12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be elusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.

~~~

Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as we go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.

Pinehurst

The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I could never have done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I simply ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is what it’s all about. Each precious minute. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.

12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already ready there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be illusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.

~~~

Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.

Pinehurst

The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I never could done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I always simply, ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.

Mother’s Day ~ Imperfection: Stories from Higley Hill

Mother’s Day: Part Two

We are all imperfect. We make mistakes, we are unsure of our choices. We live with regrets. Sometimes on social media I feel lost in a sea of perfection. Beautiful children, healthy food, gorgeous scenery.

I’m sometimes guilty of posting those photos, too.

However, I often try to balance it with the nitty and the gritty. I can’t ignore the difficult places and the hard stories. Especially these days when it seems so very inappropriate to ignore what’s happening to our country. I don’t understand how people go about selling their jewelry, their books, their clothing line, their sobriety, and their yogi lifestyles as if all is normal. They were appalled days after the inauguration but they’ve quieted down now. It’s back to business as usual.

Bar in Battle Mountain

The Barr in Battle Mountain, Nevada

But then again I am guilty of working in references to my books when it seems to fit the story.

We are all a series of contradictions and we all need to make a living.

So, here we are on Mother’s Day. The perfect Hallmark holiday. There have been a few posts on Instagram that I liked about people who had difficult Moms and I appreciate the honesty although I don’t see too many people pointing the finger at themselves.

I once had a group of friends in New Hampshire who would meet for wine emergencies. These were days when everything went wrong. Days we questioned our skills as mothers. Days we needed friends who were honest, self-deprecating, and sympathetic.

I have just returned from an unplanned road trip with my oldest daughter. She had some recent upheaval in her life. A breakup with a boyfriend, a broken hand from a snowboarding fall, a broken car, and a dog in tow. Her lease was up, temporary housing didn’t work out, and she was moving on but she needed some help getting from here to there.

Chelsea and Athena

Arches National Park, Utah

I know. I just returned from a road trip. I promised an accounting of how Rich and I did it on limited resources. That blog is coming, I promise. For this trip I received a buddy pass on American Airlines from our friends in South Carolina.

My first night in Reno convinced me I was doing the right thing despite pulling the credit card out a few times. I do have my faults and inadequacies but I always show up and rise to the occasion.

From The Road: The Stories Mothers Write Last night just before dark I walked the streets of Reno, Nevada. I passed a young girl in hot pants and a midriff baring tube top. Her face was pale, her lips were fire engine red with two pierced silver earrings top and bottom. Tattoos covered her thin arms. On high heels that made her wobble she paced the sidewalk outside one of the nicer hotels. Her legs were as thin and delicate as a heron. A few blocks later I saw this mural on a parking garage and it broke my heart. I am here to help my daughter move after some unexpected upheaval in her life. I flew in yesterday and am driving to Tahoe this morning to pick her up. On a TV in the Phoenix airport yesterday I heard the news of America closing her heart to millions of Americans. The elderly, the addicted, the jobless, the self-employed, the pre-existing. I don't know who we are anymore. I don't understand the people who say they care and continue to go about their daily lives without speaking up. I don't have a lot of money. I will probably lose my health insurance. But what is important to me in this one life I have is to be there for the people I love while also trying to make the world a better place for them and everyone else. Yesterday America told us those are no longer our values. That girl on the street in Reno is somebody's daughter. Just because she's not my daughter doesn't mean she doesn't exist. Where is her Mom? Where is her support system? What is wrong with America? That girl is America's daughter. She deserves a good education, a decent job, an affordable place to live, health insurance, and a Mom who shows up when she needs her. We live In a nation where the wealthy and the well connected can thrive and it's about to get much worse. America is not showing up. #storiesfromtheroad #mothersanddaughters #speakup #saveaca #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #streetart

A post shared by Sheila Blanchette (@sheilablanchett) on

My daughter has been on her own since she was nineteen. She has lived in New York, Missoula, Steamboat Springs, and Lake Tahoe. She rarely asks for help, is strong and independent, and feisty. The teenage years were difficult at our house but as my mother-in-law always said, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

The time we spent together on the road was wonderful. There’s something about hours spent in a car and miles and miles of road that had us sharing previously untold stories. We laughed and talked seriously. We complained about the bugs on the window that ruined our road photos and at the end of the day she was patient with my driver delirium when I took a wrong turn or got cranky.

 By the end of the trip, I was in love with her boxer, Athena. Now that I am home I miss the both of them. Athena would sit in the back seat, her head resting on the center console between us. If my daughter went in a gas station to get coffee or snacks or water, Athena stood up and stared out the window, quietly making sobbing sounds.

Sleepy Chelsea

The Motel 6 in Green River, Utah

On our last night together we unpacked her belongings, rearranged furniture, and hung pictures on the wall. Together we made chicken parmesan in the two pans I bought at the grocery store. She drank beer and I drank wine. And this leads to a story I did not share on Instagram for fear of being judged for my imperfections but it seems rather foolish as I was in the state of Nevada and doing nothing illegal.

Me & Athena

Me and Athena in her new home

It happened when we passed through Nevada. I traveled this road with my husband back in September when we came out to Tahoe in the fall and we ran out of gas. On this trip I was hyper-vigilant about filling the tank when it reached the half-way mark.

