Vermont Days by Pip Helix (Davin’s Den)

When I was a child, my family would sometimes go up to Vermont to visit my grandmother and grandfather for a week during the summer.  I remember those trips very fondly.  Days of swimming at Lake Dunmore, wandering around the large field behind the house, playing with my cousins who sometimes visited, and exploring the mostly empty front half of the house, which had been a country inn years before.

There was no sitting around watching television in those days, not only because we were shooed out of the house every day, but also because they only got reception to about 3 channels anyway.  Instead, we were encouraged to do things that we couldn’t do at home. There were nightcrawler worms to dig up on the church property down the road, fishing to do with all those nightcrawlers, purple clover flower and tiny daisy-like flowers in the meadow that my cousins showed me how to eat the sweet petals of, and a tiny country store down the road that sold the maple candy in the shape of leaves, that I covet to this day.

I mostly loved going to Vermont because it was a chance to spend time with those people who were only voices on the phone the rest of the year. My grandmother and grandfather were so in love with each other, and after years of being together, became one unit with their own habits and familiar routines.  Grandpa had been a fireman years ago, and on one fire call was thrown from the back of the fire truck and struck his head on the ground, damaging the brain center that controls smell and taste.  Strangely, my Grandma still bought the food that my Grandpa liked the best before his accident, and as a result, I remember suffering through glasses of canned Bluebird Orange Juice, the most bitter orange juice on the planet – because my grandfather who could no longer taste preferred that brand.  I thought it was weird then, but now I kind of look at it as another sign of how much my grandmother loved him.

They had moved up to the country from New Jersey years before, and the slower pace of life suited them.  It was a lovely, homey place to be, and except for the odd sunburn or sour glass of orange juice, everything was lovely.  Until…

One visit, we began to notice a strange smell to the water.  It started as being a very slight whiff of something not quite right, and slowly built up to a very noticeable unpleasant smell and taste.  It even was beginning to be slightly brown when a glass was held up to the light.  Eventually, we started comparing notes and realized that we had all noticed something amiss.  Except Grandpa, of course.  But my father, used to listening to my mother’s constant complaining and used to having to disprove every one of her paranoid new beliefs, poo-pooed our complaints.  “There’s nothing wrong with the water!  Nothing at all!  You are all nuts.  See!” he said, guzzling down an extra big glass of it to prove his point. 

My brother and I were certain that Dad was just in denial, and knew that we had to appeal to a higher authority – Grandma.  By that point, Grandma had her own suspicions that something wasn’t right, and sent my Grandpa and Dad down to the end of the field where the well was to investigate.

It turned out that the tractor mower had knocked the cover off of the well, and every kind of imaginable dead critter, and the things that feed on dead things, was down in that well.  Our drinking water.  The water we were showering in, brushing our teeth in, mixing iced tea with, and yes, in Dad’s case, guzzling large glasses of with gusto.  Full of disgusting, floating deadness.

The detailed descriptions of what they had to fish out of the well were so immensely disgusting, even Joe with his cast-iron gut would be retching to think of how much of their bath water he had ingested for the past few days.  The opossum made a particularly strong impression on me…and my stomach. Needless to say, even Dad was put off of the water for the rest of the stay there, even after the mess was cleaned up and the water tested.

(To add insult to disgusting injury, years later, the apartment building I lived in switched to well water from the public supply, but before testing the water quality.  When people started becoming ill, the health department had the water tested, and found that the biological contaminants in the samples taken were TOO NUMEROUS TO COUNT.  It seemed that our rocket scientist landlord had wells dug into an underground stream that had been being contaminated since the first Dutch settlers decided it was a good place to poop in, or whatever.  Of course, upon this news, I was mentally back in the Vermont Well Debacle, and had a tough time drinking water for a loooong time after that.)

Since those days in Vermont, I still get all misty when I come across maple leaf candies in a gift shop.  To this day, I kind of enjoy coming across worms when digging in my garden.  I even will sometimes pull the little purple petals out of a clover flower and try to taste the nectar on the bottom as my cousins taught me.  But I avoid drinking water straight from the tap, and won’t even drink bottled water if I catch the least little suspicious whiff of something undetermined.  You see, you never know if an opossum just died in it, and I’d rather be safe than nauseated. 

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