There are rare times people today have memories of actually meeting a person who was born in the last third of the 19th century. Those people are pretty much gone these days. I do however, recall one such person in my lifetime. When I was a youngster, Mr. Biggie lived next door to our family on the dirt road in the Cavendish Gulf. His front field stone steps were lined with smooth egg shaped stones his late wife had collected from various river beds. Mr. Biggie was the person who connected our family to the previous century. Knowing him was also a front row seat to the memories and stories of a man who was living in a time before most modern conveniences.
Mr. Biggie was basically a quiet neighbor. He rarely ever stopped by our house and when he did he usually just stood in the driveway to talk to my folks briefly. He didn’t have a phone so he wasn’t someone to bother people asking favors. I couldn’t tell you if he ever even used a phone. His relatives only stopped by once in a great while in the summer, and usually for just a short visit. I often went to his house to ask him if he needed anything, like shoveling his roof and steps.
I spent hours listening to Mr. Biggie talk about what it was like when he was young. At 14, he had a job working on a logging crew, and back then, they used horses for help with work and for transportation. In this case the horses skidded the logs out of the woods. One of his jobs was to actually stand on the cut logs and drive the horses as they pulled them along the rough ground. One day while working, Continue reading
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
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
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
A lot of people I knew in high school, and some I didn’t, made a reputation good or bad at Barney’s Garage. The place was just across the street from Chester High, the school I attended, my first year being 1967. It was a real garage and a real place of business. The man was as nice as could be and rarely ever complained about the patronage of students that frequented or spontaneously showed up there. The parents of a lot of the students were his customers for gas or minor work on their cars. Some of the older students themselves were customers and I believe one of his children was a student at the school too.
Sometimes the students would loiter out in back of the garage to have a place to smoke or just hang around talking. Often the students would go there for answers to challenges by one of their adversaries. You’d often hear someone shout out in the halls of the school, “I’ll meet you behind Barney’s Garage at lunch time.” But more often it was, “We’ll settle this behind Barney’s Garage after school tonight!” No matter what the adversaries looked like, there was always something to watch happening there. My reason for going to Barney’s was usually to buy a bag of chips or soda and candy bar out of the vending machines.
One day while I was standing there, two cousins with an age difference of a few years, and 50 to 75 pounds difference in weight, arguing and daring each other to do stupid things. They were trying to prove who was the bravest, or perhaps the results were to prove who was most foolish. I tried to talk the younger one out of taking one dare in particular of a most disgusting and what I’d call dangerous nature. He was dared to Continue reading
I had a lot of things happen in the winter as a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s. It happens frequently that I hear people about my age refer to the deep snow falls we used to have back then. They are constantly comparing them to the snowfalls of now. I imagine most people forget or choose to ignore climate change as a valid factor. I was one of the unfortunate children of the 50’s that had a birthday in the middle of January. January 20th seemed often blessed by a snowstorm of substance, which was great for sliding and building snow forts, but not so great for having a birthday party. We lived on a single lane dirt road in Vermont.
Now that people are getting ready to dismiss their Christmas trees, I am reminded of one of my favorite Christmas memories. When I was just 16 years old, I was looking for something to do to make a little money and feel creative in some way. I remember talking with our neighbor from Massachusetts about possibly getting some evergreen trees from someplace place in the woods. He had a few acres of groomed scotch pines growing near his house that he’d eventually cut and sell. He told me to go up on the hillside behind the houses on a place we knew as Pine Knoll. It was his land and he wouldn’t miss those ungroomed trees. Until that day, I never thought of anyone actually owning the land on Pine Knoll. It was just part of the hill where we deer hunted.
I was excited to have permission to cut a few Christmas trees right out of the woods. I grabbed a bow saw and a hatchet and climbed up the hill with great enthusiasm. After a hike up the hill and a long search, I discovered that nicely shaped trees were fewer and farther between than I had assumed. I cut about 4 or 5 trees and realized that I had to get them down the mountain unharmed, to the house in order to sell them. Big, bulky and delicate trees. I took a rope and tied three together and dragged them down the logging road. Dragging trees down the hill wasn’t that difficult but they were showing a little wear on the bottom long branches. There was no snow so I decided I needed to get a barrier between them and the ground. I used a piece of fabric for the next several trips. The trees weren’t uniformly grown. The height and diameters were all different, but all in all they were pretty good looking trees. I didn’t cut any that were too far from symmetrical. It was a major hike to go up and down the hill while cutting and dragging the trees I’d scouted out and selected. I thought they were all nice trees and surely hoped the people in the town of Cavendish would think so also.
My father let me use his Jeep pickup to carry them up to town. I gave one of the trees to my parents and one to the neighbors a quarter mile down the road, so I had about 10 trees left to sell in the village. At first I thought it would be good to sit by the fire station and lean a couple of trees on the side of the 50’s vintage Jeep pickup, but not one person stopped to ask about the trees. I hadn’t thought of a sign, so perhaps they thought I was just waiting for someone to come for a tree they’d had me save. Then I came up with the idea of going house to house and offering trees for sale so people could come out and choose one. I decided on a firm price of $1.75 per tree. A bargain price, even then, for a cut and delivered Christmas tree!
It was a pleasant adventure for the most part. I offered trees to some of the parents of kids I had attended Duttonsville Grade School with. The cul-de-sac where Stanley Hoskiewicz’s mother lived was a good starting point. I pulled up and knocked on a door, and Mrs. H. came out. She recognized me of course and called me by my last name. She asked, “What do you want Wyman?”
“I’m selling Christmas trees and am delivering them door to door,” I said. I tried to sound cheery and confident even though I was quite shy around the parents of kids I’d gone to school with. She stood near the truck and asked to see a specific tree on the load. I pulled it down off the truck and she asked to see another one. Pretty soon I had unloaded about half the load. She chose one and happily paid me. She suggested I leave them all leaning on the truck and knock on her neighbor’s door. Her neighbor walked over to check out the trees and asked how much. Once I said $1.75, it didn’t take long for them to pay me. I was smiling and excited to see anyone had wanted to buy my trees. I reloaded the remainder of standing inventory. I drove around to a couple more neighborhoods and unloaded a few trees and stood them up around the truck. It was fun talking to the people and having someone actually be appreciative of having me offer the door to door tree sale. It wasn’t long before I’d run out of trees.
This was one of my more positive experiences while growing up. I made less money in selling nearly a dozen trees, than half the price of one tree today. Christmas is a great time of year for memories and thinking of all the great family times around the tree. Real trees and the genuine smell of evergreen are things we relate to our heritage and give us warm feelings. So before you undecorated and throw out the tree, reflect a moment and place it in your memory as a life giving holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
(c) Rick Wyman
Everyone who lives in Vermont has memories of some small hill, or some big hill, they used to slide on during the winters of their youth. Sliding and skiing were about the only things that got me through the winters in the 50’s and 60’s. There were hills and of course there were logging roads on those hills to tackle. There were fields down the road, and the very minor incline on our lawn that qualified as a hill until I was a bit older. I remember the single-bulb outdoor light my mother would turn on at dusk. It was next to the kitchen door and lit up the stone steps down to the driveway. There was a dim, but bright enough glow Continue reading
The wooded hills and valleys stitched with ties and steel
Brought me special moments still deep within I feel.
The calling of the whistle that promised something grand
I’d run for half a mile to get a view and take a stand.
Sometimes in country silence when darkness was so deep,