When we stopped in Battle Mountain for a refill I told my daughter I wanted to drive through the town. I had read Jeanette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle, years ago. I wanted to see the place she wrote about.

The Three Gossips - Arches

The Three Gossips at Arches National Park, Utah

Before we hit the road, she had taken a few tokes from her pipe. Marijuana is recreationally legal in California and Nevada and in case you don’t indulge, it is a tremendous stress reliever. I was driving and wasn’t stressed so I didn’t need relief. One of my great pleasures in life is driving the open highway. For me it works like Xanax.

Battle Mountain was a photographic gem. A rundown rural American town I love to capture. The forgotten places that led to the election of Donald Trump. The places it seems no one is interested in talking about but me. I was so excited to pull over and capture it all I drove right through a stop sign.

The Owl Family Dining Battle Mountain

The back of the Stop sign in Battle Mountain

“Whoop, whoop.” The siren on the police car behind me shouted.

“Shit, what did I do? Roll down the windows, I think the aroma is clinging to you,” I said, my heart pounding.

I pulled into a little park. The police officer followed right behind me, got out of his car, and peered into my open window. He pointed to the very large stop sign on the corner across the street.

“You didn’t see that stop sign?” he asked.

No I did not and yes, it was rather large. But it was on the sidewalk in front of the building I was so captivated by. I started babbling about the long ride from Tahoe, how I flew in from Rhode Island the day before.

“Aaah, that explains the accent,” he said.

I told him I was so busy looking at the scenery I missed the sign.

“Really? All these beautiful places you’re traveling from and to and you stop here in Ugly to take a picture?”

Battle Mountain ugly

Battle Mountain, Nevada

I mentioned Jeanette Walls and her book and how I wanted to see the town for myself.

He peered in the back seat. Athena was panting, her tongue hanging out, her tail wagging.

“Where you headed again?”

“Colorado.” I told him about the move.

He looked at my daughter. “Ski bum, aren’t ya? Well, I’ll tell you something. My Mom would never have done anything like this for me.”

He stepped aside for a moment and spoke to someone on his radio. My heart was still pounding.

When he came back to the car he said, “You know that Walls woman, she got a lot of things wrong about this town. First of all we don’t have tortoises. I don’t know if she really lived here or not but people swear she graduated from the high school.”

“Really?” I smiled. “Well, you know there’s a lot of memoirs out there now and I guess people elaborate or make things up to fit the story.”

“Yeah,” he said, waving his hand around the town. “You can take a picture of the little monument we got over there.” He pointed to the sign we saw coming into town. Welcome to Battle Mountain. It had a few pieces of rusted farm equipment on the lawn in front of it.

Battle Mountain

“I’m not gonna give you a ticket but I do need to run your license.”

I could feel my breathing slow down. I got my license out of my pocketbook and handed it to him. He went back to his car.

After he returned my license my daughter took Athena for a walk and I leaned my head back on the seat and took deep breathes. When I opened my eyes I saw him talking to my daughter.

She returned to the car. After we pulled out of town, I asked her what the cop was talking to her about.

“He said, ‘You know the places you’re driving through on this trip?’” she said. “Then he held up his hand and lifted one finger at a time and said, ‘Legal, legal, illegal, legal. You know what I’m talking about?’ Then I nodded.”

“You didn’t say anything?” I asked.

“I said. Yes. I know what you’re talking about. And then he said, ’In Utah it’s a felony. If you get pulled over in Utah your mom is going to jail. So make sure you don’t have it in the car when you cross the border.”

“Oh my God,” I said. “You have to clean that pipe. I knew he was smelling something. You don’t have any left, do you?”

“No, that was the last of it.”

That night in Park City we told our friend Steve the story. He told us in Utah it’s a felony to even drive across the border with liquor from another state!! We started talking about Jeff Sessions and how he’s encouraging the legal communities to throw the book at criminal defendants and push for the toughest penalties possible. I told Steve about the 60 Minutes episode I saw about Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia who was found guilty of corruption and bribery but when his case reached the Supreme Court, SCOTUS overturned his conviction. He was vindicated, his felony charge was dropped, and his legal license reinstated.

I guess it depends on who you are in America. Who you know. How much money you have. What kind of legal defense you can assemble. As a Mom I worry about these things. Income inequality, the environment, the future for my daughters, the loss of democracy for all.

In Tahoe the rents are so high kids squeeze into condos or rent little houses that were once sheds. I  picked my daughter up at this house where her friends live:

Little house

Rental House in Kings Beach, CA

I realize there are people out there who will judge me. I can take the heat. My first novel, The Reverse Commute, helped me develop thick skin. There was nothing illegal going on here. The police officer was a decent, kind man who knew and respected the laws of Nevada.

Welcome to Utah

Nevada/Utah border

After we left Utah and entered the safe haven of Colorado we shared a few tokes. Across the street from our Super 8 motel there was a legal dispensary. My daughter purchased some special blend marijuana formulated for soothing the nerves. There was no smoking of any kind allowed in the hotel. Several people were out in the parking lot partaking and chilling out after a long day on the road.

I have many friends who do the same thing now that their kids are adults. Over the past month as I traveled across eighteen states I have seen the hypocrisy of the self-righteous.

