By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 11/15/2019
Occurred: 9/21/1969
Topics/Keywords: #Vermont #Travel Page Views: 4758
All about my very first multi-state trip without parents!
Chris and Paul's Trip To Vermont

In mid-September, 1969, in accordance with the plan we'd made during my visit to him, my friend Chris and I carefully saved our money until, in September, 1969, we were ready to make the journey of a lifetime: From Florida all the way up to Vermont.

When Chris first came to St. Joseph Academy, he had called himself by his first name, John; so that's what I called him, too. However, his full name was John Christopher Palmes, and for some reason at home he was called "Chris". As so many kids do, he had decided to experiment with using his "other" name when he transferred to a new school. But as I spent more time with him in the context of his family, I found myself calling him "Chris" as well. And so, that is how I will refer to him for the remainder of this memoir.

The reason we had mid-September available to us for a trip, is that a) Chris wasn't going to school in the fall; and b) I was to attend an electronics school that didn't start until mid-October. The reason we had to wait until mid-September is that I was working as a lifeguard at the Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge and that was when that seasonal job ended.

My new, 1960 Plymouth Valiant

Florida

Our means of transportation was to be my new car! I hadn't previously owned a car, ever; but with the money from my school loan, I was able to buy one. It turned out to be a white 1960 Plymouth Valiant with red interior. I was now ready to go.

I had never driven all the way to south Florida, but Chris had and insisted it could be done in ten hours. (This was before the completion of Interstate 95.) I said goodbye to Mom and Gramma and threw my suitcase into the truck and was off.

There were a few sections of I-95 in place; I was able to speed much of the way southward. Eventually, however, I had to switch over to US 1 with its traffic lights, hamlets, and row after row of gas stations and used car lots.

Along the way I passed a ramshackle building that looked so bad I was amazed it still stood at all. I got a photo of it, and spent the next hundred miles trying to come up with a humorous caption for it. I finally did.

Three more payments and it's all ours!

Three more payments and it's all ours!

As it turned out, I was to see many buildings on this trip far more dilapidated than this one.

The sun set over the Everglades shortly before I arrived at the Palmeses'.

South Florida sunset.

Chris was ready for me and he took over driving for an immediate turnaround. We got back to St. Augustine (which was on our most direct route) late and slept in my room, hoping to get an early start.

We didn't, of course. I am now in my fifties and I've still made damned few "early starts". Still, it wasn't later than 10 o'clock before we were ready; another goodbye to my parents—this one longer, because I would be gone, for the first time ever, for two weeks—and then we got into the Valiant, turned onto I-95 North, and on our way.

The trip from St. Augustine to Jacksonville was old hat, of course. Then we crossed the swampy stretches between north Florida and southern Georgia. Now we were in terra incognito. We frequently had to exit a completed stretch of I-95 and shuttle off to its older sibling, US 1, which held us up.

Georgia, South Carolina

The number of miles between Florida and South Carolina along eastern Georgia is relatively small. By evening we had reached South Carolina. It had been our intention to camp out every night to keep expenses down. But by now, between the two of us, we had driven almost from the southern tip of Florida to South Carolina and we were both too tired to try to find a campground, much less wrestle with the tent. We had passed many little Mom-and-Pop motels and motor lodges along the way; we determined to stop at one.

The place we chose consisted of charming little cottages, complete with garage! It cost us around $12 for the night. Inside were two double beds. We dragged our gear inside, cooked a can of stew on my new electric frying pan (purchased from Sears for the trip), and collapsed into our respective beds.

In the morning, we awoke early enough, though we were still pretty groggy. By morning's light, the room was a mess.

We each took showers, then stowed our gear back in the car. By then we were exhausted again, and decided that maybe a little nap wouldn't hurt. We slept until the room maid knocked on our door several hours later.

Where the face Georgia presents to the Atlantic is short, South Carolina's seems to run on forever. Moreover, I-95 was nearly non-existent in this state, so we found ourselves following US 1 most of the way. Finally, with maybe 100 miles of South Carolina remaining ahead of us, we pulled into campground that allowed tents and provided electric hookups for trailers. I used the hookup for my electric frying pan and cooked dinner.

