Not Even A Store



I grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, in the town of New Haven. I wasn’t happy about it. When people would say, “It’s so lovely here!” I’d reply, “It’s great if you like trees.” When people would say, “The mountains are so beautiful!” I’d reply, “Yeah, they’re all around us, basically we’re trapped.” When people would say, “Smell that fresh air!” I’d reply, “That’s cow manure.”

I longed for a more urban life, one filled with next door neighbors closer than a quarter mile, paved sidewalks where a boy could roller skate, and numerous opportunities to earn, as well as spend, money.

The closest store to my house was Napoleon’s, located at the intersection of US Route 7 and VT Route 17 in New Haven Junction. One of my favorite ways to spend a summer day, when I didn’t have to help with haying or other chores, was to walk two miles along the railroad tracks to Napoleon’s store, a general store which sold all and sundry: cheese, milk, eggs, nails, hammers, work gloves, and of course souvenirs. I was always accompanied by my younger sister, Barbara. My mother insisted we walk along the tracks because she felt dodging the very infrequent trains safer than braving the brisk traffic of US Route 7.

These trips were always preceded by hours and miles of searching along the sides of our country road for empty soda and beer bottles. These we would haul home, wash, and tote to the store for the two cents deposit, then spend our money on root beer barrels, Tootsie Pops, Cokes, and whatever else we could afford.

One day I was picking out my loot when a car with out-of-state plates pulled up front. Two women, their faces thick with makeup and their bodies reeking of perfume, stepped out of the back seat, and two men got out of the front seat. Everyone was dressed better than anyone who went to my church. The women were holding hats on their heads, and talking.

“Isn’t this something!” one exclaimed.

“It’s priceless,” the other said.

The men just smiled, and then one said, “I’ll take a picture! You girls get up on the steps.”

“No, wait,” the first woman said. Then she clacked into the store, looked around, and seeing me, said, “Young man, would you mind taking our picture in front of the store?”

“Why?” I asked.

“We don’t have anything like this where we come from,” she said.

Performing at VPR’s “Vermont’s Funniest Stories”

I was stunned. I agreed, and went outside. The man handed me a camera, showed me how to aim, and where to press to click a photo.

“Be sure you get the front of the store,” one woman said.

“And the sign,” said the other, pointing upwards.

When they left, I watched as their car pulled away, thinking I had it pretty lucky. I wondered where those people could have come from, that they didn’t even have a store.

Putting The “Pain” Back Into “Painting”

My wife believes we should do things ourselves.

Obviously, she’s wrong. But I’m the sort of husband who would rather be happy than be right, so when she suggests we paint the garage, I agree. “After all,” I think, “painting will make me miserable for a while, but my wife can make me miserable forever.”

paint brush

The misery of painting begins with scraping. Scraping, my wife explains, is preliminary to painting. It is a chore which requires me to scrape the paint already on the garage off the garage. No, really! I mean it. Before you paint, you remove paint. Not all the paint, of course, only the loose paint which is flaking off. Which, in the case of our garage, is all the paint.

Scraping sounds tedious and unpleasant, but in reality it is much worse. The tool used is nearly identical to the very first tool ever made by humans zillions of years ago: a flat blade. Improvements have been limited to putting two blades on the scraper (so as to double your opportunities for injury), and a wooden handle. Though the latter may very well have been available with the original tool. In our industrial age, the handle is painted a pretty color, typically black (to match your mood) or red (to match your blood).

The scraping technique itself is basically scraping. I can’t put it any simpler than that. Holding the handle of the tool, you put the metal blade (which is curved so that it is perpendicular to the handle; I mention this because I rarely get to use the word “perpendicular”) against the side of the building, and simultaneously push toward the building and pull downward. Normally this part of a painting job is fairly perfunctory (another word I rarely get to use, and possibly don’t understand); and most of the old paint stays put.

But our garage is special.

First of all, there is no primer on the wood (all this technical jargon I learned from my wife). Primer is a paint-like substance you apply to wood before you paint. Essentially, that means evertything must be painted twice, doubling my joy. I don’t know what gives primer superior stickiness than paint, but something better. Paint then sticks to the primer (I’m guessing now, but that must be it, don’t you think?).

Anyway, since there is no primer coat, all the paint on our garage is happily flaking off. The good news is that it’s easy to scrape. The not-so-good news is I must scrape the entire building.

Painting (either primer or paint) is the process of rubbing paint onto the surface of the boards which make up the walls of our garage.

To accomplish this, I use a tool called a brush. As the name implies, it is a brush. Brushes used to be made of animal hairs, and you can still buy brushes like that, if you can afford them. But most of us purchase the synthetic type. By the way, here’s a little tip: buy really cheap brushes. They don’t last very long, and soon all the bristles are adhering to the paint and you must throw the brush away, which saves you the trouble of cleaning it.

Of course eventually I will complete this job. A quick look at the sides of the cans of paint reveals that most of them are guaranteed for 10 to 30 years (why are we using 10 year paint when 30 year paint is available? We’re not that old!). Of course those are paint years, which may be similar to dog years, only not so long. So I figure we’ll be due for another paint job on the garage as soon as we finish painting the house.

Hmmmm, maybe I should tell my wife she’s wrong….