I was never very good at discipline. I am no angel and I have made my share of mistakes. During the more difficult, tumultuous times for our family, my daughter told me she thought I was a very tolerant person. I took this as one of the highest compliments she could give me.

The series on Instagram is titled Stories Mothers Write. Mothers are not perfect people. We make mistakes. But with love, honesty, tolerance, and open hearts we do the best we can.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day ~ The Cemetery: Stories From Higley Hill

MOTHER’S DAY STORIES: PART ONE

Cemetery.

Recently my Dad took me to the cemetery to visit my mother’s grave. This would be my first visit since the funeral and what he actually said when he invited me to come with him was, “Let’s visit your mother at the cemetery”.

I have different ideas about life after death. I did not feel my mother’s presence in that strange place and I hated thinking of her lying in the coffin beneath my feet. We didn’t stay long. He said a prayer and I watched a wild turkey walk through the gravestones.

My father was concerned about the flowers. A pot of tulips had wilted. A hyacinth was drooping and looked weary. He doesn’t know much about gardening so I explained to him they were bulbs and if I planted them in the ground they would return each spring.

The next day I bought bright yellow shasta daisies and a spade and returned to the cemetery alone. It’s in the neighborhood where I grew up and where my Dad still lives. He runs through there almost every morning to visit my Mom.

I quickly threw myself into the task and started digging. Many of the graves around me had gardens in full bloom. Little trinkets were left at the headstones. Teddy bears, heart rocks, seashells. There is a section of the cemetery where a community of Mung Chinese are buried. On holy days the families bring hibachis and cook chicken shish kebab on wooden sticks that they leave for their deceased loved ones.

A man parked behind my car and stood by a nearby grave while I planted the bulbs. His hands were folded in front of him, his head bowed. Every once in a while he wiped his eyes with his finger. He left before I finished planting the Shasta daisies.

Walking back to my car to get a bottle of water for the plants, I passed the gravestone where the man had stood. His name was carved on the stone along with his birthdate. He was a year younger than me. His wife was four years younger and had passed away three years ago at the age of fifty-four. I wondered how often he came to visit and what these visits did to ease his sorrow.

I didn’t stay long at my mother’s grave. It felt awkward and I couldn’t stop thinking about her lying in her coffin. I set out for a walk around the cemetery, trying to remember her the way she was before Alzheimer’s stole her from us.

I had seen a gravestone years ago when my father brought me here to show me the plot. The stone was already in place with both my parents’ names on it along with their birth dates. It seemed so morbid and strange but I told him it was a nice location. The grave I was looking for had a photo of a man in his forties. He liked motorcycles and trucks. I know this because there was a collection of them placed along the grave. He had a sense of humor too. Carved on his headstone was the following admonishment: “I told you I was sick.”

I thought about other cemeteries I had visited. Mount Auburn in Cambridge with its beautiful flowering springtime trees. Boston’s historic Park Street Cemetery in autumn when fallen leaves cover the ground where Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and  Mother Goose are buried. The cemeteries in Spain where people place ashes in rows of boxes that reminded me of the post office.

My mother’s brother is buried at Notre Dame in Pawtucket, RI where large statues of angels greet you at the gates to the cemetery. At the graveside following the funeral my Uncle Eddie brought a boom box and played Judy Collins’ version of Amazing Grace. After the service, as I walked back to my car, I passed an angel resting her head on a large tombstone. I turned and saw my brother still standing by the grave with his hand resting on Uncle Donald’s coffin.

My brother visits my mother’s grave regularly and so do both my sisters.

Driving alone in my car in my Uncle’s funeral procession,  the Foo Fighters song These Days played on the radio. It was a raucous, rebellious tune with crashing drums and loud screams. I irreverently rolled the windows down and played the song really loud.

One of these days the clocks will stop
and time won’t mean a thing
One of these days your eyes will close
and pain will disappear
One of these days your heart will stop
and play its final beat

My Uncle fell ill suddenly. He didn’t feel well on his annual road trip from Rhode Island to Florida where he wintered. The doctors in Florida told him he had liver cancer and his prognosis was not good. He had only a few days to live. He gracefully accepted the news and told them he was seventy years old and had lived a good life that had come full circle. All he asked of them was that he not suffer. He went home, ordered a hospital bed, and placed it at the window with the view of Fort Lauderdale Beach.

He was a gay man back in a time when many people were “still in the closet” and he didn’t “come out” until his divorce after ten years of marriage to my Aunt Linda. I remember she always liked books and one Christmas she gave me a copy of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas. I don’t know where she is now. I haven’t seen her in decades. Memory is a tricky thing. I don’t know why these are the random thoughts I keep and why I am sharing them here.

My mother’s last years were difficult. On the other hand, her brother called his friends and invited them to visit him in his final days. He told them there would be no tears and if anyone cried they would have to leave. This was to be a celebration of life. I admire him for this and his bravery in the face of the unknown.

My mother entered the scary unknown long before she died and her last weeks were difficult.

There was a graveyard in New Brunswick, Canada that my husband and I stopped at while vacationing in the Atlantic Provinces. We were looking for the grave of the young daughter of a man, Al LeBlanc, who worked with my husband. She died along with five of her high school teammates on an icy night after a hockey game. Their car slid off a bridge and crashed through the ice. They are buried side by side, their pictures on the headstones.

