By Caitlin Boylan
1. Bernie Sanders
You know when you travel to the other side of the world and people ask you where you’re from? You respond: the United States. “Where?” they ask, with an eager look in their eyes. You don’t think they’ll know, but you say it anyways: Vermont. Their face goes blank. But then you add, “You know Bernie Sanders?” Of course they do. Silver, tousled hair, thick, deep, New York accent, leader of millennials, tamer of birds, breaker of chains. He’s my state senator, you say. Have you ever met him? They ask, that eager glint returning to their eye. “He used to walk down the road in my Fourth of July parade,” you say, with a flip of your hair, as you put Vermont back on the map.
2. Maple syrup
Eggs are the flatlanders’ breakfast star, but you know the true champions: pancakes, waffles, French toast. You order a towering plate. And as the waitress nears your table your mouth starts to water and then it goes dry as she places a pot of syrup in front of you. What if, no, what if, you stick a pinky in the syrup, taste it with bated breath. A wave of relief rushes over you. It’s real. Thick, sweet, sticky, amber syrup. Traces of tree bark, metal pails, mud, snow and love. Traces that only the most discerning Vermont palate could detect. As breakfast comes to an end you pull out the pinky again, cleaning up the final dribbles, only wishing you had a bit of snow to pour it over.
Four seasons? How dull. You’ve got heaps more than that. But where do you start? How do you explain mud season to someone who’s never driven backcountry dirt roads? How do you explain stick season to someone who doesn’t even have a yard? But maybe it’s better you don’t because those are the times you get to yourself. When the snow melts down the picture-perfect dirt roads and they turn to bogs, that’s when only you, born in those ruts, can drive your Subaru through. The tourists run, tail between their legs, back to their pavement. And when the reds and oranges and yellows fall from the branches, before the snow falls from the sky, the leaf peepers have migrated south to collect their snow bunny gear. These are the times when Vermont is yours. Just yours and the cows’.
4. Grocery shopping
You’re searching for that one last item on your grocery list, you can’t find it, so instead you scour the aisles for a staff member. You finally see one disappearing around the corner, so you begin to jog after him. You reach him, out of breath, and ask where to find what you’re looking for. “Aisle 4,” he says, not a word more as he turns and carries on his way. This isn’t your local, family-owned grocery. The staff changes weekly, not once every decade. The guy at the deli counter doesn’t know your sandwich order or that your brother’s back in town for the weekend. The checkout ladies don’t recognize you for your eyelashes that match your dad’s and they definitely won’t let you have a family charge account. Your shopping trip doesn’t take three times as long as it should because you don’t run into your high school math teacher, and your neighbor three doors down, and the family you used to babysit for, and your middle school crush, and his new wife. They don’t know you here.
5. Winter sales
Why would you buy a winter jacket in March, even if it is 50 percent off? That thing is going to sit in your closet all spring, all summer, all fall until next winter when it’s out of fashion anyway. But not in Vermont. It’s like Vermonters are all taking those retail stores for a ride. Winter jackets on sale in March? Yes, please. You know there are still at least three Nor’easters to get through, probably two of which will knock out your power and you’ll have to use the wood stove for heating. So, you’ll throw in that wool sweater, too. Plus, which Vermonter would care that you’re wearing last year’s styles?
6. Ice cream
What is a soft serve and who the heck is Jimmy? It’s a creemee, they come with sprinkles and they’re the only thing that matter all summer long. Except for Ben & Jerry’s, which you never knew was so expensive because there was always someone in your family or friend group or a neighbor filling your freezer with free pints from work. And if all else failed you could always get cheap seconds in the store because who would want to pay full price for extra chocolate fish?
You still get grief for measuring distances in time. But telling you how many miles you are from your destination doesn’t give you any information, you always argue. What if 16 of those miles are up the side of a mountain and you have to make 72 hairpin turns, honking around each of them to scare off the deer? And what if you have to pass Loose Cow Lane, where the cows are always (you guessed it) loose and every time it takes at least eight minutes for the farmer to clear them off the road? And what if you have to drive through the stretch of town where the sheriff always lurks and you actually have to go the speed limit? You know these things don’t ever really happen outside of Vermont, but the truth is you still haven’t got a clue how to gauge distance in miles.
What tugs at your heartstrings more than anything else is that you know that, now you’ve laid down roots elsewhere, you’ll never truly be a Vermonter again. Because, when you ask a seventh-generation farmer if he’s been a Vermonter all his life you know there’s only one answer you’ll hear: “Not yet.”
Boylan is a Waitsfield native, now living in Spain. This piece is from her blog.