My sisters and brother live in New England, which is where we all grew up. They don’t live in our hometown, though. Jay lives in Lyndonville, Vermont, and my sisters (and one of my aunts) live in a little town where our dad grew up, Ayer, Massachusetts. My aunt lives in the “ancestral” home, a fairly large grey clapboard house with a huge backyard that rolls down to a pond, which for most of my life was nothing but a weed-filled body of water. But it’s a pond nonetheless, and my grandfather would let us throw in a line baited with an earthworm now and then. It’s funny. I don’t remember ever catching a fish, just throwing in a line. My sisters live in a little yellow cottage next door, which used to belong to scary, mysterious people by the name of Fernald.
I recently visited them all, the excuse for the trip being my high school reunion, in Framingham, about 45 minutes away. I flew into Boston, where the planes fly out over the Atlantic and bank around to approach the airport. When I was in college, and came home for Christmas or summer, the sight of the ocean made my heart seize up with joy at finally being where I belonged. Now, it is just a wonderful memory and a beautiful sight: the lighthouse, the three-decker houses, the sailboats. These days, it’s the Mississippi River and the bluffs that stop my heart.
My sister Susan picked me up at Logan Airport, and we went to Ayer to pick up my rental car. My online reservation hadn’t come through, and a beautifully dressed young man told me there were no more cars. I asked for a telephone book to look up other car rental places, which he seemed puzzled by. He professed no knowledge of other rental sites, and wrinkled his brow at the mention of a “phone book.” Finally he said, “I could look it up on my phone.” I could have done the same, but was running out of juice. “That would be nice,” I said. He wrote down a number or two, and dismissed us by picking up the office phone and making a call that obviously didn’t involve our search for a car. We heard him asking if whoever was on the other end of the line had a car, because a person, whose name was not Edstrom, was coming in to pick one up and he had none.
We left and drove a town over where we found an Avis where a nice kid dressed as if he were on his way to the beach rented me a nice Chrysler 200, and we were on our way to Vermont, a three-hour drive north.
My brother is getting married on New Year’s Eve, and this trip was perhaps the last time I would stay in his house, a beautiful little “bow” house that he built in a meadow, with breathtaking views of the White Mountains.
He and Phyllis, his intended, were waiting for us with a dinner of lobster (very cheap, they told us, this year) fall-off-the-bone ribs, and corn on the cob. We caught up on the news, and Phyllis had to leave because she had school the next day in Danville, where she teaches,
about twenty minutes away.
The next day we toured the sights, which are familiar from our younger days when my parents had a cottage, called a “camp” up there, on a small body of water called Center Pond. We didn’t go to the camp, not wanting to disturb the current owner, but went to the public boat launch and looked up the pond to the place where we spent so many lazy hours swimming, reading on the porch swing, playing Kings in the Corner and sleeping on thin little mattresses that had large valleys in the center of them. The large rocks that we paddled or rowed out to - Happy Rock and Picnic Rock, our private names for them - looked far away and lonely.
We had a great burger at a favorite restaurant in East Burke, at the foot of Burke Mountain, a big ski hill. The River Garden Cafe will be closing for good at the end of the month, so we wanted one last chance to visit. On the way home, I took a picture of Carmen’s Ice Cream Shop, a favorite place of my children, and could almost taste that sweet, cold delight that contributed to the predictable weight gain on visits to my parents in the old days.
Jay had to work later. He’s a Homeland Security guy at a border crossing with Canada. He told us the agency is gearing up for an influx of drug cartel dealers and smugglers, who have begun to set up business in a big way in our neighbor to the north.
Susan and I drove to her house, where we found our other sister, Mary Ann, home from work, and their four cats, who looked at me with suspicion and ran to guard their food bowls.
You can go home again. It’s just always changing and changed. Thank God for memories.