Winter has always been a fun time of the year for kids in Vermont, even though the adults are worrying about the heating bill. As the snow mounts up, kids see it as a great opportunity to make another snow fort, sliding trail, or make a higher ski jump.
When I was a kid growing up in rural Vermont, I remember we had an old logging road that opened up a clear path on the side of the mountain next to my house. We went to great lengths to groom the “sliding tracks” in the middle of it. Kids from all over the valley came together to go there and slide down the hill. There were only a few slight corners on the trail, and depending on how fast you were going, and on what you were riding, the curves were usually fairly easy to negotiate. Even so, there were several times I barely made it to the bottom in one piece!
One winter day, one of the neighbor boys named Joe came over to slide down this particular hill. He brought his toboggan that fit three people. We dragged it up the steep part of the hill to the spot where the pines started to get a little thicker, on the first flat area. It was a long way for a couple of kids, probably between 1/8th and ¼ of a mile. Joe was to be the back passenger and use his feet to help brake and turn the back of the toboggan. I was the front navigator as I kneeled and used my hands to twist the front curve of the contraption.
Joe always seemed to have a wide grin on his face when we were ready to start our “flight” down the hill. I think we were both over anxious. About half way down the trail, there was a railroad crossing with snow banks on either side of the tracks, and you could catch air going over them. Then there was a steep straight away all the way to the dirt road at the bottom, which was flanked by very high snow banks. We would turn sharply before we got to the first snow bank and slide sideways up to the edge of it to stop. (At least that was the plan.)
This particular run started off with a heart stopping push and we quickly got into position as if we were Olympic bob sled contestants. I was kneeling and Joe was holding down the back as we passed quickly through the first clearing and swung into a narrow corner. I could see on the edge of the trail was a low brush pile. I gripped the curl on the toboggan and leaned to the left, and yelled for Joe to put his boot into the snow to slow and help turn the rig. He did as told, and put his foot out, but instead of slowing us down, he caught his leg in the brush heap. Before I knew it, he was pulled right off the toboggan and my ability to slow down was suddenly gone. My heart was racing as I thought of the snow bank at the bottom Continue reading
I don’t remember very many social events I attended as a kid, but I do remember one birthday party I went to when I was 6 or 7 years old. It was for a class mate one year older than I was. He was in second grade and I was in first, and lived at the upper end of the same country road I lived on. There were games to play and cake to eat. It was fun to see everyone competing in “pin the tail on the donkey”. I remember that game in particular because when his mother put the blind fold on me, she left a small opening on the bottom of the cloth that I could see out of. I didn’t want to be too close to the tail because it would seem like I cheated, so I pretended I was Continue reading
Stepping on river rocks and ice,
Shadows of trout race by.
Snowbanks rise steeply.
Memories unfreeze my youth,
As warm thoughts of then,
Come back to me.
Eyes closed and vivid sounds trickle,
Boots slipped between snow mounded stones,
Where I searched for calm between the banks.
Freezing air awakened a need to go home,
Though I wish I could stay here listening.
February kept a promise,
Between the lighted window of home,
And time alone on the stream.
© Rick Wyman
Soft eyes of youth
Gaze upon opening wounds of flesh.
Abstract violence from behind glass.
When it’s gone
No smells and no bodies to remove
But the mind holds the image forever
With no empathy to slow an adult hand.
(c) Rick Wyman
Growing up in the country in the 1950’s, we often used the landscape for play. the “Big Rock” as we all called it was in the background of many good times. It was also the location for a couple of catastrophes of mine.
I recall my early tree climbing training. I’m a self- taught tree climber, school of hard knocks type lessons. A couple of the neighbor boys and I were out near the big rock and the older and bigger of the two, Keith was discussing how he could climb the wild cherry tree that grew in the stone wall. I decided that was good idea too, and began climbing right behind him. He was, as I said taller and had a longer reach so he was able to grab the first limb and begin upward progress right away. I jumped and barely grabbed the branch, but followed right behind, mimicking his choice of limbs.
