Gallivanting with Grandpa

me little better
Me at about the time of this story.

It’s a sunny summer day in 1974. My family is on a visit to my grandparents house in Vermont. I like these trips because I can spend a lot of time outside in my grandparents back yard. Sometimes on days like today, my grandfather will be outside, working in his garden, fetching water from a big barrel filled with a mixture of cow dung and water. It smells terrible but he tells me it helps makes the plants grow. And so my grandfather feeds the plants with manure water. In between ladling smelly water on to his tomatoes, he takes a drink of something else smelly – red wine.

On this day, when my grandfather finishes up his garden work he takes my hand and walks a little unsteadily around the side of the house to the front walk. Instead of turning left to go back inside, we turn right. We walk past Paini Monuments, a small low building with a bunch of tombstones sitting out front. They’re all blank with just artwork on it, ready, I later learn, to be bought and personalized. I like to run my fingers across the rough granite top and the smooth, glass-like finish of the front. This is where I learned what granite was and where I also learned the word “quarry” a big deep hole my grandfather used to work in before it closed and he started work at the factory making wood paneling for people’s walls. It was the early 1970’s and there was a great demand for it.

A bit further and we walked past the hundred year old red brick house of Mrs. Noble. Mrs. Noble was pretty old – I’d only seen her once – a small woman with permed white hair.  We often walked here because my grandfather’s other garden was there. It was here I learned to pick potato bugs from the plants and hand them to my grandfather who would put them in a mason jar of kerosene. If we didn’t do this, he said, they would eat all of our potatoes. But today we didn’t stop here. I don’t know where we’re going but I’m enjoying walking with my grandfather, hearing his stories and songs.

bethel.jpg
Google Streetview of our route – 40 years after it has changed very little.

Right after Mrs. Noble’s we reach another house with a porch. Every time we go by in our car, we would see the same man sitting on the porch playing his accordion. This time is no exception. This time, though, my grandfather is able to wave and shout a hello. I wave along with him and we get a wave in return.

This road is a busy one with many cars and trucks going by at high speed. As the trucks go by, I can feel the wind blow me a little bit toward the side of the road as the pitch of the truck’s sound shifts.  One time my grandfather hears a truck coming and stops.  “Do like I do.” he says and as the truck comes closer he holds his arm like he’s showing his muscle. I do the same. And as the truck approaches he starts to lower his elbow making it look like he’s pulling down an invisible cord with his hand. As the truck gets almost to us, I’m startled by a loud “HONK HONK”. I jump and then laugh. The truck passes by, leaving a smell behind that’s a mixture of sweet grain and sharp diesel fumes. Even then this smells like excitement. It’s the same smell I notice when we’re on the highway travelling to visit my grandparents.

We pass Christian Hill Road and he points in that direction. “That’s where I lived when I was your age. We lived near the quarry and my father, Aristo, worked there and so did my brothers. One night our house burned down. All that is left there is a chimney standing by itself now.”

We’ve been gone for a long time now, but there is still so much to see. As we get a bit further I see some signs and I practice my reading. “Medical Center” and “Vermont State Police”.  Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the railroad tracks and other times we’re even able to see the White River in the distance.

gali
The White River not far from where we walked. Doubtless, especially after a big hurricane in 2011, it’s looking a lot different than it did when I was little.

Finally, off in the distance I see the Vermont Sugar House, and next to it the black and white house I know to be my Aunt Marian’s house – my grandfather’s younger sister. We carefully cross the street and my aunt is surprised but welcomes us. A few minutes later my grandfather gives my grandmother a call and tells her where we are. We’ve been gone for almost two hours and walked three miles.

My parents arrive soon after, visibly upset. They talk about how hard it must have been for me with my little legs. I don’t know what they’re talking about. I am not the least bit tired and, in fact, had a great adventure.

In later years this story would enter the realm of family legend. It became “That time your grandfather got really drunk and took you off gallivanting over to his sister’s house.” The story would be told with a hint of exasperation, a dash of reproach, and a touch of relief that I was OK. But as for me, I’ll always remember it as my first ever adventure – one that gave me a taste for spontaneous trips where part of the fun is that it things aren’t completely thought out before setting off and you never quite know what’s going to happen.

A true story, inspired by the prompt of “Gallivant” over at Thriving not Surviving.

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