Chris sings me to sleep…with my guitar.

Chris sings me to sleep…with my guitar.

I had gotten the pup tent at the Army-Navy store. It cost me $12 and I was very happy with it, though it was a little snug for Chris. Chris was 6 foot 5, but the tent was only 6 feet long. Still, by sticking his feet through the door, he was able to keep most of him inside.

In the morning, Chris cooked breakfast while I struck the tent. Then, with our gear once more stowed, we set out to finish our seemingly endless trek through South Carolina.

Cooking breakfast Striking the tent Stowing our gear

We began to encounter humorous signs for a place called South of the Border (which stills exists, albeit in a fancier form than in 1969).

You never SAUSAGE a place!

One sign bore a giant, 3-D hot dog bragging that we "never SAUSAGE a place! You're always a WEINER with Pedro!" What got Chris' attention, however, was another sign claiming that South of the Border was the "Fireworks Capital Of The USA!" We had been passing fireworks advertisements all day, and with each one I had to point out that our funds were limited, and did we really want to spend them on something that merely made a large noise and disappeared? Even if South Carolina was the only place on the East Coast where they could be legally purchased? But Chris couldn't be dissuaded, and we spent some three hours at this unbelievably kitsch-y joint browsing for firecrackers. Even now, I don't want to think about how much money Chris spent there.

North Carolina

Smoke bomb

Finally, finally, we were in North Carolina. And now, Chris began talking about trying out some of the fireworks he'd purchased. To placate him, I agreed to stop and let him set off a smoke bomb. For some reason he decided to do it right behind the car. Just as I snapped a photo of it, a kindly motorist slowed to a stop and asked if we needed any help. I was terribly embarrassed, but Chris explained we had it under control and the man continued on his way. I wouldn't talk to Chris for half an hour after that.


Chris, blinking Paul looking great

That afternoon we came upon a fire control tower. I found myself as eager to climb it—I'd never climbed one before—as Chris had been to buy fireworks. Chris was okay with it, so we parked at the base of the tower. It was unmanned, but a sign simply warned visitors to take care. We couldn't go into the locked shack at the top but we got photos of each other from as high as we could go. Chris managed to blink as his was taken, but I considered mine to be one of my best photos ever and used it as "my photo" whenever I needed one.

I can see my car from here!

The final ritual, of course, upon climbing something is to look straight down. Sure enough, we could see my car from there.

I had no idea, of course, that just ten years later I would be working at a fire control tower in the State of Florida, as a fire control dispatcher.

Or, for that matter, that I would be married and have four children by then.

The outer banks

By late afternoon we found ourselves heading for North Carolina's Outer Banks, where we intended to catch a ferry to Virginia. The road there seemed endless, though, barren and untraveled. Chris kept asking if I were sure this was the right road. I wasn't, but I was pretty sure. So I said I was certain.

It was the right road, but the wrong time. We got to the end of the pavement just as the last ferry of the night was pulling out. There was nothing to do now but spend the night.

Out tent pitched at the Outer Banks.

We had driven hard, and were willing to consider staying at the motel placed on the right side of the road, next to the ferry slip, where it could best snare unwary travelers. We asked what the room rate was, and were told a room for two would cost us about $50. That was far too expensive for us. Besides, across the street from the motel, was an inviting, grassy field. A few other people were already pitching tents there. So we did the same. Besides, the scene between us and the sea was just too pretty not to want to be a part of it.

Pastoral scene at the Outer Banks.

But it wasn't an actual campground; and there were no electric outlets for our frying pan. There was no place to build a fire, either. So we decided to eat in the restaurant associated with the hotel.

We weren't quite dressed for dinner. Chris and I each wore jeans; Chris wore a red-checked flannel shirt, while I wore a cowboy shirt unbuttoned to my sternum over a blue turtleneck. We didn't look disheveled, merely as if we had jest come in from th' corral. Nevertheless, we definitely got "the look" from the maître d' as he escorted us to our table.

