Sunday Almanac: We Have No Snow But We Do Have Eleanor

It’s almost like a luge track,” The Chef observed during the winter of 2014. I had been in Vermont for only about a year and a half but was already in my second place there. My first place had been an idyllic cottage on picturesque Lake Morey, where I damn near ran out of cash owing to an errant ex who failed to honor the terms of our marital dissolution agreement.

The Chef and I met each other about an instant after I stepped onto Vermont soil, but lived about two hours apart and visited only on weekends. The second place, this one with the ‘luge track,’ was situated on 180 isolated acres (and I mean isolated, The Shining kind of isolated) outside the town center of Sharon, still a long distance from Chef David’s place in Arlington. Google it if you wish, but what I will tell you is Sharon is a typical rural Vermont hamlet with a gazebo-ed ‘green’ in the middle of the town, a general store with gas station, a library, a post office, and little else. Oddly enough, it’s also the birthplace of Joseph Smith, yep that one, a thing I learned later on when we lived in Bennington and some young Mormons came tapping on the front door.

I digress. I had a connection to that exquisite property in Sharon through the ballet school where I was teaching at the time, a retired American Ballet Theatre soloist who owned it and the two habitable structures on it. She rented me her beautiful studio loft for something I could afford, and in short order Chef David and I had painted it a sunny yellow inside and converted it into a comfortable place for me and my Clarence-the-Shepherd to live for a little while.

In a Vermont winter there will be snow and lots of it as you doubtless already know. Thus, in addition to ponying up cash for housing and heating expenses, one must also hire a plowman, unless one has only a small driveway to shovel out by hand as I had at the first place.

This place, though, was accessible only by way of a twisty hairpin drive about a quarter-mile long. The driveway was a sharp turn off Vermont’s bucolic Route 132, down a steep incline and over a narrow wood bridge (no siderails, no sirree) across a sizeable creek and then through a dense wood before it unfolded onto a jaw-dropping landscape where stood the two structures, around a lovely pond and meadow. It looked fantastic in September, a sensorial collision of verdant surroundings, blue sky overhead, wildflowers abuzz with activity around the pond, and underfoot a groundcover of thyme that released its wonderful fragrance when you stepped on it. Are you interested, my friend and colleague wondered. Heck yes, I said.

But then came unforgiving Vermont winter and its fury and with it the small matter of plowing.

Enter Nathan-the-plowman, who showed up at the loft’s back door one autumn afternoon wondering whether I needed his services, explaining he had plowed this driveway in prior years for the owners. Well, yes, I suppose, I said. Nathan (appropriately named for a New England plowman, I decided), shoved his hands inside his pockets looked down, and quipped, “Fifty bucks.”

I swallowed hard and choked out, “Yes, okay, sounds good.” That’s fifty bucks per plow, gentle reader.

Later, over a mercifully strong cell connection, The Chef said, “Fifty is fantastic for a driveway that length—that was a good decision!” So I felt better, reassured, since I had no standard of measure, no way to scale such a thing.

But Nathan, a quite solid, pleasant, and reasonable young man who never seemed in a hurry to collect payment and loved telling me stories about hunting with his beagles, had only a smallish plow assembly attached to the front of his pickup.

If you live in a place where heavy snowfall is a winter reality, you know that when shoveling a pathway, for example from the back door to the garage, you must cut it far wider than only a narrow, say, two feet. Because as winter wears on, and new layers of snow fall on top of old layers, the old, bottommost ones become rock-solid ice, and there is no busting through them with a shovel to make the path wider. In other words, your pathway tends to narrow during the course of the winter, so starting wide is smart.

And so it was with that driveway in Sharon, Vermont, which grew narrower and narrower with every storm and subsequent plow, so that shortly before spring thaw it was indeed rather luge-like. My reliable old Subi barreled down the ‘track’ and then often bounced off the icy walls at the hairpin turn, a bit comically. It also frankly terrified me a little. Mud season never looked so good as it did that spring.

I can write about this comfortably now from our sunny home in coastal North Carolina, mine and my now-husband David’s, where snow measured in feet is but a distant memory. I’ve been thinking about it only because of what the denizens in New York and elsewhere have dealt with in recent days. My heart goes out to them, and I wish them well.