We were quite a ways up and I was right under Keith waiting to take the next branch. As he went upwards, I put my arms up and grabbed the branch he was standing on. His weight evidently was all the strength the branch could muster, and as I pulled with my hands and searched for a place to get footing, the branch snapped. Continue reading
It was a beautiful fall day in Vermont, and the bow and arrow season for deer had just started the weekend before. It was a week day and there was no school that day. I hadn’t had my drivers’ license for that long but I had quite a bit of experience driving back roads and standard shift vehicles. A neighbor was anxious to go deer hunting with me and we decided to ride around looking for a good place. Due to the fact there was no school, my little brother was also home. I was 16 and he was 10, and I didn’t particularly want to have him ride along or go hunting with me at the time. I felt that I was older and shouldn’t have to babysit him when I wanted to go out in the woods, but he insisted on coming along.
Somehow I came up with the idea that if I scared him with my driving he’d want to stay home and leave us alone. I told my neighbor friend, David, that I was going to drive in a wild stunt to scare my little brother into wanting to be brought home. He grinned as if he thought it was a fun idea and was ready for it. We were a couple of miles from my house on the dirt road, and headed toward Cavendish and in third gear. The car was a 1964 Chevy station wagon, 3 speed standard on the Continue reading
There are many influences that can make adolescence a complicated time of life. Bullying is one of them, and the defense against it can make or break someone’s self-esteem. When I was a kid, I was proud of my ability to defend myself against the worst kind of bully I ever encountered. He is still in jail for murder, and was an adolescent who should have been stopped then, but somehow manipulated the system and made it through without any deterrent that he respected. Later in his life, he admitted to figuring out how to give the right answers during interviews and to get by the authority that should have kept him off the streets.
I made it through many stressful meetings with him, and to make matters worse he was my neighbor on our country dirt road. Here is one incident to show the devious bully I knew. This one I’d say was the worst, but I lived to tell about it afterwards. This person is an example of how someone devious and without proper direction can manipulate those around him until it’s too late. I have changed his name.
I was about 13 or 14 years of age and lived out in the middle of nowhere in Vermont. One of the life skills my woodsman father and his friends taught me was trapping. During the winter it’s the season for muskrats and mink. I checked the trap-line every day and roughly at the same time because there isn’t a lot of daylight after school. One particular night I recall having yet another violent encounter with the tall and mean neighbor up the road. Johnny lived about a half mile away but it was within view of the path I followed through the snow along the banks of the beaver pond and stream where my trap-line was set.
Johnny evidently was waiting for me to show up that day, and had some sort of plan in his head about what he wanted to do to wreak havoc on Continue reading
My little brother was a creative and mechanically oriented person. He was good at fixing just about any engine or vehicle. He worked on keeping his toys running and fixing things to use. In his younger years, one of his teachers in junior high, decided that the best way to work with a bunch of unruly adolescents was to bring in a bunch of non-functioning small engines and let them have at it. Evidently, that was an approach that worked well and kept them focused for a little while. Then as opposed to now, it was more common to have hands on experience during the early 1970’s, teachers could get a little more creative with their teaching methods! My brother was often getting excited about riding snowmobiles and two wheeled vehicles. He was a good outdoorsman. He did a lot with my father and they frequently hunted together for deer and turkey. I’m sure he kept Dad’s lawn mower running smoothly.
When I was in college and working on a teaching degree I would come home periodically to see my folks. My brother and sister, both younger than me, lived at home. During one visit that I remember, Jeff was a teenager building a mini bike as he called it. It was a gasoline engine from a mower and a few metal rods welded together to make a frame. He made a nice throttle on the handlebars and it looked reasonably balanced for speed and comfort. He was proud that he made it himself, taking time to find the parts and piece it all together.
On this visit of mine, he invited me to take a ride on it. I thought about it for a minute and decided to oblige him. I mounted the seat and he gave me a couple of lessons on how to operate the controls he had fashioned for it. I sped out of the driveway and up the dirt road a half mile or so. I turned around up near the intersection at the “Y” that went up over Densmore’s hill.