And when we opened the menus he brought, we knew we were in trouble. There wasn't a thing in them we could afford. But, remember, we were both 18 and still lived in agony of being embarrassed by drawing attention to ourselves. So we didn't want to just walk out. We wound up ordering a single plate of ice cream and sharing it. We hoped we appeared to be not really hungry, just killing time with a little, idly-eaten, desert. Surely the maître d' knew perfectly well that there was nowhere else to go until the ferry arrived in the morning, but all we could do is hope he wouldn't call us on it.

The fact was, though, that we were very hungry. There were packages of saltines on the table and I decided, the ice cream had been so overpriced, we were entitled to as many as we could carry. I started slipping them between my outer cowboy shirt and inner turtleneck. Chris was incredulous but that only goaded me all the more, so that when the area between my shirts was filled, I started storing crackers in my socks and pants legs, not stopping until the generous basket on our table was empty.

By the time we had finished our ice cream, I was feeling pretty smug. On our way out of the restaurant, I said to the maître d', "We certainly got a great value here! Thanks!"

He snorted, "I see you did," and looked at the floor. My eyes followed his. With each step, I had added to a trail of crackers that stretched all the way back to our table. Chris and I bolted.


We were somewhat relieved when he didn't follow us to our tent, which was clearly visible from his station across the road. And now we had some crackers to add to the half-order of ice cream we'd each had. But we were still hungry. We had a big can of stew we could eat, if only we could heat it up. So, with no better way to pass the time, we took the electric frying pan and the stew and attempted to find an exposed electrical outlet somewhere on the outside of the motel.

Which we eventually did, in the motel's laundromat. Of course, we had forgotten to bring a can opener so Chris ran back to get it while I pre-heated the pan. In less than fifteen minutes the stew had gotten hot and Chris and I had eaten. There'd been a few moments of embarrassment but we'd gotten through them. The sun set spectacularly behind us and we settled in to sleep.

Outer Banks sunset.

…For about fifteen minutes. I had just begun to doze when a stinging itch erupted on my neck, accompanied by the unmistakable song of a female mosquito. I slapped at my neck, too late of course, when I felt another one land on my forehead. Then my ear. Next to me I could hear Chris slapping as well.

I tried pulling myself entirely into my sleeping bag, but the night was too hot and the air inside quickly grew fetid. Plus, my sleeping bag wasn't quite as long as I was; I had never intended to mummify myself in it.

We had brought Off with us; but prowling through our bags for the can was a nightmare, as it exposed my entire body to the ravages of the merciless insects. Still, eventually I found it; Chris and I sprayed each other from top to toe with the oily stuff. Mosquitoes still hovered around us, but didn't land. We were safe.

…For about four hours. We'd gone to bed at ten; at two o'clock Chris and I awoke simultaneously, itching, scratching and slapping. Another dose of Off allowed us to go back to sleep.

…For about four hours. The Off had worn off again. It was now four o'clock, two hours before the ferry was due. Chris went into the restroom at the ferry slip and stayed for about an hour, while I tried to go back to sleep. He finally returned, explaining that he'd thought there would be fewer bugs in there. He was right, but there was no place to lie down so he'd come back to the tent.

Which had fallen during the night. By the time our travel alarm went off at 5:30, the tent was just a puddle of canvas on the ground. Our activity during the night had proven too much for it. I decided then and there that future tents would have built-in screen doors and windows…even if I had to pay more than $12 for them.

We were able to board the ferry without incident but now we had a new issue: We were starving (we were 18 years old, remember); food was not sold on the ferry, and the trip would be an hour with no guarantee of a restaurant at its end.

I did have my electric frying pan. I found an electric outlet next to a water cooler and got permission to plug into it. Soon, I was scrambling eggs (while Chris pretended not to know me).

One of the crewmen, a skinny guy without teeth and an exaggerated drawl, was fascinated by the procedure. "I'll give ya ten dollars fer that thang," he offered.

"Thanks," I said, "but it cost me $20 and it's brand new. I got it from Sears," I added helpfully. "You could buy one there, yourself."

He didn't seem to have heard me. "I'll give ya ten dollars fer it," he repeated.

