Friday, March 19, 2010


Donna, Mediterranean dark skin and hefty but younger than her years. Donna had a ranch house on a street that looked more like a suburb than the way Vermont was supposed to look. She wondered if when I went back from this brief scouting trip I could find someone in New York who would like to rent her house for the summer. She would stay in the basement, which, in suburban style, had been made livable when her late mother had the house built. She needed money to complete her studies, for she was to leave at summer’s end for Union on her way to being a Congregational minister.

And anyway she was alone. She used to live with Kate, who was now, they said, dying of cancer, though I had seen Kate, who was still ambulatory and to me seemed a normal, graying, wise-cracking middle-aged lady. Donna said Kate’s situation made her furious. It was almost as if she and Kate had been married. A world here in Vermont, on my brief scouting trip, in which everyone was connected.

I was staying with Peter and Julie and had arranged to use their guest room for a nominal rent later into the summer when I came back. I hinted that it might not just be for the summer.

On Sunday evening, the night before I was to drive down to the city, I went with Peter and Julie and Donna and their pretty, bouncy friend Lucy to a band concert on the green. Even a factory town in Vermont had a green with a bandstand in the center. We sat on blankets. The music, bandsmen of all ages, was enthusiastic. Children chased each other around the bandstand, which was just the way it had always been, said Julie, who had lived here when she a child. “Round and round,” she said. “Round and round. “Look at them. There they go. Just like always.” She was savoring her words and the scene.

And her focus on the scene made her attractive. It made me stop comparing her to Peter’s first wife Gay whom I had known because she was the sister of the my girlfriend Vannie’s old college roommate at Agnes Scott in Georgia, his first wife Gay, to whom I had introduced him and who was appealingly na├»ve and almost helpless, and had gone to college at the University of Florida because it had a circus school. But she and Peter fought all the time, and Peter seemed to fight only in the mildest ways with Julie. Way back there had been violent episodes when he was drunk, something not unheard of in the world we’d lived in.

The air was clear, maybe because most industry in New England had by now failed. We were in the middle of this old mill city, very close to the strip with its national franchises, but the air still smelled of countryside.

We were joined on the green by a school principal who looked like a younger version of the grim man in the Grant Wood painting American Gothic painting, his wife like the stern woman. I could picture him standing ramrod straight and holding onto a pitchfork. When we saw them coming Julie had quietly filled me in on how the school principal after his first wife died had been going with his prettiest teacher, the art teacher, who was Lucy, but Lucy had dropped him because he was a Republican. So he had wound up with this stern woman who was with him here. The two of them looking more like out of American Gothic than ever when seen beside Lucy.

I thought of New Hampshire. Children did not run around village bandstands there. In fact village greens were rare there. And the summer people there had no such connections with the people who lived in the place year round. And the summer people’s children were usually put with their nurses or governesses in special little houses, or in our case in a distant wing of a big house.

“Round and round,” Julie was saying again. Just like it's always been. “Look at them.”

The room I was using in their house, the room I was to have for the summer, had the clean wood smell I remembered of big summer houses though this was a compact year-round house. This was where he and Julie really lived – just like the other people in Rutland.

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