You're my favorite.

No, really - you are.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My mother is in Vermont right now visiting her parents and has been for the last 3 ½ weeks. She comes home Saturday. I grew up going to Vermont every summer for at least two weeks, sometimes longer. Getting there is a full day of travel. We'd always get up early in the morning and go to Stapleton, later DIA, to catch the first flight. After a layover, usually in Chicago, we'd end up in Burlington or Manchester, and then have to drive two hours (now one and a half since they raised the speed limit) to South Strafford, a town of about 900 people. The entrance to their driveway is 1.48 miles up a steep and winding dirt road; in the summer it's fine, but in winter or mud season (early spring when the snow melts and turns the road to muck), it can be impassable without four-wheel-drive. We know it's 1.48 miles because a few years ago someone (the state? The county? I have no idea) decided that people on their road should have addresses and 148 became my grandparents'.

I loved going to Vermont. My aunt and uncle and four cousins lived on the land next to my grandparents, and we were back and forth between the houses all day long. Both had ponds that we were in and out of constantly, swimming, catching frogs and salamanders, playing water games. We'd often put on swim suits when we got up and not take them off till bedtime. I remember days that the water was as warm as bathwater, when steam would rise off it first thing in the morning as the early morning chill and the warm water collided.

My sister and I were the youngest of the cousins. I was a year younger than my youngest cousin and Amy four years younger than me. We played with Annika and Jesse mostly; Sarah and Caitlin were the big girls, way older and with their own lives but still lots of fun when they were around. When we'd go to Coburns, the town store, with my grandmother, often someone would look at us two little blond girls and say that we must be related to those Hawkins girls. We were proud to be recognizable, proud to be part of the town in some small way.

As we got older, we spent hours reading, book after book, some from the Hawkins' house and some from the tiny town library that was only open two half-days a week. When we ran out of books from the South Strafford library, we started going to the library in Hanover, 30 minutes away. Our grandmother would check out dozens of books for us on her card.

My grandfather used to be a photographer. Half-naked pictures of us as little girls are on their walls, running past the pond, playing in the sand. When I was little, I didn't care that we were half-naked; as I got older, I did. I got older again and stopped caring again.

My grandmother always had pints of Ben and Jerry's in the freezer. Because they were only an hour from the factory, Coburns got the Ben & Jerry's seconds, pints with chunks that were too big or too few, anything that didn't meet standards. Every night after dinner we'd choose a flavor for dessert. Sometimes we'd have ice cream several times a day. It was summer.

In college and years after, I'd take the train or the bus, or occasionally fly, to Vermont for long weekends – Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Easter. My grandparents were getting older; my grandfather started forgetting the last time he'd seen me. I saw them three or four times a year, taking friends up with me sometimes. We'd go to the Ben and Jerry's factory, admire the scenery, go out for pancakes with real maple syrup. I saw the Vermont foliage, frozen ponds, spring flowers for the first time after eighteen years of summers.

The last time I was in Vermont was last summer. We went for a long weekend, for a beautiful wedding that did not become a beautiful marriage. My grandparents are no longer getting older. Now they are older. My grandfather's memory floats, and sometimes he seems better, and sometimes he doesn't know who I am. My grandmother takes care of him and will not move into an assisted living facility until she has to because she knows that the beauty of their surroundings is about all my grandfather can still appreciate on a daily basis. They met Ben and my grandmother told me she liked him. I don't think my grandfather will ever see Ben again. I don't know that I will ever see my grandfather again. I send them cards to tell them I love them, and I hope to get out there again in the relatively near future, but I don't know when that will be.