In the years after 9/11, the tourism and insurance industries changed the face of our state, and many of the old mom-and-pop inns in central Vermont closed. We managed to inch along, keeping our tired old place open through 2004. I’m writing a book about all that, but it is slow going. I get distracted.
In December of 2003, a family from Texas came to our inn for a week’s stay. Mother, father, thirteen-year-old son and his friend. The snow in our village was particularly deep and white and perfect that year. There were lights and decorations and people and a lot of holiday energy. Luminaria lined the dirt road on Christmas Eve. A fire roared in the old shale fireplace. The inn was full.
Photographs don’t really capture the forty-five-degree gradient of the incline in the ten acres behind what used to be the inn but is now just our house. It’s the land that used to be Jessie Fisk’s horse training area and exhibition paddock, with trails that run up through the woods to the little cabin that now belongs to the heirs of Esther from down the dirt road, although I’m not sure if she has died yet. Her two sons have died, however, and while we had the occasional tiff with our peculiar neighbors, right-of-way snafus and the like, I feel a tremendous grief every time I peek in those windows and see how cute they fixed up the cabin.
Now, as I write in 2019, the November snow has just blanketed the hill. The larger inn building, just below us, stands empty; the neighbor who bought it from us has also died. Jessie Fisk’s great-grandniece might have told me a lot more about winters on our acreage―the horses in the paddock pulling sleds full of delighted children or whatever Rockwellian image I may have―but she was never one to talk much to us and now she is dead too. As I climb the hill with our golden retriever, I can look down over the village and see the roofs of everyone’s houses.
I stand up at the top after my slow climb, the climb I make myself do on a regular basis to combat the autoimmune illness that has invaded my lungs, and I look out over the snow, grateful for the memories that come to me every so often.
In 2003, the inn had only dial-up, one cord from the phone jack in the dining room. No Wi-Fi. Cell phones barely worked. A black-and-white TV in the smaller building, which is now our home, had an antenna that caught signals from two local stations. But the boys from Texas weren’t bored. They had never seen snow. My husband found them some warm clothes, mittens, shovels, and plastic bags to line their boots, and off they went, up the hill with our black Lab, George (who had waited his whole life for this moment), to figure it out. Our daughter, then eleven, looked up briefly from her Game Boy and grimaced.
Five days later, there was a luge run carved into the snow, from the tree line to the dirt road, easily a couple hundred yards. There must be some metaphor for my thinking of this as I look at my life today, some reason I can’t find a single photograph of those boys and their hard-won masterpiece. The only evidence is a handwritten letter from the parents, addressed to George, thanking him for such a good time. And besides a surprising feeling of gratitude for having remembered this, I have this deep regret that I didn’t climb up the hill and sail down the pipeline to the road myself. Was I too busy with a full inn? Did I think the opportunity would present itself again? Was it before or after my mother died? Or maybe I did do it but have forgotten.
I follow some cross-country ski tracks down the hill and find all sorts of critter markings and watch the dog make snow angels and promise myself to come back up here more often. Next time, with my own sled
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
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