The weather forecast promises that the Arctic air which has been holding Vermont in its chilling grip is going to ease tonight. But the rise in temperature isn’t due to the kindness of the weather goddess.
Nope, it seems there’s one heckuva blizzard on its way to the Green Mountain state. And that means that the chaotic beginning to Andy Cooper’s day—sick cashiers and an accident that sent Corky Smith’s truck off the road—is going to intensify.
Because everyone knows that if a storm’s coming, you have to stock up on bread and milk. And the shelves in Cooper’s General Store and Emporium are low.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.
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By the way, the Zeb Norris in this story (the one who works for Dirt Road Radio) is inspired by the real-life Zeb Norris who mans the morning microphone on the PointFM.com, Vermont’s favorite independent radio station.
“The latest weather forecast for the Dirt Radio listening area is for the deep cold to continue into tonight. It’s frigid out there, folks,” Zeb Norris said, his familiar voice waking Vermonters all over the state. “It would be a good idea to check on your neighbors, especially if they’re older, to make sure they’ve got heat.”
All the ears in Cooper’s general store turned toward the radio that Andy kept in the coffee corner.
“Tomorrow is going to be another story,” Norris continued. “Temperatures will rise into the twenties as snow makes its way into our area. Snow will start falling east of the Green Mountains around midnight and make its way to Burlington just in time for the morning commute. Winds will pick up to ten to fifteen miles per hour with gusts up to thirty-five so there will be lots of drifting snow. Accumulations of twelve to eighteen inches expected region-wide with higher accumulations in the mountains. V-Trans (the Vermont Department of Transportation) is warning that this is going to be a dangerous storm and is urging those who can to stay off the roads.”
Customers and cashiers glanced rapidly at one another. They’d all heard these warnings before and planned to heed them.
“Green Mountain Power is warning about outages as well because of the wind,” Norris said. “Current temperatures around the region are: Burlington minus ten, Barre minus eleven, Hanover in the Upper Valley minus nine, Saint Johnsbury minus twelve, and the capital has minus ten.”
Andy raised his eyes to gaze at the depleted shelves around the store. He’d been struggling to keep them filled because of the heavier-than-normal demand from the ski folks up on the mountain and he knew, without looking, that he was low on milk and bread, the two most important staples for people spooked about a blizzard.
His friends watched him closely, in silence, until his brother Charlie spoke up. “Amos, have you got your truck here?”
The white-haired man nodded. “Yep, and I put spiked snow tires on it this year. We should be able to get through anything.”
Charlie pulled out his phone. “Edie, I’m going to call Agnes to see if she can round up a couple more folks to help with cashiering and bagging. Andy, call the suppliers and tell them we’re on our way for bread and milk.”
“I can get the supplies,” Andy started to say but Charlie shook his head.
“You’re the only one who knows how everything works here and what needs to be done. You’ve got to stay,” the younger Cooper brother said as he raised his phone to his ear. “You organize and Amos and I will fetch. Need anything else besides the bread and milk?” He glanced at the store’s clock. “We’ve only got a five-hour window.”
Later, when Andy finally sat down to supper with his impromptu crew of baggers, cashiers, and stockers, the previous hours were nothing more than a smudge in his memory.
“I think everyone in town was in here either helping or buying,” Edie Wolfe said as she ladled out bowls full of steaming chicken soup that Charlie and his partner, Agnes, handed around the table.
“It just started snowing,” Andy announced from his perch by the large front windows of Cooper’s General Store and Emporium. He checked his watch. “It’s early by four hours.”
His friends abandoned the table, drifting up to stand next to him and watch the first chubby white flakes wander down to earth.
“What’s the temperature?” Ruth asked. “Anyone know? Flakes don’t clump like that if it’s too cold.”
Andy rubbed condensation from the window to peer out at a thermometer that his father had nailed to the store in 1953. “It’s definitely gone up to twenty-four/twenty-five degrees,” he said.
“I hope it doesn’t go up any more than that,” Ruth said as they settled back down to their communal meal, “or we’ll have freezing rain.”
They ate swiftly with little conversation, everyone aware that they little time to spare if they wanted to make it home while the roads were still passable.
