On a crisp October day in the 1960s, with the sky azure and Kennedy’s New Frontier just emerging, Dad said to us, “It’s Columbus Day weekend, where’ll we go? Amagansett — remember there’s no heat in the house — or the mountains of Vermont?” We’d never been to the mountains . . .
The following morning we headed for foliage country in our dependable silver ’61 Rambler — brisk golden leaves flying, purple heather, maple trees, and ski slopes, albeit green ones.
We traveled as always by the seat of Daddy’s pants. No reservations, no plan for food or a place to lay our heads. Just drive. Like gypsies, we anticipated the next wild turn with fascination.
Navigating 91 North we encountered one majestic mountain occluded by the next. Verdant landscapes, horses corralled behind white fences, cotton bolls, and turkey farms passed like so many movie frames. It grew cold as twilight sank into the meadows. Stretching our legs on the roadside we could see our breath. Daddy stopped by a syrup stand where we chose maple leaf sugar candies as big as Chunkies and a few bottles of syrup shaped like little log cabins.
Crossing a scarlet covered bridge we sailed into Killington, a fledgling ski resort with a still-rudimentary lodge. It had a few rooms, a fireplace and minimal heat, a slope as yet untouched by snow, and a gondola skirting the mountaintop.
In the children’s room with two single beds side by side, the four of us snuggled close when we found that our blankets afforded little warmth from the bitter cold. We were shivering like the little match girl in “My Fair Lady.” We all clumped around my sister, an oasis of heat — she always seemed to have a slight fever — and we slept like fawns snuggled up to a doe.
We awoke as one the next morning, ran to the bare window, and cried, “Snow!” With our breath visible we sensibly dressed under the cover of our mismatched quilts. Mommy and Daddy took us out to the fireplace, where orange flames leaped, welcoming. Daddy rubbed chilled hands together while Mommy ordered breakfast. By the time the poor eggs made it to our picnic-style table they were shivering too. Daddy was not daunted.
“Get ready for a gondola ride,” he instructed. We were ready, dressed in our winter warmest. Our scarves were so tight around our necks we could barely breathe.
The gondola was not unlike the one in the movie “The Crawling Eye,” but Forrest Tucker was nowhere to be seen. Though our cable car lurched and stopped, lurched and stopped, we were mesmerized by the evergreens far below dotting peaks and valleys. The firs were coated with a layer of snow like frosting dripping from the side of a cake.
We returned to New York on a rain-slicked highway covered with blankets of leaves. I had fallen in love.
This Columbus Day weekend — long after the New Frontier had receded and with global warming turning our Saturday and Sunday into an 80-degree weekend — I returned to New England. We were hoping for foliage; we settled for sun. Our bed-and-breakfast boasted a main house dating to 1780 and we were privileged to occupy a vintage room. Original heart-of-pine floors shined to a burnish, Victorian windows, and a keyhole the size of a horse tooth graced our quarters. The original key still fit a lock protected by a cover to prevent peeping.
We traveled to Hanover, N.H., home of the hallowed halls of Dartmouth College, dating to 1769 — one of the first learning institutions in this country. You could almost smell the leather of old volumes as we toured the smart shopping area in the center of the campus. The features of its intellectual community — handsome young people crossing campus late for classes, a fellow practicing yoga on the square, the nearby church of St. Denis with its smiling Virgin — embodied all you could want in a site of higher education.
Traveling the back roads, one mountainside afforded a better view of the one behind it as we searched for covered bridges and that elusive maple sugar candy. We discovered that one covered bridge had been washed out by Tropical Storm Irene and that maple candy was nowhere to be found, but by Monday on our return trip we were finally rewarded with falling leaves and chiaroscuro mountains. Ferry virgins on our trip over, we caught the last Bridgeport vessel to Port Jeff Monday night. What a show.
Jacqueline Beh has been a Star contributor for more than 20 years. A resident of Sayville, she writes a column for Great South Bay magazine and works in human services.