So I repeated my answer. This continued while I finished cooking, ate my eggs, cleaned the pan, and packed it away. As we drove off the ferry, he called after us, "I'll give ya ten dollars fer it!" Even now, I wonder once in a while if he ever bought an electric frying pan of his own.

Virginia

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was officially opened in 1964, but in fact it was still under construction when Chris and I crossed it in 1969. It connects Cape Charles, Virginia, with the town of Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach, of course, was the home of Edgar Cayce and was and is the location of hisAssociation for Research and Enlightenment. At the time I made this trip, I had only recently heard of Edgar Cayce (he was not a topic covered in the Catholic high school I had attended) and the fact that we were passing through a town so associated with him didn't register at all. Consequently, in my mind, I have no special memory of passing through Virginia Beach on this trip. In any case, I took no photos.

Once we had crossed the Bridge-Tunnel, we stopped at a payphone and I attempted to call my half-brother, Walter, since it appeared that we would be able to reach his home in New Jersey before midnight.

I was raised with my two sisters, by my mother, who was my father's second wife. His first wife had also given him three children, a boy and two girls. They were all adults, or nearly so, by the time my sisters and I were born.

Because I was a boy, I particularly identified with Walt. There was an interesting family quirk regarding his name. My father was also named Walter, but for some reason, everyone in his family called him "Bill." When he named his first son Walt, everyone called the little boy "Billy". That's how I originally was introduced to him.

However, when Billy married a woman named Beth, she would have nothing to do with such nonsense. Despite the fact that he preferred Billy, Beth insisted that everyone in the family call him "Walt" and would make a fuss anytime anyone forgot and slipped.

Still, I wrote Billy—I mean, Walt—letters frequently, even though I seldom got a letter back. But now that I was 18, I was determined not to miss this opportunity to visit him. After all, who knew when I might ever be up so far North again?

So I called his house, but there was no answer. Chris and I stopped every fifty miles or so to try again. Finally, someone—Walt and Beth's older daughter, Diane, who was almost my age—did answer. She was excited to hear from me, and though she wouldn't commit to allowing Chris and me to lay our sleeping bags on her kitchen floor, did urge us to come by.

New Jersey

It had been twelve years since I'd been in New Jersey; and, of course, I had never driven in it. But I was able to find Morristown on the map, and lead us there; Diane had given me directions to the house itself and soon, although it was now around 10 PM and we were navigating in the dark, we found it, sitting on the side of a steep hill. I turned into the driveway and had a scary moment when I realized I had never tried to climb a really steep hill before in a car with a manual transmission. But, after a few false attempts, we made it to the top of the driveway and I firmly engaged the emergency brake.

Before we could even get out of the car, Beth appeared at the end of the driveway. I was ready to get emotional, but Beth neither hugged me nor even shook hands. Instead, with the coolness of a Vulcan, she said, "It isn't convenient for you to stay here tonight. You are going to stay with Betty Ann and John. John is on his way here right now and should be here within 30 minutes. Walt is in Boston on business, and I am entertaining guests in the basement. You may wait in the kitchen with Diane until John gets here." Then she was gone, and in fact I never saw her again—.

Diane was perfectly pleasant, and offered us water and some leftover peas, which was actually all that was left in their showroom-clean refrigerator.

Meanwhile, while I remember Betty Ann from my babyhood, I had never written her a letter and didn't recall her husband, John, at all. I wasn't at all sure what to expect.

I needn't have worried. When John arrived in his station wagon, he not only hugged me, but Chris as well, and gave every indication of being truly happy that we would be visiting. We followed him in the Valiant to the neighboring town of Parsippany, where he lived with Betty Ann and their three children.

By now, of course, it was very late. John put us in his office, a room in the basement but because the house was situated on such a steep hill, still had windows looking out into the woods. Betty Ann had pulled out the sofa bed and Chris and I were so tired I felt like I'd never seen anything more welcome.

Some time during the night I had a dream that I was walking somewhere with Chris when he put his arm around me and kissed me. I was so overcome with joy that I threw my arm around him in return and was about to return the kiss when I was awakened by the real Chris trying to wriggle out from under me. In my sleep I had all but climbed on top of him. I was terribly embarrassed and spent the rest of night afraid to go back to sleep.

