Bread and Milk: A Carding Chronicle

sh-bread and milkThe 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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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.

Thanks Zeb.


“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.”

“But…”

“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.

Bread and Milk

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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle. Hope to see!

sh-bread and milk

 

With a Little from His Friends: A Carding Chronicle

SH-ColdNow that the holidays are over, folks in Carding are settling into their seasonal routines—checking their thermometers to see if they really want to go outside, listening to the weather on Dirt Road Radio, and comparing this winter to winters past in order to determine whether the good old days were really good or just old.

Right now, Vermont is under the control of the type of Arctic blast that can make your nose freeze shut. To make matters worse over at the general store, Andy Cooper’s struggling to get by with a little help from his friends who are pitching in for sick cashiers and an influx of demanding customers.

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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

This is the first of three parts, by the way.


“It was minus seventeen degrees at my house when we got up this morning,” the woman-from-away announced to no one in particular as she walked through the front door of Cooper’s General Store. “Seventeen degrees below zero. Why that’s…that’s…way below freezing. I can’t believe how cold I am.”

Andy Cooper shook his head in disbelief as he watched the woman totter into his store without a hat or gloves and on high-heeled boots. No Vermonter in her right mind wears high-heeled boots in winter.

But this woman was obviously one of the folks who come to Vermont only for the skiing and the bragging rights that accompany owning “a little place up north”.

“Seventeen degrees below zero is supposed to keep out the riff-raff,” Andy muttered to himself as he bagged groceries.

It had been a rough start to the week for the owner of the store everyone in Carding calls the Coop. Two of Andy’s best people were down with the flu, leaving him short on cashiers. And then Corker Smith’s truck slid into a snow bank as he was driving into work, one of the many accidents caused by the black ice that had been plaguing Carding’s roads all week.

Corker and his beloved Chevy were fine except for a flat tire. But he couldn’t get to Cooper’s until that was fixed, and considering the number of winter repairs lined up at Stan’s Garage in front of him, it would be a while before Corker was on the road again.

At Cooper’s, Corker was considered a key man because he did just about everything from stocking shelves to ordering the wide variety of wines that made the store a favorite among connoisseurs to feeding the wood furnace in the basement. So his absence left Andy with a huge gap in his employment situation.

On top of that, Mount Merino was hosting a ski event and Cooper’s had been packed for days with city people who complained when they discovered that the store didn’t have an espresso machine or their favorite brand of chocolate or spelt bread.

“You only have bread made with wheat flour,” one woman had gasped, a leather-gloved hand at her throat. “I don’t know how anyone can eat that.”

Fortunately, the ski racing would be over soon so Andy told himself that this too would pass and tried to get on with his day.

He had been up since 4 a.m. trying to coax more heat out of the wood furnace in the store’s basement. But the cold was relentless. Ruth Goodwin opined that it was if winter was exacting revenge for humankind’s fiddling with its climate while the old-timers in Carding told everyone who would listen that “this is the way things used to be.”

Andy was never sure why that was an important point to make but folks over the age of seventy sure got excited about it.

Outside, it was hard to distinguish one mega-scarfed and booted Carding-ite from another. After all, the reddened tip of one nose looks like every other reddened tip.  

Even Amos Handy had made a concession to the bitter frigidity. In spite of his resistance to all things social, the bearded curmudgeon had become something of an institution in Carding because he ran the Swap Shed at the town’s recycling center. The Shed was the place to pick up still-good stuff that someone didn’t want while leaving off still-good stuff that someone else could use.

Among Amos’s many claims to eccentric fame was the consistency of his wardrobe. No matter the weather, he always wore work boots, droopy socks, Hawaiian shirts, a red bandana around his neck, and shorts—always shorts. In winter, he added a military-style parka to his attire that had so many pockets, Amos claimed to get lost in them. 

This vision of Amos was so engrained in the Carding DNA that Andy did a double-take when Amos walked through the front door of the store.

“Amos, did you leave your knees at home?” Andy’s words were accompanied by a loud gasp.

“Hmph, and to think I came all the way over here to help you because of Corker’s truck troubles,” Amos said. But then he grinned and struck a model’s pose. “Do you like them? They’re lined—with fleece. Been saving them for just such a day.”

Andy shook his head in wonder. “How old are they, Amos?”

The bearded man thought about that for a long moment. “Well, you know how I don’t like to rush into anything, Andy.”

“I do know that, Amos. I really do.”

“Well then, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that these pants have aged five years since I bought them at that second-hand shop over in White River Junction,” Amos said.