While they worked together painting houses, Al would talk to Rich about the sadness that pervaded his marriage after the accident. His wife never recovered from her loss and would often say, “We never should have moved back to Canada.” As if, had she not made this one choice, she could have saved her daughter from the tragedies of life.

I never met my father-in-law but I have visited his grave in the town center of Sudbury, MA. Also buried In this graveyard are the children of two people my husband knows well. Placed at the headstone of infant twins who didn’t live long after their birth are toy cars and plastic ponies and teddy bears. The other grave had fresh flowers although the teenage boy who was killed in a motorcycle accident died many years ago. The last time I visited this cemetery I was not yet a mother myself but I understood a mother’s heartbreak must be one of the deepest of all sorrows.

Not long ago I visited a very old, neglected graveyard in Vermont with a friend of mine who is a stonemason. Rows of tipped headstones made from thin slabs of granite were hard to read. The inscriptions were worn from time and weather. A few of the gravestones were fused to trees that had grown up around them. Loved ones no longer visited this place. Instead Nature wrapped her arms around the deceased and covered them with moss and dried leaves.

My friend told me about the art of stonemasonry as we walked through the cemetery. He pointed out the poorly constructed stone arch at the entrance to the cemetery and we looked for small rocks for chinking. I had just started my fourth novel and in that graveyard in Vermont a character came alive that day.

James Salter once wrote, “There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”

All of these memories swirled through my mind as I planted flowers at my mother’s grave. I wasn’t thinking about her and this left me feeling sad. Where was she? Where were the free floating memories that should have come to me as I knelt by her grave? Instead I felt awkward and forced to think about her in this uncomfortable place.

Memories come easier in places where I once shared a day with someone. Music and photographs also trigger memories. Or making scrambled eggs with onions.

It wasn’t my mother who made her eggs that way. It was a friend of ours who died too young. Anytime I make scrambled eggs with onions I am transported back to a beach house in the sand dunes on Cape Cod where Mark made the eggs with onions. He didn’t ask if everyone liked their eggs that way because he automatically assumed we all  scrambled our eggs with onions.

That moment in time with a friend who is now gone ended up in my third novel, Life Is All This. I gave it to a character named Timothy who also died too soon.

James Salter also said, “Writing is not a science… every writer I know and admire has essentially drawn either from his own life or his knowledge of things in life…. Almost all great books have actual people in them.”

My mother didn’t like to cook. She was a homemaker, someone who loved to decorate and sew. She made curtains and reupholstered chairs. One year she made Easter outfits for me and my sisters that included pillbox hats like the ones Jackie Kennedy wore.

My mother had a difficult childhood. Her father worked in the textiles mills in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and when she was very young he contracted pleurisy. He was bedridden for a long time and my grandmother had to go to work. They had no family to pitch in and daycare was nonexistent in those days so they brought my mother to a nearby orphanage run by French speaking nuns.

I remember the stories my mother told us about the orphanage. The rows of beds, the bowls of peas that she never ate again once she left. How she hated it there. When my daughters were young we loved reading the Madeline books. My mother said she never read those books to us because it reminded her too much of her time in the orphanage.

Her parents would visit on Sundays and bring her gifts that the nuns would later take from her because the other girls were truly orphans and no one brought them presents. I can no longer remember how long she stayed there but she carried those memories with her all her life. She was a nervous, anxious woman and often had migraines. I remember the smell of vinegar on the damp facecloth she put on her forehead when she retreated to her dark bedroom.

After her parents financial situation improved and her father got better she returned home. Because they both worked, she spent her summers in Brooklyn with her Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Pete. They were childless and at one point wanted to adopt my mother.

Uncle Pete was from Sweden and captained a tugboat. I loved the stories my mother told about riding with him along the Hudson River. She also met an older gentleman on the rooftop of their apartment building. He was a painter and he bought my mother an easel and taught her to how to paint. I have one of her paintings in my home in Vermont- a couple riding in a sleigh through the mountains. A memento of my wedding in Lake Louise.

After the fire at my parent’s condominium my mother’s Alzheimer’s worsened. She spent six weeks in a hospital In Providence where the doctors tried to adjust her medications and calm her down. She slept all day and at night ran through the halls calling for her mother and father. Her memories were gone but somewhere deep inside was the little girl who didn’t understand why her parents brought her to an orphanage.

My mother never blamed her parents for what happened. It was the Depression, times were hard. She understood that none of us are perfect and life is often hard. We are often faced with difficult choices or no choice at all. Years later, when I was what my mother considered a rebellious teenager, she  would call her mother every day and ask for advice.

I don’t know that my Mom ever really understood me but I do know that she loved me. Although I was never as close to her as my sisters’ were I never doubted her love.

I was an adventurous risk taker and unconventional. All my mother ever wanted was a conventional life. She was an anxious worrier. Bob Dylan once said, “People have a hard time accepting anything that overwhelms them.” My mother often worried about me and I think some of the things I did overwhelmed her. She didn’t understand choices like quitting a good job to backpack through Europe. To her, security meant everything.