My ride home was a fast and furious one. While I tried to Continue reading
As a teenager, I was often trading cars or trying to “upgrade” the one I was currently driving. I had a 1960 Chevy impala that my Uncle Dave gave me for free. I remember it had wide “bat wing” tail fins. All I had to do was put a new transmission in it, as he had an automatic transmission and it had gone south, never to work again. A few friends and I towed the car to my house. I could keep a car running if I had to, but I had friends who knew much more than me on the subject, so when I got in over my head it was always a good bet to call one or more of them. It was a dream of mine to change it over to a standard. I believe it cost me about 50 dollars total to change it over. This included purchasing a defunct 1962 Chevy which we towed home with a chain right up route 103 in Chester, Vermont. I sat in the driver’s seat while the driveshaft banged on both the pavement and the underside of the car floor. The noise was deafening inside the car, and we finally figured out a way to wire it so it wouldn’t hit the pavement, just the floor. Amazingly, we never got picked up by the police. The whole junk car cost me $15.00 and I used the transmission for my ‘60 Chevy. The guys that were helping me change it over were great and enthusiastic. As long as I agreed to keep buying the beer, they agreed to keep putting parts on the Chevy. I think the whole labor thing cost me about 3 or 4 cases. The neighbor let us use his garage to do the work, which was a nice gesture, as it was warm and dry.
One night, while we were working on the car, one of the guys decided we needed a case of beer and some chips. It was just about eight minutes before the store closing time, but he decided to try to make it. He raced the whole eight miles from my house to town, some of which was dirt road, to get there before the doors were locked. Evidently they were successful because they returned in one piece and with the beer.
We were able to hoist the motor out and put in the standard transmission. It all fit, but we still had to search and scavenge for a few parts, including a shifting lever from the floor. I found one in a near-by town and we went to see if it would fit and work with what we had. I of course relied on the experienced guys to offer the opinion on how it would all mesh for the best results. I paid for the shifter and parts and got ready to take it back to put in the 1960 Chevy. Just as we were getting ready to take our seats in the car, a train pulled up and slowed at the railroad crossing where it crossed the paved street. One of the guys yelled out. “Hey, Wyman! Do you think you can catch that train and jump on the caboose?”
It sounded like a fun challenge to me, and I was never one to turn down a Continue reading
Living in the country on a dirt road allows for many adventures in youth, including fun outings on the spur of the moment. Fishing in nearby streams that follow the contour of the valley in Cavendish and Chester Vermont, was one of those summer activities I enjoyed as a kid. The season always started on the second Saturday in April and coasted along until September which made it a perfect summer pastime for school vacation. My father was a great fisherman and came home with a fresh catch for supper often. I wasn’t as good at it but enjoyed catching a few good sized brook trout. I spent more time fishing alone than with friends because I had to meet my mother’s “get home so I can make sure you haven’t drowned” schedule. There weren’t many kids my age to go fishing with either, and it seemed that the one neighbor that was close to my age was always luckier than I was, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me so, which made me feel a bit inferior as a fisherman.
One day we were feeling like an adventure and took out a couple of horses for a ride. At the last minute we decided to take our fishing-poles with us. It appeared this would be a less strenuous trip than even on a bicycle. No pedaling, just hold the reigns and the pole crossways in our fingers over the front of the saddle. Every time we came to a good fishing hole we could just tie the horses up to a near-by safe tree and walk to the brook and throw in the line. The creel was a canvas bag with waterproof interior so if we caught any fish it would keep the leather saddle dry.
After fishing on the Dean Brook Road about 2 ½ miles from home, we turned around to head back. The ride was pretty uneventful and the horses were calm for the most part. The closer we got to home the more anxious we were to make it a more exciting ride. I recall David was on my right and I was posting along at a slow trot. He decided he’d like to kick it up a notch and we began to trot faster and then canter. Suddenly, and unbeknownst to him, the hook he had placed in the eye of the pole bounced loose and swung over just enough to catch in my Continue reading