Suddenly Edie Wolfe, Ruth Goodwin, and Andy’s brother, Charlie, charged through the front door. “We heard that Corker’s truck is stuck in the line at Stan’s,” Edie said. “We figured you could use a hand.”

Andy grinned. “I sure could. Amos here is too busy giving me a fashion show to be of much use.”

Charlie stopped in mid-step. “Why Amos, where are your…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve already covered that,” Amos said as he started placing a customer’s groceries in a bag. 

Ruth pulled her phone out of her pocket to snap a picture. “Say knees,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, very funny. Are you going to help this poor man or not?” Amos grumbled, hooking his thumb over his shoulder at Andy.

It didn’t take long for the friends to organize themselves into teams of cashiers and baggers. With the holidays over, everyone in town needed to stock back up on prosaic items such as milk, eggs, and dog food. But no matter how fast Andy and his untrained helpers moved, the lines at the checkouts didn’t get any shorter.

Most folks were good about it, using the waiting time to share holiday stories with whoever stood next to them. But the woman-from-away in the high-heeled boots had no patience for such nonsense.

“It was seventeen degrees below zero at my house this morning,” she announced again, stamping on the concrete floor. “It’s cold in here. I’ve got to get home before I freeze.”

It was the stamping foot that got Amos’s attention. If there was one thing that riled him more than any other, it was deliberate displays of stupidity, and wearing high-heeled boots when there was snow and ice on the ground was, in his considered opinion, deliberately stupid. He cleared his throat with an almost inaudible “ahem.”

Andy picked up his head to see what would happen next, and he spotted a quick smile flitting over his brother’s face.

“So exactly how many degrees below freezing is that particular temperature?” Amos asked as he launched a bunch of celery into the woman’s designer grocery bag.

“Why, why…” The woman hesitated. Math had never been her strong suit. “Why that’s 49 degrees below freezing, that’s what that is.”

“Ah, just as a I thought,” Amos said. “Being from away, you wouldn’t know how we Vermonters handle the zero.” He juggled a bunch of bananas into place.

Edie’s fingers hovered over a dozen eggs as she stopped to listen.

“The what?”

“The zero,” Amos said. “You see, when you count the number of degrees a temperature is below freezing, you have to count the zero just like any other digit or it doesn’t come out right.”

Ruth Goodwin turned her face away as she struggled not to laugh. They’d all heard Amos explain the “Vermont way of using a zero” before, and it never failed to amuse. The woman-from-away eyed Amos’s rather unkempt appearance with visible disdain.

“You’re wrong,” she announced. “Water freezes at 32 degrees above zero, and if it was 17 below at my house this morning, then 32 plus 17 is 49 degrees below freezing. Everyone knows that.”

“But we do math different here in Vermont. We count the zero,” Amos said. “So it was actually 50 degrees below freezing at your house this morning. It’s important to get these things right you know.”

The woman’s mouth gaped open for just a moment. But then a titter escaped from Ruth and the woman’s face cinched up tighter than a miser’s wallet. She reached over to dump the contents of her bag on the counter but Amos got there first, removing the bananas with delicate precision while scooping up the celery with his other hand.

“You…” she hissed. “I’ll tell everyone I know about how rude you are in this store. You rednecks will get no more business from us.” Then she stalked out the door.

Amos maintained his silence until she was out of ear range then he turned to Andy with puckered smile. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I should have kept my tongue between my teeth. This isn’t my store.”

But Andy shrugged and drew in a deep breath. “It’s okay, Amos. I’ve had my fill of those folks this week. Had my fill.”

Just then, Charlie’s cell phone binged with a text alert. “Ho boy,” he said as he scanned the screen. “Looks like we’re in for it.”

“So that blizzard is coming our way after all,” Edie said. Everyone in Carding had been cemented to the local weather reports on Dirt Road Radio for the past three days, tracking the progress of a North Atlantic tempest that grew larger with every telling.

“How many inches are they expecting now?” Ruth asked.

“Over a foot,” Charlie said. “Closer to two feet in some places.”

“Like here in Carding?” Edie said.

“Yeah, like Carding.”


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.

With a Little Help from His Friends

Now that the holidays are over, folks in Carding are settling into their seasonal routines—checking their thermometers to see if they really want to go outside, listening to the weather on Dirt Road Radio, and comparing this winter to winters past in order to determine whether the good old days were really good or just old.

Right now, Vermont is under the control of the type of Arctic blast that can make your nose freeze shut. To make matters worse over at the general store, Andy Cooper’s struggling to get by with a little help from his friends who are pitching in for sick cashiers and an influx of demanding customers.

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.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Here’s a sample of what’s in store for tomorrow.

SH-Cold

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.