Now that I am a mother I have come to better understand my own mother and my grandmother. Being a mother is one of the most difficult jobs you will ever do, and it never ends. Life is full of sadness and loss when all you want for your children is joy and happiness.

Two days after I planted the flowers at my mother’s graveside I found myself unexpectedly not returning home to Vermont. Instead I was flying across the country to Lake Tahoe to help my oldest daughter move to Colorado.

After arriving late at night and before driving to Tahoe, I spent the night at a hotel in Reno, Nevada. My Dad texted me at six a.m. on the East Coast. It was three a.m in Nevada.

His texting has improved. He no longer writes sentences without spaces between the words. This is what he sent:

You did good work on the grave mom will love them dad

To Be Continued…..

Suffragettes and Day Dream Believers: A Footnote to the Innkeeper’s Journal

A year ago Rich and I were in the waning weeks of our days as innkeepers. The shit had hit the fan and we were finding it increasingly difficult to work there. We hadn’t realized our days were numbered in single digits but we knew the Inn was for sale and our situation was precarious. Promises had been broken and our future was uncertain but we had bought a house in Vermont so at least we had a home if it all abruptly came to an end. Which it did.

It was a slow time of year. Most week days we had the big old mansion to ourselves. Until Adrienne arrived. She was a rare book collector and archivist. Her online reservation included notes with special requests. She had food allergies and was also allergic to mold.

We had dealt with these situations before and she was our only guest for three nights so we were sure we could accommodate her. Adrienne and I hit it off the minute she arrived. She was friendly and quirky and I sensed she was a kindred spirit.

Traveling on a budget, she had booked one of the smaller, less expensive rooms. She also brought her own linens. Forewarned of her allergy problems, I had done a deep cleaning of her room but the minute we stepped through the door she detected mold.

“Listen, you’re the only one here. I can upgrade you for no charge. Let’s take a tour.”

I showed her the other rooms and she settled on one of my favorites. The room Rich and I stayed in when we first arrived because the innkeepers quarters were a mess. We were responsible for cleaning all the dog and cat hair. We even shampooed the rugs – twice because Rich is allergic to cats and dogs. That should have been a warning sign but we were seeking this adventure and we ignored the signs.

The room had a king size bed and Adrienne had brought her own Queen size sheets but she said she could make it work. She asked me not to fluff the room. She was also allergic to scents and brought her own toiletries and cleaning wipes.

The following morning I prepared a giant bowl of fruit for Adrienne’s breakfast and boiled water for tea. She didn’t drink coffee. When I went to the dining room she was sitting on one of the sofas by the large fireplace, a stack of folded sheets and a blanket by her side. Sometime in the middle of the night she had relocated to the living room. Something in her upgraded room was bothering her allergies.

I apologized and asked what I could do. She said not to worry. She told me she was used to these inconveniences and found the sofa supremely comfortable. She was very excited about her day. Bob Seymour, a rare book dealer from the Colebrook Book Barn was picking her up at eight. They were going to investigate a collection of letters and papers that had been found in a box in a Connecticut home. They appeared to be connected to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffrage movement.

“What a fascinating line of work,” I said. It seemed like a perfect combination of my passions-books and history. “How did you get a job like this?” I asked.

She told me it had always been her passion but somehow or other, as we all know happens, there were bills to pay and better money doing work we don’t have a passion for. Reality and everyday life tripping us up. So Adrienne found herself working for a large government agency in Arlington, VA doing statistical analysis or something like that. I can’t remember. It was her dream job that fascinated me.

Years later she was suddenly hospitalized for a severe allergic reaction that involved a long complicated recovery. While she was in the hospital for several months, her husband retrofitted their home. She never returned to her desk job. She began to work at a job she had always been passionate about – archiving rare historical books and papers.

Adrienne and I spent three mornings together over coffee and tea discussing chasing a dream, following your passion, and the suffrage movement. Adrienne became increasingly excited during her time with us in Norfolk. She had a premonition she was in possession of something important but she told me she couldn’t tell me much about it.

At the time of Adrienne’s visit I was writing a series of blogs about Daydream Believers. It was named after the Monkees’ song. I was interviewing people who had left their day jobs to chase a dream of what they thought work would look like when they were young and optimistic.

Adrienne told me I could write about her but I couldn’t mention the suffragette papers. I never pursued it because from her enthusiasm and energy I knew the suffrage work was a huge part of her story.

A little over a year later, here in my house in Vermont sitting by the wood stove on a cold Wednesday morning, I opened my lap top and logged onto the New York Times as I do every day. I noticed an article half way down the page titled A Trove on the Women’s Suffrage Struggle, Found in an Old Box. I instinctively thought this could have something to do with the woman I met at the inn.

The box contained a collection of letters from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, the half sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella lived with her husband and three children at Nook Farm, a literary colony in Hartford, Connecticut, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

Shortly after Adrienne visited the inn I hosted a girls weekend. My friends and I visited Mark Twain’s house. At that time I had never heard of Isabella Beecher Hooker. Our tour guide did mention Nook Farm.

