I grew up in a small affluent Vermont village…yes, village. Kids at my school had parents who took sabbaticals and lived as a family abroad in Europe for a year. Kids at my school were from families who owned islands, from families with estates that featured tennis courts and Olympic-sized swimming pools (cuz pools of any size are soooo necessary in VT!). During spring break, many of my classmates headed to the Bahamas and spent summers at expensive overnight campus. We didn’t learn Spanish, we learned French, partially because of our close proximity to Quebec and partially because we were elitists.
And yet sometimes when I talk about my childhood, I feel like I grew up in another world. When I was a child, I’d meet kids from the city who’d ask me, “Do you have electricity in Vermont?” “Do you have cars in Vermont?” And though I was only in elementary school, I could become quite snarky when asked such questions. And at the same point, there were things that were quite different…
My mom likes to recall the story of my first birthday celebration. She asked me in advance what I wanted for my birthday and I said, “Cow.” She went out and got me a stuffed cow animal and she recalls that my eyes got “as big as teacups” when I saw it.
Granted when I made this request, I wasn’t even all of 12 months old yet. I’m unsure how I was able to semi-carry on this conversation about my birthday wishes but either way, I am sure my vocabulary was not much beyond “mama” “dada” and, apparently, “cow.” Nonetheless it’s telling that one of my first words was “cow.”
It might have had something to do with the fact that next door to us was a farm. And by next door I mean, the neighbor’s land bordered our land. I could see their house and farm from our house but barely. Our other “next door” neighbors had a house we couldn’t see because of the small forest between us. Anyways what would you guess the farm next door had? Cows?! Yup, correct! The farm had many a fine bovine who grazed and mooed all day, creating a soundtrack for my childhood that consisted of mooing cows, singing birds and branches that creaked in the wind or from the steps of small woodland creatures. There was a barbed wire fence that lined our properties but occasionally the fence would give way and open up a space for the cows to break free onto our land. So as a kid, there’d be days when my mom would suddenly say, “The darn cows are on our property again!” And I’d look out the window to see a few brown cows munching on our grass.
Speaking of property, is it odd to use that word? I feel like most people say “yard” or “lawn” when talking about their property, but not the actual word property. But for me property was the word we used to describe the acres we owned since the front and backyards eventually became overgrown meadows or full-on forests. So saying “yard” seemed inappropriate for the edge of our property that was a ten minute walk from our house, was surrounded by trees so dense that our house was no longer in view by the time I got there. There was a family with a child my age up the road from us but one summer day, I hiked to the edge of our property and I realized that beyond the thicket, the land became her family’s and only a sporadic barbed wire fence and a scattering of trees marked where our land ended and their land began. I was excited that I actually lived “next door” to the one girl in my neighborhood who was actually my age! Like whoa.
My sister and I used to hike up to the edge of our property during the summer. The air was clear and clean, scented by wild flowers and wild berries. The grass, trees and weeds that baked in the brilliant summer sun also had a dry, natural smell that to this day represents the epitome of summer scent to me. So we would march on past our barn (yup, barn!) and past the small cultivated area behind the barn where we grew pumpkins in the fall. We’d enter the woods and walk through them until they became less dense and there we came upon our “discovered” trio of birch trees that we were both fascinated by and frightened of. The birch trees were leafless and their branches were tangled together with dark twigs that gave it a Medusa appearance. Those trees represented to us the mystical and magical part of the world that could be found with a bit of exploring. We would examine them for a bit and then a cawing crow overhead would startle us and we’d scatter into the woods and back towards our house.
Oh and then there’s the fact that not only did we have a dirt driveway, we also lived on a dirt road. When you turned off the main road (aka the paved road) onto our road, the first thing you’d see on your left was a cornfield. Traveling further up the road, you’d pass through a small wooded area through which a stream babbled. Then you’d come out and eventually there were rolling hills sprinkled with houses and barns. Sounds picturesque, right? Well, try picturing that same scene in the dead of a Vermont winter. Not so quaint then! I once was driven home from a basketball game which ended early because of a sudden snowstorm. My friend’s mom drove me home but she couldn’t make it up the slippery, snowed-over and iced-over dirt road and so I had to trudge through six inches of snow in my gym shorts for half a mile until I made it home. Oh yeah, also try picturing this road in spring, aka mud season. Not too pretty then either – literally! Every spring, the end of our driveway would erupt into a small gorge, which was less passable on some days than others. And our entire road turned into a giant muddy mess. I was once hours late for school because our car got stuck in the mud on our road.
We didn’t have cable. Our water came from a well. There wasn’t any concrete on which to play four square or hopscotch. And the closest store of any kind was a 20 minute drive away. The closest mall was an hour and a half away.
This probably sounds like a dreadful place to many people. I get it. It’s quite different from the way most people in the US live. And there is a certain belief that the city life is the better life. Though I’d beg to differ. And while I couldn’t live in that rural of a setting anymore, I do remember the things that were wonderful about it. I mean, who needs cable when your yard is so big it feels like the world is your playground? And how many of you were able to go sledding on massive hills right across the street from their house? And if you prefer quiet time, there’s no shortage of that.
And truth be told, many things were pretty much the same, despite all of what I just described. When I started college, most of the kids in my dorm were from the city but there was one other girl from the country. One of my friends said one day, “Yeah Kimberly seems like she’s from the middle of nowhere but you… You just seem like a girl who happens to be from Vermont.” True dat.