Tag Archives: winter in vermont

Modern Inconveniences: A Carding Chronicle

sh-modern inconveniencesWeather is always the dominant topic of conversation in Vermont in winter. No matter what else is going on, precipitation in its various forms and amounts is the primary fact of life.

It’s always been my opinion that if you’re going to thrive in northern New England, you have to learn how to have fun in the snow. Yesterday’s blizzard in Carding has given a number of people the chance to do just that.

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 last of three parts, by the way. You can read part one here, and part two right here.

By the way, the Zeb Norris who works for Dirt Road Radio in Carding actually works for the PointFM in real life. Great station. Tune in if you get the chance.

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“Here’s the latest on the weather,” Dirt Road Radio’s morning voice, Zeb Norris, announced. “The storm that brought us a foot of snow overnight is tapering off, moving from east to west. The snow has stopped in White River Junction but the winds, from 10 to 15 miles per hour, are making the morning commute and road clearing difficult.”

Early-rising Carding-ites sipped their caffeinated beverages of choice and studied the weather outside their windows as they listened to Norris. In Carding as in every section of the state, every town, every ridge and every valley qualified as its own micro-climate. Each slight rise in the land or twist of the river dictated the number of inches of snow one received in winter as well as the amount of rain in summer.

So everyone accepted the fact that the weather you heard on the radio or found online was a general guideline. When it came to the depth of the white stuff outside your front door, what really mattered were the specific geographical conditions pertinent to the place you called home.

“Green Mountain Power has reported spotty power outages across the state overnight but the crews have been busy turning people’s lights back on,” Norris continued. “The leading edge of the storm has crossed the border into the Adirondacks. Areas of Vermont east of the Greens will see diminishing winds and clear skies by mid-morning. Montpelier and Burlington will see the same by mid-afternoon. School closings are statewide. You can check on your local school by visiting our website.”

Edie fed another log into her stove. Even though power had returned to Carding in the wee hours of the morning and she could turn on the furnace if she wanted, there was nothing like wood heat to warm a body on a cold winter day.

The house rumbled under her feet as the town plow passed by. Edie knew she’d have to wait for her own plow guy, Martin Luey, to clear the snowy rubble from the end of her driveway before she could move her car. So she poured herself a second cup of coffee and stood closer to the stove.

She’d already started her own clean-up, making a path for Nearly from her back door, across the lawn between the raised gardens that produced vegetables and herbs in summer and into the shrubby area that marked the end of her yard. The cocker spaniel had done his best to help, leaping into the air to catch the snow that flew from Edie’s shovel before diving head first into the white stuff, his tail a blur of joy.

“You do realize that it takes me twice as long to shovel a path when you help,” Edie told him. Nearly’s whole body jiggled in excitement as he anticipated his special person’s next shovelful and she laughed. “But I’d forget how much fun it is to play in the snow if I didn’t have you around, wouldn’t I?”

Over at Cooper’s General Store, Corker Smith was busy re-stocking the wine shelves while Andy and his brother Charlie handled the dairy and bread aisles. “Lucky thing we got a delivery in before the storm,” Andy remarked as he watched the store’s first customers dribble through the front door.

Charlie held up a loaf of wheat bread in his hands. “Why do you suppose it’s always bread and milk that folks rush out for when we have a storm?”

Andy shrugged. “I’m not sure but a storm’s as good an excuse as any to make hot cocoa and cinnamon toast.”

Out in the Coop’s parking lot, Martin Luey directed his crew in the most efficient way to clear the store’s parking lot. He knew that his best chance to get at the bulk of the blizzard happened in the first hours of the day. Once the main roads were open again, Cooper’s parking lot would become a throbbing mass of shoppers as well as those who just needed to get out of the house.

“Are you guys all set for the moment?” he asked. When the drivers nodded, Martin swung up into his own truck and headed off to tackle his driveway clients.

One by one, he dug into the roadside snowbanks mounded up by the lumbering town plows, pushing white waves of frozen water to this side or that. The Elliott boys were already outside in their front yard making a snow fort by the time Martin arrived. He grinned as he lined up his plow for the first pass as Bruce Elliott struggled to hold back his kids.

“Make a BIG mountain,” the youngest boy screamed. “Really, really, really BIG!”

Martin rolled down the window. “I’ll do my best. Just wait until I’m gone before you start playing on it, okay?”

The boys obeyed, mesmerized as Martin pushed the bulk of their driveway’s snow into one massive pile. Since school was closed, he knew that the chance to play “King of the Mountain” would keep the Elliott boys entertained all day and out of the hair of their grateful mother, Cate.

Bruce waved when Martin finished then let his boys free.

“Well, they ought to sleep well tonight,” Martin said as he paused at the end of the driveway.

Bruce shook his head. “I sure hope so. Amazing how much energy those three can generate. Hey, would you do Cate a favor while you’re out?”

“Sure, if I can.”

“You plow Gwen Kiever’s place down the hill behind us, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Why?”

“Well, Cate keeps an eye on Gwen this time of year and we haven’t seen any lights on down there this morning and she’s not answering her phone. Could you give her a blast on your horn to make sure she’s up and about?” Bruce asked.