Many years after Isabella passed away, her suffragette papers ended up in Bloomfield, CT at the home of Elizabeth and George Merrow. Mr. Merrow’s grandfather had bought the former Hooker house in Hartford. Bob Seymour, Adrienne’s friend and colleague from Colebrook, recognized the signature of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and sent the letter to Adrienne. When I met Bob and Adrienne in Norfolk they were just beginning their research into this valuable cache of historical papers.

I had to smile when I read this:

“But as she (Adrienne) started sorting through the material, dusting away ample mouse droppings, she was stunned to realize it was a rich archive of suffrage material.” ~ NY Times

I remembered her returning to the inn in the evenings and telling me about the dusty old pages ands the mouse droppings she had encountered during her work day. I had asked how this effected her allergies. That’s when she showed me the mask she wore when doing research. She was fearless and passionate about her work. An inconvenient medical problem wasn’t going to stop her from pursuing her dreams.

The Times quotes her as saying: “It really shows you what these women went through,” Ms. Kitts said. “They really busted their butts for us.”

Yes, that was the Adrienne I met. The woman who slept on a couch in a big empty mansion, wore a specially fitted mask to get her work done, and braved mold and other allergens in pursuit of a dream.

And now here she was, a headline in the New York Times:

“It’s a stunning collection,” said Ann D. Gordon, a retired professor at Rutgers University and the editor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. “That it’s being delivered all in one piece, with such a clear provenance, is remarkable.”

I believe there is a message here for all of us. For me, it is to keep pursuing my dream of writing.

And for all of us struggling in the days of Trump the message is: Our small everyday efforts at protest will bring about results. As the New York Times reports:

“The material, mainly dating from 1869 to 1880, may not upend current scholarship, but Ms. Gordon said it sheds light on a contentious period within the suffrage movement, while underscoring the degree to which the movement was driven by complex networks of on-the-ground activists.”

Mrs. Gordon adds this optimistic thought:

“We don’t pay enough attention to what a local movement this was. We’ve warped the story by only knowing the names of the national leaders.”

And as Adrienne reminds us, we are busting our butts for our children, our democracy, and the planet’s future to name just a few of the struggles that are the story of our time in history. Although we may not be the national leaders whose names will be mentioned in the historical books written about the Trump presidency, this movement is being activated by those of us on the ground.

I sent Adrienne an email and told her I had seen the piece in the New York Times. She got back to me two days later and apologized. She had been on a road trip with spotty cell coverage. I can only hope she has found more boxes filled with pieces of history that will enlighten these difficult times we live in.

Adrienne’s email closed with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh:

“It is with the reading of books the same as looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, and with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”

There is hope my friends. Keep fighting for what is right and keep chasing your dreams.
If you’d like to read more about the suffragette papers the New York Times article is here.

I will close my blog with a quote from another brave woman who history will admire.

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” ~ Michelle Obama

Pulling at My Heartstrings: Stories From Higley Hill

We made it to Hoosick Falls minutes before they closed the road for the parade.

Here in #ruralamerica Bernie was parked next to Trump/Pence. If this doesn’t explain #election2016🇺🇸 I don’t know what does. In my heart of hearts I still believe this was the election we should have had. #ifonly

Bernie parked next to Trump

It was cold crossing the bridge over the Hoosick River. We bent into the wind. The river was rougher than the last time we were here. A whirlpool of turbulent water spun beneath us. My cheeks were stinging.

Hoosick River

The Hoosick River – Hoosick Falls, NY

Families carried coolers and small children wrapped in blankets. Most everyone was wearing green – hats, leprechaun vests, Mardi Gras beads.

We crossed to the sunny side of the street and found a spot out of the wind. Kevin, the member of the village board who had invited me to the parade, was busy at the church lining up the floats.

The parade began with six veterans carrying flags. They represented WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a memorial in the center of town on Main Street. For a small town the names on the wall are impressive. Hoosick Falls has sent many of its sons and daughters to fight America’s wars.

Parade begins

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Hoosick Falls, NY

Everyone in the parade threw candy. Bubblegum, lollipops, and chocolate came flying off of floats or out of deep pockets. Two little boys next to us scurried off the sidewalk to grab as much as they could.

“Where are you two putting all that loot?” Rich asked.

“Right here,” their Dad said from behind us. He was leaning against the wall of an historic building and was wearing a hunting jacket with numerous deep pockets.

It was when the Section 2 Class Champion Wrestling Team rolled by that I started to feel the tug of my heartstrings. The wistful reminder of parades I’ve attended or marched in.
Growing up in Warwick, RI in the Gaspee Plateau neighborhood where a band of patriots sank the British ship the Gaspee in 1772, each year I looked forward to the annual parade.

Hoosick Wrestling

Years later my brother-in-law and nephews marched with the Pawtuxet Rangers fife and drum corp. They spent the weekend sleeping at an authentic revolutionary encampment in the village park along the Narraganett Bay. I brought my kids back to my hometown for several Gaspee Day parades and like the little boys standing next to us my daughters filled their pockets with candy.

Kevin from the Village Board told me times were difficult here in Hoosick Falls since the discovery of PFOA in the water. Understandably so. Health, home values, and the local economy would be a few of the concerns for anyone living in small town America.

We walked along the parade route toward Immaculate Conception Church where Kevin told me I could find him. A young girl watched the parade from the warmth of her living room. She waved. I lifted my phone and gestured that I’d like to take her picture. She nodded and gave me a smile.

