit you if you got too close… no, the tiny chocolate-brown snakes with the red-orange bellys.

I knew all the good spots to find them, they liked the field behind the abandoned house on Lover’s Lane. They were thin and hard to catch but oh, so rewarding when you did. I let them wrap around my fingers and watched in endless fascination as they curled up and made themself comfortable. On hot summer days they felt cool and soft and I just couldn’t get over their colors. What was with that orange belly anyways?

Brought them home – couldn’t just leave them there, now could you?

Can’t keep them, sis, Jim said.

Can too. I squared my shoulders ready for a fight.

Dad won’t let you.

Dad doesn’t need to know.

And he didn’t, at least that’s what I believed for a long time. Put them in a glass jar with a metal lid and snuck them into the basement. Damned if they weren’t always gone in the morning.

You’re in trouble nowww… Why did Jim like that so much?

You have to poke a hole in the lid – they breathe air. Duh?!

Yeah, well, now they’re gone.

Well, help me LOOK!

Nope, those beauties would never be found, not by us anyways.

Payback came dozens of years later when my oldest daughter fell in love with snakes. What was that sticking out of the living room floor vent? I moved closer. Oh, brother. A garter snake.

Have I not taught you anything?

But mom….

Out of the house with that thing, right now, young lady. And wash your hands.

You liked snakes- No missing that accusatory tone.

Yeah, but cool ones like orange-bellied brown snakes.

She just grumbled as she headed outside to her terrarium filled with baby garter snakes and I hid my smile.

Since a parent does knows everything, I just have to assume my parents did, too.