And also because yesterday The Chef noted we need plows in Wilmington to move all the pine needles, which have piled up so high in the turn lane on some roads you can no longer see the painted directional symbols. I’ll take that kind of pileup any day over the snowish, icy kind.

It was like this when we pulled into one of those lanes early yesterday afternoon to go to a local rehabilitation facility for a visit with our dear friend Eleanor. An intrepid octogenarian, Eleanor was one of the first people to welcome us to our new hometown last September.

We met her on an evening walk and learned she lived only several doors down from our rental home, in one of Wilmington’s few remaining golf course communities. It would be fair to say Eleanor is an institution in that neighborhood. Everybody knows Eleanor, and nobody escapes her scrutiny. It would also be fair to say she has a brilliant sense of comedic timing. Spend a moment with her, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto the set of a ’70s sitcom. (Coming home after an eye appointment one day, I noticed her walking up the street towards us; The Chef slowed the car and pulled over so we could say hey. I rolled down my window and said, “Eleanor, I’ve just come from an eye doctor appointment and my eyes are dilated….” Without missing a beat she quipped, “Do I look thinner?”) This tiny woman manages somehow to be simultaneously elegant and irascible, but in the most endearing way. In short, she is a treasure.

She also never slows down, walks between eight and twelve miles daily, in small, manageable sessions. It was during one of these walks two weeks ago she miscalculated the incline of a curb, took a bad spill, and broke her femur. So it appears the intrepid Eleanor is also a bit fragile, and now finds herself held together by hardware and laid up in this facility, where she will be until she heals and gets through physical therapy, enough of it for her to return home and to her beloved walks. Already she grows antsy.

During our visit yesterday we brought her some sourdough rye from the fantastic, just-opened bakery that’s now Chef David’s long-awaited, much-anticipated new culinary gig, working for the founder and her family. Eleanor grew quite animated and wide-eyed as we explained all about the owner and the exquisite bread to be gotten there. She instructed me to write down the name of the bakery for her and then asked us to go find some butter “because I always eat bread with something on it” (she instructed both of us in fact to do several small chores yesterday, and we were more than happy to oblige).

We had planned to have Eleanor over for Thanksgiving this year. We were eager to show her our new digs, plunk her down upon the comfy new swivel chair we added to our wide-open living space, hand her a drink, carry on conversation, and prepare supper. Alas, the best-laid plans. Instead we will bring Thanksgiving to Eleanor, and she is tickled about that. On this year’s menu:

○ Roast Turkey (The Chef managed to score a turkey for a paltry $3.43. That is one impressive score.)

○ Stuffing (made with bread from, you know)

○ Fingerling Potatoes

○ Brussels Sprouts (Eleanor told us how she likes ‘em, roasted nice and dark, with melted Parm, and so she shall have them that way)

○ Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Sauce (Pre-Prison Edition)

○ Fancy Tossed Salad with Bleu Cheese Crumbles and Black Walnut | Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

We might surprise her with a butternut squash pie, because she did go on for a while yesterday about how much she loves butternut squash, and it is conspicuously absent from the menu. And doubtless there will be fancy bread from a fancy little bakery. Or maybe from our own kitchen, who knows.

If you happen to live in the area, you must go visit Little Loaf Bakery and Schoolhouse. Here was the scene outside the storefront at yesterday’s grand opening:

I have a coworker to thank for sending me that image yesterday, as it was the one day in the week David had some time off to get things done ahead of what promises to be a busy Thanksgiving week and we were not there.

But wherever you happen to live, find yourself an Eleanor if you don’t have one already. Everyone, in fact the entire world, needs lots of Eleanors. We, and all the Eleanors, are all the richer for having found each other.

5 thoughts on “Sunday Almanac: We Have No Snow But We Do Have Eleanor

  1. I had an Eleanor but her name was Mrs. Smeltzer. She was formal one minute and rascally the next! I loved talking to her and we had such wonderful conversations… Enjoy your Thanksgiving feast and Eleanor’s company!


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