“Edie, would you like me to drop you off?” Amos asked as he added an orange and purple scarf to his formidable ensemble. Edie lived on the opposite side of Carding Green from the store.
She took a moment to study the falling snow before she answered. “Thanks Amos but I think I’m going to walk. There’s just a dusting on the ground at this point and I haven’t had the chance to stroll in a snowstorm for a while.”
As Agnes picked up empty bowls to pile by the sink, she said:. “Have you made any plans for tomorrow yet, Andy? Will you open?”
He laughed softly as he rubbed his stubbled chin. “One of the advantages of living above the store is that I don’t have to commute.”
“And one of the disadvantages of living over the store is that the store can never be closed,” Charlie said. “Which is why I’m staying here overnight.”
“Sorry, no buts. Agnes brought me a change of clothes and a toothbrush,” Charlie said. “I’m staying.”
Andy grinned. “I do appreciate that.”
The wind had picked up a little by the time the “Cooper crew,” as they had dubbed themselves, tumbled out the store’s front door to head home. No one chatted and good-byes were accomplished by the rise and fall of mittened hands.
Edie snugged her scarf up higher on her face and slipped a small flashlight out of her pocket, glad that she’d changed its batteries not too long ago. It was impossible for its beam to light her way through the dizzying spiral dance of snowflakes but at least it would warn others of her presence.
She scuffed her feet, testing the relative slipperiness of the ground. There was too little snow to matter yet. “Perfect,” she murmured as she set off, a little puff of steam making her word visible in the air.
It was quiet, every noise muffled by the incoming storm. Edie moved slowly, her eyes fixed on the porch light she’d left on after taking her dog Nearly for a quick afternoon walk. It was as if the entire world had taken the storm advice broadcast over the radio all afternoon and decided to stay home. Even though she hadn’t seen the inside of a church in years, Edie made a habit of sending up a little prayer of gratitude for the people who plowed the miles of pavement coiling over, under, around and through Vermont’s hills as well as the police, nurses, fire fighters, and electric company crews who kept the basics of contemporary life humming along.
The pace of life in Vermont slowed down during a storm but it never shut down.
Nearly barked his welcome when he heard her key in the lock, his tail a blur of happiness.
“Let’s get you outside before the snow’s too deep for you,” Edie said, snapping on the lights that flooded her backyard. The cocker spaniel leaped at his chance, snuffling through the fluff to see if any squirrels had invaded his territory since he’d been out last.
While waiting for her dog’s return, Edie crumpled newspaper to fill the bottom of her wood stove, adding a handful of kindling and a couple of small logs. Then she stoppered her bathtub, turned on the cold water and let it slowly fill up.
Finally, she placed two beeswax candles, a Christmas gift from her sister Rosie, in the center of the kitchen table.
You can say what you want about bread and milk, she told herself. The real essentials you need to ride out a winter storm are water, heat, candles.
She greeted Nearly with an old towel to dry him after his snowy adventures but he ignored her, skipping to a basket full of well-chewed toys to select his favorite green ball, the one light enough and small enough for him to toss in Edie’s direction.
“Aw c’mon,” Edie whined. “It’s been an awfully long day, Nearly.”
He wagged his tail, his brown eyes alight with glee.
Edie sighed but obeyed his implicit demand, knowing that her dog needed her attention after a lonely day.
As Nearly skidded around the kitchen’s tile floor in pursuit of one of his life’s greatest pleasures, Edie managed to turn off the water in the bathroom and light the newspaper in the wood stove.
Nearly whined at her feet, ready for another toss of his favorite toy.
“Okay, okay, just one more and then it’s time for bed,” Edie said, winding up to pitch the toy into her living room, Nearly hopping after it.
At that moment, a great tall pine near Carding elementary school—one that the road crew had targeted for the chainsaw—dropped its largest branch on a nearby power line and all the lights in town went out.
Nearly whined as he made his way toward Edie who was scrambling to find the matches she kept in a drawer next to the kitchen sink.
She sighed as she scraped a match into life, touching its flame to the candle wicks. “I have a hunch tomorrow’s going to be an even longer day.”
Join us in Carding next week as “the storm of the century” decides it’s time to visit Vermont. And remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.
Thanks for stopping by.