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.
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.