Martin nodded. “Sure thing. I’ve give you a call to let you know what I find out.”

Just then, an exuberant scream from the snow pile made both men turn their heads just in time to see the youngest Elliott, his cheeks snapped apple red by the cold, finish his first sled run to the bottom of the pile.

“Hey, Martin just plowed that all up. Don’t push it back into the driveway,” Bruce said as he walked off. He lifted a gloved hand in Martin’s direction. “Thanks.”

Martin slurped coffee as he turned into the next driveway and then the next and the next  until he reached Gwen Kiever’s place. He paused, suddenly uneasy at the sight of the older woman’s dark windows. He located the top of her chimney and stared at it hard. But try as he might, he couldn’t detect a hint of smoke curling skyward.

“Oh jeez,” he muttered, lowering the plow for his first sweep, aiming as close to Gwen’s front door as he could get. “Please be okay. Please be okay.”

Leaving his truck running, Martin yanked on his hand brake and jumped to the ground, phone in hand. “Gwen!” he yelled as he banged on her door. “Gwen, are you in there? Are you all right? Gwen?”

His hand was halfway to the knob when the door opened. Martin blinked at what looked like a pile of quilts standing in the dark. The only human feature he make make out was a pair of brown eyes.

“Gwen, what’s wrong?” He reached around the door jamb to flip on a light switch but nothing happened. “Are you still without power?”

The quilt on the top of the pile nodded. “Since last night,” she said.

Martin stepped through the door, his fingers flying over his keypad. It was almost as cold inside the house as out. “I thought you had a wood stove,” he said as he waited for Bruce Elliott to pick up his phone.

“I converted last summer to a wood pellet stove,” Gwen said. “And it went out.”

Martin shook his head. He was a regular wood-stove guy himself. Why buy bags of wood rolled into little balls when you could cut logs? “Let me guess, it’s got an automatic ignition system, am I right?”

Gwen nodded. “No electricity, no ignition and no phone.”

“Hello?”

“Hey Bruce, I’ve got Gwen here with me. She hasn’t got her power back yet…”

“…and she put in one of those pellet stoves last summer.” Martin could hear Bruce shaking his head. “Damn things. Worst idea since coal.”

“Yeah. Listen, I’m going to put her in my truck to get her warm while I clear her driveway but…”

“Cate will be right there to pick her up, and I’ll call the electric company,” Bruce said. “Tell Gwen more help is on the way.”

Martin pocketed his phone and stretched his arms out to the older woman. “My truck is warm, Cate’s on her way, and it’ll be quicker if you let me carry you through the snow. Have you got shoes on your feet?”

“No, they won’t fit over three pairs of socks.” A grin appeared from deep inside the quilt pile. “I can’t remember the last time I had the offer of a young man carrying me over a threshold of any kind. This should be fun.”

With a whoop from Gwen and a deep grunt from Martin, they started toward the truck. Under ordinary circumstances, it would have taken no more than a minute or two to cover the distance from house to truck. But the uncertain footing made their progress slow.

Cate Elliott skidded to a halt at the end of the driveway just as Martin reached his truck.

“Gwen, are you okay?” she called as she slid her way forward.

“Well, I’m awfully glad to see both of you but it’s too bad you got here so soon,” the older woman said.

“Too bad?” A question mark formed between Martin’s eyebrows. “How so?”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to ride around in a plow truck after a storm. It looks like such fun and what’s the use of snow if you can’t have fun in it, right?” Gwen’s eyes were twinkling.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking,” Martin said.

“Oh, I don’t mind you asking. Past a certain age, who cares? It’s only years. I’m going to be eighty-three in February.”

Martin laughed. “Cate, do you mind waiting for a few minutes? I think Gwen and I need to clear her driveway.”

——————————————————


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: 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

The Solstice Train: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Solstice train storyYou can always tell when Andy Cooper is winding up to tell a story.

Drink in hand (just in case his throat gets dry), he settles into the room’s best chair (one of the benefits of being a storyteller is that others give way to your personal comfort), and waits for quiet to settle over his audience.

The story he tells about his great-grandfather’s ride home on a rather sketchy train has become an integral part of the Progressive Tree-Trimming Party that happens every December in Carding, Vermont. One year, his brother Charlie took notes during Andy’s telling, and then wrote the story up in a little book that gets sold in Cooper’s General Store during the holiday season.

We thought you’d enjoy it too.

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. You’ll find information about the four Carding novels after the story.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicles. When you do, Carding stories are shipped right to your inbox.

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Wallace Cooper was the eldest child in the third generation of the family who own and run the general store in the center of Carding, Vermont.

He was a quiet man, one not given to open displays of affection.

Except when it came to his wife, Annie.

She made his eyes sparkle.

Wallace and Annie always wanted a big family—at least four children—but the beginning of that path was star-crossed for this deeply-in-love couple.

No matter how much pleasure they took in their efforts to conceive, pregnancy eluded them. But as the fifth anniversary of their marriage loomed on the horizon, Annie was finally with child.