But I did go back to sleep, which is why it was such a shock to be awakened by two falling bodies, which turned out to be those of John and Betty Ann's youngest, Craig and Suzie, jumping off the banister and right on top of us!

Chris and me with Craig, Margie and Suzie

I hadn't planned on more than a brief stop, but John and Betty Ann had already planned a lunch and a get-together with my other half-sister, Shirley, whom I barely knew at all.

Shirley

Shirley arrived with most of her five children and their pet raccoon. Neither Chris nor I had ever seen a raccoon up close and thought it was great fun. However, just a few months later, the raccoon bit the finger off one of the little boys; I heard her father promptly killed it but have since been informed the poor creature was taken to a place called Space Farms.

So, our time in New Jersey was spent reconnecting with my extended family. There was the disappointment of not being able to see Billy—I mean, Walt—but the unexpected joy of getting to know Betty Ann and John, and Shirley, and all the cousins.

New York

Even at 18, the idea of being in New York City—self-styled Capital of the World—didn't appeal to me. When I found that our best route to Vermont would only pass through the northern part of Manhattan, I wasn't disappointed.

New York highway: Aging even then.

I was used to Florida's relatively new—and well-maintained—roads, so the first thing I noticed about the roads in New York (and in New Jersey) was that they were neither new nor well-maintained. Every shoulder guard appeared to have been crashed into—which, granted is what they were for; but still—didn't anyone in New York drive sober? Even with traffic cops stationed every half mile (it seemed) along the many construction areas? And what were they constructing, anyway, since every road was aging and pot hole'd?

Finally, the George Washington Bridge appeared in the distance. It was impossible not to feel some excitement as we approached Manhattan, even though we intended to not stop.

Approaching the George Washington Bridge

However, the George Washington Bridge dumped us rather unceremoniously onto the island of Manhattan. And the next thing we knew, we were in city streets that were filled with potholes, to the extent that they were all but undrivable. And all the faces we saw belonged to black people.

We were in Harlem.

We'd heard about Harlem in Florida. Riots, pimps, prostitutes, crime—we'd heard about Harlem, but we'd heard nothing good. Our first impulse was to panic and get the hell out of there!

But we had no idea which way to go. We couldn't even tell East from West; the sky was obscured with pollution so that it was impossible to tell where the sun was.

There was nothing to do but ask directions. Our windows were already down (my 1960 Valiant didn't have air conditioning, as indeed few cars did back then) so I directed Chris, who was driving, to slow down as we approached a woman with a child in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other. "Excuse me, Ma'am," I said, "but can you tell us how to get back on the highway? We're trying to get to Vermont."

She neither screamed, ran, nor called for help. She simply took a moment to nod in the direction we should take, and told us how many blocks it would be. Later, when we got confused again, we had to ask someone else and he was just as helpful as the woman with the kid had been.

Suddenly, I spotted flashing red lights behind us. A cop was pulling us over! He almost ran to the driver's side window, and said, breathlessly, "Are you all right?"

Chris and I looked at each other in puzzlement. "Of course we are," Chris replied. "Why?"

The officer looked at us both suspiciously. "You were just in Harlem," he said. "You didn't get mugged? Held up?"

"No," I called over the steering wheel. "We were certainly in danger, though—from the potholes! Don't you guys ever fix the roads around here?"

The policeman frowned and returned, without another word, to his car. When he had turned off his flashers and driven away, Chris and I exchange looks, shrugged, and we continued on our way.

It was a big relief to leave the city behind and enter the tunnel that, for us, separated New York City and the beautiful New York State.

Paul On A Ledge: First of a series.

Just before crossing over the border into New York, we found an interesting rock wall obscured by fall foliage. Chris wasn't interested in climbing it, but I couldn't resist and insisted we stop long enough for a photo, at least. The resulting picture, at right, apparently counts as my very first "Paul On A Ledge" portraits.

Vermont

Vermont is a small state and now, with the new Interstate Highway completed, we could travel the length of it in a couple of hours.

