This is a guest post by Susan B. Apel who contributed in response to the American Vignette call for submissions. The setting is Vermont. Enjoy.
After two days of driving, we crossed the border into Vermont. Having deviated from the map some time back, we were lost. When we acknowledged this to each other, Josie said, “Who the hell cares? Look at this. Vermont is the first place I’ve been that actually looks like its postcard.”
The beauty of Vermont is rife with clichés, but trust me. When I arrived to make Vermont my home, I thought that those green hills really do roll, and white steeples rise above perfectly rectangular town greens. The decrepit old barns sag gracefully, and you just know that each has more stories to tell than you will ever hear.
That’s the window dressing. Lovely as Vermont is on the outside, its internal beauty is the treasure worth finding. Strangers who noticed my Pennsylvania license plate welcomed me to the state, as if each individual thought it a duty to assume the role of greeter-in-chief. Neighbors had advice, about winter and how best to survive it. There was even a bartering economy—what would otherwise have been staid commercial dealings transformed by human haggling.
I spent Saturdays driving around, from town to town, with purpose, or through back unpaved roads with no purpose at all. In late summer, I came upon a farm with a large farmstand, vegetables damp with dirt, piled on plywood trestle tables splintered at the edges. I stopped. It felt like a ghost farm, no one in the fields, the house somewhat removed and vacant.
I picked up several items and stood, my hands stretched around the unwieldy bunch, waiting for someone. I waited twenty minutes and had decided that the stand was not open, and I should just put everything back and drive away. And then I saw a small tractor sputtering across the field toward the stand; the driver, an elderly woman who resembled the tables in that splintered around the edges kind of way, didn’t hurry, didn’t apologize. After nodding in my direction, she stopped and busied herself with the tractor.
My hands growing numb from holding the vegetables, I finally spoke, asking if I could pay her. She wiped her hands on her field apron and looked a little surprised. She asked how long I had been waiting. She and her family owned the farm, she told me, and there was seldom anyone available to sit at the stand and wait for customers.
She then proceeded with the rookie’s tour. The vegetables were priced by the piece or by the pound. She showed me the scale. There were used paper bags stuffed in a bin, a calculator for the math-challenged and a cup of pencils for those who might actually want to do the math. She stood back while I calculated my total of seven dollars.
Finally, there was an old cigar box, in full view, on a small wooden counter. Just open it and make your change, she told me. I did. I saw about a hundred dollars in cash. She wasn’t even watching while I put in my twenty and took out some smaller bills in exchange. My urban-raised self had only one thought: someone could so easily drive here and grab the entire cash box and go.
The tour was not over. She said, you might come in the morning when there isn’t enough in the cigar box to make change. She reached under the counter for a metal tackle box, pulling me around to make sure I saw where it was. She explained, this is mostly for the bigger bills, you know, fifties, hundreds. She opened the box. I didn’t want to gawk, but did, and saw several hundred dollars.
I thanked her, preparing to leave. So, she said, now you know where everything is. You don’t need to wait around for anyone next time. She was busying herself once more with the tractor, and I hesitated, but finally asked. “Aren’t you ever afraid that someone is going to steal your cash?” immediately regretting it, thinking she must have been asked this many times. Maybe not. She answered simply, “No.” I must have looked just a little incredulous, because she shrugged, stuck out her lower lip, paused to think, and added, “Hasn’t happened in over thirty-five years.”
Susan B. Apel is a professor of law at Vermont Law School. Her work has appeared in numerous legal and interdisciplinary journals, reviews and two anthologies, as well as in the Bioethics Forum of the Hastings Center, Dartmouth Medicine, InTravel, and The Shriver Report. She has been a featured guest contributor to Gender and the Law Blog, and has her own blog, A Woman of a Certain Age. She currently lives in Lebanon, NH.