Now 1874 was not the ideal year to have a baby in Vermont. The little state had given generously of its male population in the War Between the States that had ended only nine years before. Few families had been spared the demise of a son or an uncle or friend or cousin or father.

Wallace had been too young to enlist in the regular Union Army but he followed an uncle to Washington, D.C. to help with the wounded. To say that he left his hometown a carefree youth but came back a careworn adult is an understatement.

He would have been a lost man if Annie had not made his eyes sparkle.

Times were hard back then in the rocky hills of Vermont. In addition to the casualties of war, many of the state’s younger people had moved west to farm where land was flat, rock-free and fertile. As a consequence, fewer and fewer people needed what Cooper’s General Store sold, and there were days when Wallace wondered if he and Annie should move west too.

It was the tail-end of the year, the winter solstice, when the normally tight-walleted people of Carding decided to spend a little money on gifts for their children. Peppermint sticks were a favorite, of course, but what folks really wanted were oranges. 

But Wallace, short of available cash, had not stocked any of the exotic fruit.

That’s when Annie folded her husband’s fingers around a small bag of coins, her egg money, and told him to go to White River Junction to buy oranges for the people of Carding.

So Wallace reluctantly left an anxious and very-pregnant Annie that morning, promising to be home by the last train, no matter what.

Nowadays when we look back at the age of train travel, it all seems so steady and reliable. But when you look closer at the history of railroads in America, the reality is anything but tranquil. Railroad bankruptcies and corruption were rife, even in Vermont.

Wallace had read about the financial duel between the Vermont Central and the Rutland Railroads but he thought it was just more squabbling among the shiftier members of their boards of directors. 

But it is a truism, seldom voiced, that corruption at the top of a food chain is always matched by corruption at the bottom.

Wallace didn’t notice anything unusual about the train he rode to White River. But when he and his precious orange cargo boarded the train to head back home, he definitely had cause to worry.

First off, there was no coal or wood to burn in the stove meant to keep passengers—and fruit—from freezing. Then Wallace noticed the absence of several wooden seats, their legs sawn off near the floor.

There were a half dozen men in the car with him. Wallace knew three of them by sight if not by name. When they nodded greetings to one another, they looked equally worried about the condition of their transportation.

Suddenly the door slammed open, and a conductor stepped inside, his mouth set in a thin, grim line.

“Sorry to tell you this, folks, but this train won’t be running tonight,” he said.

“Why not?” one of the other passengers, a man with a full white beard, asked.

The conductor shrugged. “Seems the Vermont Central Railroad does not pay its bills, and as a consequence, no one will sell us wood for the boiler.” He paused to look around the passenger car. “And there aren’t enough seats left to burn.”

An image of Annie’s anxious face rose in Wallace’s mind. “How much do you need?” he asked.

The conductor looked confused. “How much of what?”

“Wood. How much wood do you need to get us to Carding? I promised my wife I’d be home tonight. We’re expecting a child…soon. And my oranges,” Wallace shook his head, “will be spoiled.”

The other passengers regarded their fellow traveler in silence for a long moment. They all knew Cooper’s General Store was struggling.

Then the bearded man turned to the conductor. “How much money do you need to buy the wood that will get us to Carding?”

The conductor started using his fingers to calculate.

“Without figuring in a profit for yourself,” the bearded man interrupted.

Wallace hid a grin as he suddenly remembered the bearded man’s name—Jack Candon, a lawyer originally from over Norwich way.

The conductor looked up sharp. “I wasn’t…,” he began. But something in the bearded man’s face stopped him. “Seventy-five cents.”

Wallace started fumbling for coins in his pockets but Jack put a hand on his arm.

“So there’s going to be a new Cooper in Carding, eh?” he said. “That calls for a celebration.” He took off his hat then dropped some coins from his own pocket into it. “I’ve got twenty-five cents. What can the rest of you do?”

“But…,” Wallace began.

Jack shook his head. “Let us do this for you, okay?”

Penny by penny, Jack eventually collected enough to buy wood to get the train to Carding. Then he dropped in another half dollar of his own. “Wood for the stove to keep your oranges—and us—warm,” he told Wallace. Then he shook the hat in the conductor’s face. “Take me to your wood seller.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that,” the conductor protested, his face cinched up with insincere sincerity. “I’ll be happy to take care of it all.”

“Not a chance. I want to be sure that the wood you buy is at least as dry as the seats you burned to get here,” Jack said. Then he clapped Wallace on the shoulder. “We need to get this man home.”

Years later, when he told his children the Solstice Train story—he and Annie eventually had six little Coopers—Wallace always said it was the longest ride home on the longest night of the year. But every orange made the journey without freezing, and he sold them all but the one he saved for his wife.

That fruit saved the store in 1874, a fact that the Cooper family still celebrates by giving away oranges every year on the winter solstice.

By the way, Jack Candon was not on that train by accident that night. Wallace eventually found out that his bearded friend had been hired by the state inspector of railroads to look into corruption, including the buying and selling and disappearing of wood.

His report eventually led to the merger of the Vermont Central and Rutland Railroads, a move that ensured better and safer travel for everyone in the Green Mountain State.


You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, has just been published! You can find them all on Amazon or you can order them through your local independent book store.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.