We took turns driving. The air was cooler, moister, certainly cleaner than we'd experienced since at least New Jersey. It was now the final week of September, which is the peak of the fall foliage—something I hadn't known, but was happy to take credit for.

With a degree of nervous anticipation, I navigated us towards Victory, VT, where I had lived as a child and hadn't seen since I was ten. They say you "can't go home again." Was it true?

Sure, I had lived in New Jersey, as well. But we'd left there when I was a little guy of seven. I had no precious images to preserve—in fact, we hadn't even bothered to go to Garfield, where I had lived. But the house in Victory, Vermont, had been significant in some way. I still had dreams about being in that house. So did my sisters, for that matter. Somehow, those three short years had borne a cachet beyond what you'd expect for so brief a period.

Chris calls Terry

It took longer than we expected to get to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom—possibly due, at least in part, to the frequent photo stops. Eventually, though, we made it to the nearest big town to Victory, St. Johnsbury. By now it was almost midnight, and in Chris' mind we had achieved our destination. Nothing would stop him from calling his girlfriend, Terry. Which he did, from a phone booth in East St. Johnsbury. For an hour.

It was clearly too late to try and find my old house at this hour. To my surprise, however, there was a campground in the town of Concord. When I had lived here, Concord was barely large enough for a single store. Now, there were several, and the campground. Gratefully, we pitched our tent and settled for the night.

I awoke early, and had eggs ready for Chris when he awoke. It didn't take long to strike camp and stow our gear, and then we proceeded slowly, with frequent pauses for "That's the store that Mrs. Carpenter, our bus driver, worked at!" and "That's the school I went to for the start of second grade!"

The road was narrow but paved as we left North Concord and headed into Victory. It narrowed further, then the pavement ended and we drove on a gravel surface which continued to deteriorate. The road rose as we topped a small mountain, then descended into Victory Bog. I took pictures compulsively, as every scene seemed more beautiful than the last.

And then…after crossing the third one-lane bridge…there it was, on the hillside, just as I remembered: the House.

When I knocked at the door, a woman answered. "Hello," I said. "My name is Paul Cilwa, and I used to—"

She gasped. "Not the Paul Cilwa?!"

That threw me for a moment. "Well, I'm the only one I know of…"

"The Paul Cilwa whose name is on the garage?"

It was my turn to gasp. "That's still there?"

One of the outbuildings we had called the "garage". It was the right size for one, though I don't know that any vehicle was ever brought into it. But when I was a kid, I found a can of barn red paint my dad had bought and painted my name on the door of the garage. I had been unaware of it, but I had left my "mark" on the place.

Mom's 'cotillion' floor collapsed, alas. Chris at the top of the Short Driveway.

Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly as I remembered it. For one thing, the floor of the old woodshed section of the house, on which Mom had intended to have dances when we kids became teenagers, had collapsed. And the new owners had brought in an Airstream travel trailer for some reason. But, basically it was unchanged.

There were still the two driveways, the Long Driveway that we encountered first when arriving from North Concord, and the Short (steep) Driveway that allowed a person to drive to the house, then back to the road, without ever having to turn around.

Chris' new friend: The new owners' dog.

The current owners of the house had fulfilled my dad's dream of making the place into a lodge. However, this particular weekend was the Holiday In The Hills celebration that my mom had helped found! I'd forgotten all about it. It was timed, of course, for the peak fall foliage. So, the place was nearly booked up. But they did have one room left—and it was my old bedroom!

I suppose I should have been haunted by ghosts from the past, but I wasn't. I slept soundly, just as I had the last time I'd been there, eight years before.

In the morning, for some reason I decided to try shaving with Chris' razor. I had never used a razor before. When my whiskers started to grow, my grandfather had given me an electric shaver and that's all I had ever used. I had left it in the car overnight, though; and so decided to give the old-fashioned blade a whirl. It hurt like the dickens; and it was years since I gave it another try. (I have since gotten used to blades, though, and no longer even own an electric.)

In need of a fresh paint job.

On the outside of the house, the paint was the same my mother had had done ten years before. On the inside, the same wallpaper still hung on the walls. In a way it was cool; but the paint was starting to peel and the wallpaper to fade. I hadn't realized until then that restorations don't last forever.

