From an early draft of the memoir, Looking South on Main, a work in progress.
Photographs don’t really show the gradient of the incline in the ten acres behind what used to be the inn, the land that used to be Jesse Fisk’s horse training area and exhibition paddock, and the trails that run from that up through the woods to the little cabin that now belongs to the heirs of Esther from down the dirt road, although I’m not sure if she has died yet. Her two sons have, however, died, and while we had an odd relationship with our peculiar neighbors, I feel a tremendous grief.
The November snow has just blanketed the hill from what is now our home up through the woods to the cabin. The larger inn building just below us stands empty as that neighbor has died as well. The woman who was Jessie Fisk’s great-grand niece could tell me a lot more about winters on our acreage but she was never one to talk much to us and now she is dead too. As I climb the hill with our Golden Retriever, I can look down over the village and see the roofs of everyone’s houses.
When we first purchased the property we ran it as an inn, both buildings and two barns, one collapsed in 2003 and the other, Jesse’s horse barn, barely made it through this past winter. Costly surgical incisions on the barn’s midsection and five dumpsters later, it stands hopefully for another two hundred years. I believe Jesse’s ghost is pleased.
In the years after 9-11, the tourism industry and the insurance industry changed and most of the old mom and pop inns in central Vermont closed. I’m writing a book about all that but it is slow going. I get caught up in memories.
I stand up at the top after my slow climb, the climb I make myself do on a regular basis to combat the autoimmune crap that has invaded my lungs, and I look out over the snow, grateful for the memories that come to me every so often.
In the winter of 2003, a family from Texas came to the inn for a week’s stay. Mother, father, 13 year old boy and his friend. These boys had never seen snow. The snow in our village was particularly deep and white and perfect that year. There were lights and decorations and people and a lot of holiday energy. Lumineria lined the dirt road on Christmas Eve. A fire roared in the old shale fireplace. The inn was full.
We only had dial-up then, one cord from the phone jack in the dining room. No Wi-Fi. Cell phones barely worked. A black and white TV in the smaller building, which is now our home, ran off an antenna with two local stations. The boys didn’t miss a beat. Snow! My husband found them some warmer clothes, extra mittens, shovels and plastic bags to line their boots, and off they went, up the hill with our Black Lab George (who had waited his whole life for this moment) to figure out this thing called snow. Our daughter, then 11, looked up briefly from her Game Boy and grimaced.
Five days later we had a luge run from the tree line to the road. There must be some metaphor for my thinking of this today, some reason I can’t find a single photograph of those boys and their hard won masterpiece. The only evidence is a handwritten letter from the parents addressed to George thanking him for such a good time. And besides a surprising gratitude to have remembered this, all I have is just a deep regret that I didn’t climb up the hill and sail down the pipeline to the road myself. Was I too busy with a full inn? Did I think the opportunity would present itself again? Was it before of after my mother died? Maybe I did it and have forgotten?
I follow another neighbor’s cross-country ski tracks down the hill and find all sorts of critter markings and watch our dog make snow angels and promise myself to come back up here more often, next time with a sled.