Girl in the Window-Hoosick Falls

Brian was the first resident in Hoosick Falls to reach out to me. He works for the school district and is joining the village board this spring. He told me he grew up here and moved away for a long time, but came back.

“I have a lot of pride in Hoosick Falls, ” he said. “If I don’t say so myself, our school district is excellent. We have a beautiful Greenway along the river and the water is safe to drink now – actually, despite the well field being polluted, the filtration system is providing residents with excellent water now. We will have a new water source at some point too.”

The last time I was in Hoosick Falls it was a quiet, sleepy day. Brian encouraged me to come back to see the great things going on in town.

“You may be quite impressed by the spirit of the people here!”

And he was right. I was.

Kevin invited us to the parade after party held in the basement of the Immaculate Conception Church.

Dancing Girl

Despite the bitter cold, the town braved the weather and now they were celebrating with hot chocolate and Guiness in tall black cans. For two dollars Rich and I had a hot dog, chips, and pickles.

We found a spot by the side of the dance floor. The band included fiddles, banjos and a washboard. I was captivated by two little girls who reminded me of my own daughters.
One girl was wearing what looked like a hand knit sweater and green pants. She was ready to party and while waiting for the music to begin she twirled around a pole.

The younger girl was shy. She wore a green dress and pink boots. She tapped her foot and watched the girl in the sweater. The music began and a group of older girls dressed in costume began to step dance.
~~~
I’ve been feeling low and overwhelmed in these difficult days since January 20th. We thought about not coming. When we left the house it was five degrees on Higley Hill.
But we put on our long johns, grabbed our hats and mittens, and bundled up.

If you are also feeling discouraged and frightened I highly suggest getting in the car and going for a drive to look for America. If you think we can survive without an EPA visit one of the 94 towns in 27 states that were effected by #PFOA in their water. There could be more. The numbers I found were from August 20, 2015 at http://www.ewg.org.

As Arlene Blum, the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute told the NY Times. “I think when people look they’re going to find it.” Bennington, VT found it after this list was posted.

These towns are our towns. They need our support. We need to stand together, speak up, and most importantly get to know each other. If we knew each other better we might not be where we are today.

And by all means, if you’re traveling through upstate New York stop in Hoosick Falls. They have a fantastic local brew pub, Brown’s Brewing Company. Grandma Moses once lived and painted in this area. You can learn more at the Hoosick Township Historical Society or visit the Bennington Museum just over the Vermont border. There is also the the Hoosick Barn Quilt Trail, a community-wide celebration of art, music, and rural culture in Hoosick. As you drive around the area look for 31 quilt patterns hung on barns and buildings throughout the town.

Hoosick Falls Quilt Trail

Along the Hoosick Falls Barn Quilt Trail

 

*** I am now sharing Stories From Higley Hill on my Instagram account. The link is along the left with all the other widgets that bring you to places you can find me. I am having fun with the idea of words and pictures. From time to time I will share them here, too. Check it out and join me if you’re on Instagram, too. Let me know you found my blog and I’ll follow you back.***

 

 

 

 

Shameless in Brattleboro: Stories From Higley Hill

Now that we are back on the grid, most evenings my husband and I watch series TV together. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are in the rotation right now. We have also been shamelessly wasting our viewing time watching Shameless, a series starring William H. Macy.

In case you’re not familiar with the show, Macy plays Frank Gallagher, the alcoholic father of six kids. He is almost always drunk and passed out on the floor. Fiona, his oldest daughter, takes care of the kids while her father is out drinking and working schemes to collect disability or someone else’s social security check.

The kids are adept at making ends meet; stealing food from the back of a delivery truck, pinching pennies from Unicef collections, and various other scams. In the first few episodes I liked the kids’ grit and solidarity as a family but by the end of the second season enough was enough.

The show moves at a frenetic pace. Everyone’s always rushing around. In most episodes Fiona is running through the house in her bra pulling a T-shirt on or off.

In my mind, Shameless reinforces the stereotypical crap politicians use when they try to gut services for the poor. It’s Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen driving the pink cadillac, reinforcing the belief that everyone on welfare is gaming the system.

Remember during the Great Recession when Obama extended unemployment benefits and the Republicans fought it? They argued most of the unemployed didn’t want to go back to work because they made more money collecting.

As a bookkeeper, I have filled out state unemployment forms for over thirty years. Unemployment is insurance. Your employer pays into the program every quarter. This money is a trust, an insurance plan paid for by employers. Not you. Not the government. No one makes more money collecting unemployment and because this is America, when you lose your job you lose your health insurance.

Fact: Most people would rather sleep in a comfortable bed than under a bridge where Frank Gallagher was found in one episode.

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The other night, Rich and I found ourselves Shameless in Brattleboro.

Before it unfolded, we stopped at a shopping plaza where Rich went into a barber shop to get a haircut and I perused the aisles of Rite-Aid.

Rich doesn’t have a regular barber and will bravely stop in any old place, so of course he has a lot of barber shop stories. He found his favorite barber in Queens. We were flying to St. Kitts for our 20th wedding anniversary and our flight was canceled due a snowstorm so we hung around Queens for an afternoon. Rich decided he was overdue for a haircut. The barber was a professional soccer player from Jordan and offered the full service, which included hot towels and a shave. He also watched international soccer on cable TV. Rich says it’s the best haircut he ever got.