The aging Mother Pine.

The view from the front of the house was also much the same. The same lawn sloping down to the road; the Moose River could be seen, intermittently, through the trees growing along its banks. To the right was still the Mother Pine guarding her nursery of babies, now grown quite tall on their own.

There were at least two major improvements: Electricity and telephone.

When we had lived here, the power company had not yet run wires into Victory or its neighboring township, Granby. We had installed a generator but most of our neighbors had not. Victory and Granby had established the Holiday In The Hills as a means to raise the money to have electricity brought into the townships. That had happened some years before. And, with the utility poles installed, the telephone was now available as well.

Having established that the house was all right, Chris and I proceeded to check out the area, starting with a hike to Moose River. Knowing how protective my mother seemed to be, I was surprised to recall that she had allowed my sisters, then ages 7 and 8, and myself, at 9, to hike down here alone to swim in its waters!

Moose River

We then drove to Gallup Mills, a crossroads an eighth of a mile north of the House—the Raineys' house was still there!—and then made a right turn towards Granby. The dirt road, meandering over the many hills, was as picturesque as ever.

The road to Granby. The Cook Shack

At the top of one of the hills we suddenly came upon a building I'd forgotten about, surrounded by cars. This was the Cook Shack, built in 1960 specifically for the Holiday In The Hills. Since this was the Holiday In The Hills weekend, it was open and serving a logger's meal for a reasonable price. It was lunchtime, so Chris and I stopped and ate there.

Chris cuts some birch bark.

After eating, we continued on our way towards East Concord, where I had gone to school. But when we came upon a stand of birch trees, Chris decided that he had to write a letter home, to his girl…and that it had to be done on birch bark. We found out later that cutting birch bark is illegal, and we apologize to the tree.

Me and Mrs. Howe

Finally we came upon the valley at the foot of Miles Mountain, where the hamlet of East Concord is located. It was easy to find my old school, East Concord Elementary, since it was one of the largest buildings there—and it was only a three-room schoolhouse! More amazing, though, was that my teacher, Mrs. Howe, who had taught me in 3rd, 4th, and the beginning of 5th grade was not only still teaching there—she remembered me! Of course, we had written to each other in the years since I'd left Vermont. But it was very cool to see her again—and to be taller than she was!

We then returned to the House for our second night there—which included a meal—and Chris spent the evening writing his letter on the birch bark.

In the morning we returned to Gallup Mills to make a left-hand turn, which would take us over Burke Mountain and to Lyndonville, home of my 2nd-grade teacher. Just past Gallup Mills, however, was the road up to an abandoned radar installation that had been very much in operation in 1960, the height of the Cold War. Now, however, the road was all but choked off by eight years' growth of pine and underbrush.

Along the way, I switched to an experimental role of color infrared film. This produces what's known as "false color" and provides an alternate way of viewing reality, forcing the viewer to view the composition rather than fall into the reality of the photo. Here are the shots from the ride from Gallup Mills to Lyndonville over Burke Mountain. (Right-click on any one you like to make it your desktop.)

Mrs. McGinnis

In Lyndonville, we were able to see my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. McGinnis—who also remembered me! (In fact, she remembered every one of her students, having kept their names in notebooks she stored by year in a cabinet in her apartment.)

The former Joyce Lund

And in North Concord, we met the former Joyce Lund, with her husband and new baby. Eight years earlier, Joyce had been the prettiest girl in our school; and on that day in October when my mom dropped by before school was over, to pick me up for our journey to Florida, it was Joyce who'd tearfully told me how much she would miss me.

Return

By now our trip was all but over. In Connecticut I shot one last photo of the harbor in Darien before we visited (and spent the night with) a couple of Chris' relatives.

The Darien, Connecticut harbor

That was it. We were out of money and out of film. We had to go back home! And so we did, as quickly as we could.

I would return to New England again and again, including several years living in New Hampshire; but this trip marked my first visit to New England as an adult. On this journey, I had established a continuity with my childhood; I had proven I could make a long trip without anyone older to make decisions or serve as backup.

No other visit ever would be quite the same.