Updated: Feb 5, 2018
by David Michael Kirby
sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks ~ unknown
I stopped by Betsey’s Dot’s of Dover for lunch. Yes, again. What can I say? I like the food, the service and the friendly staff. I thanked Tommy, the short order cook, for encouraging me to visit the Glory Hole spillway at the Harriman Reservoir Dam over a week ago. I ordered another favorite, California Benedict, and scanned the local weekly paper, taking note of the bears story on the front page (note: not a sports team).
I was on my to Weston to visit the original Vermont Country Store. I’ve been on their email list for about twenty years and never checked it out during previous Vermont visits. It took me about an hour and was a beautiful drive (though honestly, I can’t think of a single bad drive around here). I might have made it sooner, but it was Friday, and the roads held a greater share of RVs, motorcycles, and out-of-state plates. The weekenders were arriving, the going was slow, and I didn’t mind. Much.
Vrest and Ellen Orton opened The Vermont Country Store in Weston in 1946. Today their store is still owned and operated by the Orton family, in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations of storekeepers. They continue to “take pride in being Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-To-Find.” Body On Tap shampoo? They have it. Charles Chips? They have that, too.
I believe I mentioned previously that I grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. The Green mountains of southern Vermont are similar, and I’ve experienced some deja vu and nostalgia throughout my exploring these last couple of weeks. But I was completely unprepared for the wave of emotion that hit me when shopping at the Vermont Country Store.
The store is really a compound, made up of several buildings (including an outhouse[!]). Once parked, I walked around getting the lay of the land, so to speak. When I crossed the threshold of the street-facing front door, I was inundated with multiple memories simultaneously: a small country store of my young childhood in Raleigh, Storie’s Sweet Shop at the corner of Main and Sunset in my mountain hometown, and the Mast General Store, North Carolina’s version of an authentic, historic country store, complete with ESSO sign out front. The heady smell of waxed or oiled wood mixed with the sweet aroma of candy jars and fudge, plus coffee, created a slippery slope down to memory lane.
What emotionally triggered me, though, was the selection of classic toys within the store. I discovered it by following the noise of burp guns and musical instruments, the excited laughter and squeals of delight from children along with the occasional admonition from parents or grandparents. It was when I saw the clacking Jacobs Ladder, I experienced my flashback: A trip to Asheville with my parents and siblings, years before we knew we would one day live in the mountains northeast of there. I think I was seven years old. My brother, my two sisters, and I, were each permitted to select one traditional handcrafted mountain toy. (I chose a Gee Haw Whimmy Diddle. I still have it somewhere.) Afterward, we posed for a photo, all four of us sitting in a row, demonstrating our toys for posterity. I have no idea what my brother’s toy was called, but in that picture, all eyes are on him and his toy.
Memory is so strange. I remember very little about that vacation, considering my age then, yet what I do recall overwhelmed me in an instant. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I wandered around blindly for a few minutes, picking at the memory (recalling rubber superhero action figures we also got on that trip, or the moment Dad turned the station wagon around on a narrow dirt road at dusk and I could swear from where I sat in the way-back we were hanging over the edge of road, terrified we were moments away from dropping to the valley below).
Once I felt more myself I stepped outside for some air. I discovered a flower garden by the entrance drive and was delighted to get a closer look at a particular flower I only noticed the day before, on the road to the swimming hole. From a distance, it reminds me of a pink cloud or foam (or cotton candy). I took a few flower photos, before venturing across the street to the Weston Village Store (“Weston’s “Original Country Store since 1891”).
In addition to all the usual Vermont paraphernalia (hats, t-shirts, fudge, windchimes, maple products), the second level intrigued me the most. It was originally the town’s dance hall! Next door to the Weston Village Store was a charming post office with a chihuahua waiting patiently in a pick-up parked at its front door. By now it was late afternoon and I was ready to return home by way of the secret swimming hole.
There were already six cars parked along the side of the road when I got there. I made my way down anyway, looking forward to cooling off in the refreshing water. Others were there, including one young man making impressive back-flips off the rock beside the falls, and the mood was congenial. I swam for almost half an hour when three families with at least six kids between them under the age of ten made their entrance. I knew it was time to go and I returned to the road. I noted the latest arrivals were from out of state.
I returned to West Dover, joining Philip and his family for dinner in his mother’s garden. Everything about this impromptu gathering was sublime, from the company to the food to the conversation. I truly felt like one of the family, and I could not have been made more welcome, nor felt more grateful.
I know dinner probably seemed more poignant thanks to my memory pas de deux that afternoon, but I also realize it made creating this new memory even sweeter. A Vermontime dessert, if you will.