After the Brattleboro haircut, Rich of course had new barber shop stories to share. This time he and the barber discussed hometowns and they somehow connected the dots that make up the surprisingly small world we live in.

Rich’s lifelong friend who also lives on Higley Hill had a college roommate who grew up in the same town as the barber, so Rich asked, “Do you know Danny Kippit?”

The barber did. They were both on the football team in high school. Danny once sold Rich and his friend a one-ton truck with a camper attached. It was the truck they moved to Colorado in when they were nineteen. They rebuilt it, painted it forest green, and replaced the front seat with a crushed red velour bench seat from a Lincoln Continental. It blew the engine in Denver, then the rear end went and the truck was dead in the water.

The barber told Rich one of the busiest times of year is when the mountain men come out of hibernation.

“Come March, the boys start coming out of the woods,” the barber said. “They’ve got the full beard and long hair. They need the full service. It gets pretty crazy in here.”

After the haircut, I told Rich about a motel across the street from the Rite-Aid. They were getting rid of some nice looking night tables and had placed them on the sidewalk along the road. We drove over to check them out.

When we pulled into the parking lot, a man had two of the six tables already loaded onto the bed of his truck. He was on his cell phone, probably asking his wife how many more she wanted. We decided they might be too low so we passed on them and headed home.

I guess you could say our Shameless show started with the dump picking in the motel parking lot but it really took off when we stopped at the state liquor store.

There was only one cashier working that night. When we walked in the store she was dealing with a difficult transaction. Something to do with a debit malfunction out at the gas pumps. A woman was charged for diesel. She had purchased unleaded. The cashier told the customer it happens sometimes. She was unfamiliar with processing a credit. The line running parallel to the counter started to grow.

We joined the back of the line which was now up against the entrance door. The man at the front of the line noticed and moved his carriage so he was facing the counter. Everyone followed suit and formed a perpendicular line along the whiskey aisle.

“We should form a conga line and you guys follow me up and down the aisles of the store while we wait,” the man at the front said. A few people started to cha-cha.

The cashier finally figured out the credit transaction. It was now the man at the front of the line’s turn. His carriage was filled with individual granola bars, snickers, and bags of Fritos and Bugles. He also had bottles of vodka, gin, and single bottles of local IPA beers and soda.

“Sorry,” he said, turning to the rest of us and smiling sheepishly.

Rich said, “This is the seven items or less line.”

Everyone was joking around, waiting to purchase bottles of booze and six packs of beer. People talked about the weather and the ski traffic over school vacation week. I put our six-pack of Guinness Blonde on the floor by my feet. Rich was holding bottles of Jameson and Svedka vodka. When you live in Vermont, it’s not just the mountain men who come out of the woods and attend to overdue business. Shopping is always an expedition.

When the man’s basketful of individually scanned items was finally rung up, he wheeled away from the counter and then turned and said, “Oh, wait a minute. I need a money order.”

Everyone groaned. Behind us, a mountain man with a beard down to his chest and a pint of White Lightening in his hand said, “Hey, I was clean-shaven when I came in here.”

“Hold your horses. This is your second time in here today,” the cashier hollered back.

“Kidding,” the front of the line man said. “I’m just kidding.” He turned around and rolled his carriage out to the parking lot.

The bearded man shouted to the cashier, “Hey, did you get those X-tra large condoms I ordered? The nice sheepskin ones?”

“Behave yourself,” she said.

“How about porn magazines? Did you get any new ones?” he asked.

“Yeah. We got the gay ones, too,” the cashier snapped back.

Back in the car we laughed about how we had stepped into our own episode of Shameless.

I’m not going to speculate on whether some of the people in the store were alcoholics scamming the system although a few reminded me of shameless Frank Gallagher. When I look at the world around me I look from a place of hope. We were a group of people waiting in a long line on a Friday night. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was patient. Some even had a raucous sense of humor.

There’s a line from Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter that might apply here:

“Nowadays, I’m willing to say yes to as much as I can: yes to my town, my neighborhood, my neighbor, yes to his car, her lawn and hedge and rain gutters. Let things be the best they can be. Give us all a good night’s sleep until it’s over.”

Yes, until it’s over. Many Americans aren’t sleeping well these days. Five weeks into the Trump presidency the entire world is reeling.

Sometimes all it takes to keep an open mind is to walk out your front door and bear witness. It really is a small world. You may meet a Middle Eastern immigrant soccer player turned barber who gives you the best haircut of your life. A few friendly people in a liquor store may provide a much needed laugh. It doesn’t take much to get out and experience the world with your own eyes.

As we drove up the dark mountain I told Rich, “We are not watching that shameless show tonight.”

Instead we watched Mad Men. It was the episode after President Kennedy was assassinated. Newly divorced Don Draper was on a date with a young woman. Three civil rights workers had recently been killed in Mississippi. The young woman told Don she was breaking her rule of not dating divorced men because a mutual friend has made Don her project.

Don looks bemused and says, “There are so many real problems in the world right now.”

Yes there are, and the world spins madly on.