Bristol's Greenwood Cemetery, as viewed from the roadside gate, seemed to fit the bill for what I had in mind. I had just dropped off a customer in Bristol and, in a fortuitous piece of scheduling, was booked for a New Haven pickup just 10 miles down the road. But first, I had an hour and a half to kill. Since I had worked seriously late the previous night, a nap was in order.
I eased my taxi through the arched entranceway onto the grounds. I prefer my cemeteries thoughtfully cared for but not overly manicured, and Greenwood struck the perfect balance. Desiring a buffer from the Saturday afternoon traffic on Route 17, I followed the slim dirt road around to the back. A short turnoff conveniently appeared, and I pulled in and cut the ignition.
Most times of the year, I'd simply tilt back my seat and snooze, but the idyllic May weather beckoned. I stepped out and lay down on my back in the green grass. Feeling suspended in color and fragrance, I wished I could identify by name the blossoming trees, ferns and bushes that surrounded me. But, alas, I'm a city boy born and bred, a child of asphalt. Having set the timer on my cellphone, off I drifted.
I awoke before the alarm, rested and refreshed. My next fare, Rosita Tarkington, lived at the end of a dirt road dotted with relatively modern and expansive properties. My default is to view such residential developments as the homes, or second homes, of wealthy flatlanders, but, of course, plenty of native Vermonters can also afford expensive real estate.
When I pulled up to the front door, Rosita immediately emerged, a suitcase in each hand. She was a slender, attractive, middle-aged woman with short and lustrous black hair and dark eyes that shone with intelligence and hard-earned wisdom. That's a lot to read into a person's eyes, I know, but those who see far deeper than I have written of the eyes as the "window to the soul."
Getting out to lend her a hand, I introduced myself. "Rosita? Good to meet you. I'm Jernigan."
"Good to meet you, too," she replied. "And call me Rosie."
Luggage loaded and under way, I asked, "So, where ya flying out to, Rosie?"
"I'm headed to Florida — Clearwater — to spend some time with my daughter and grandchild."
"Sounds like a fun getaway, a nice vacation. Tough time of year to leave Vermont, though. I mean, it would be for me."
Rosie smiled from her shotgun seat and gently sighed. "It is for me, too, but my daughter can use some motherly love right now. She suffers from Crohn's disease, and she's having a rough stretch."
"I understand," I said. "I hope things improve for her. I'm sure your presence will be of great help, certainly to her spirits."
Before long, we reached Route 7 and turned north. Traffic wasn't too bad, as the summer tourist season was weeks away. Not that the bulk of Route 7 ever gets significantly backed up, short of an accident or road construction shutting down a lane. (The Burlington segment is another story.)
I couldn't place Rosie's accent. It was something, though subtle. Everybody is from somewhere, and that's reflected in their speech, but this customer was stumping me. So I broached the subject:
"Have you lived in Vermont for a while?"
"About 15 years," she replied. "Before that, most of my life, I resided in Florida. But I was born in Cuba, just before the revolution."
Cuba, I noticed, she pronounced "Coo-ba," which made sense, as did her first name now. "When did your family get to Florida?" I asked.
"Well, that's quite a story. My earliest memory was my mother hiding me under the bed when bullets were flying outside on the streets. My father quickly turned against the revolution when he saw how repressive the Castro regime had become. Luckily, he still had a little pull and connections from his association with the university, and we were able to leave within about a year and settle into the Cuban community in Miami."
"What was Miami like back then?"
"Very tight-knit. The Cuban immigrants differed from other immigrants because the thought was, We're going back. It's just a matter of time. So, for instance, in our home, only Spanish was spoken. There was less of a push to assimilate."
"That's interesting, and something I've not heard before. Now, of course, Obama has opened things up quite a bit, and it's much easier to visit and do business there. That must be — I don't know — emotional to Cuban Americans like yourself."
Rosie considered my point, and offered quietly, "It's bittersweet."
Nudging the conversation toward less bittersweet terrain, I pivoted to her work life. "Have you pursued a career?"
"Absolutely," she replied, brightening. "Always in the field of communications. It seems to suit me. I also have a part-time gig translating teaching materials, doing voice-overs for the Middlebury College language program. That's a lot of fun and just down the road from me."
"How about a creative outlet?" I asked. "I have a feeling you harbor some artistic inclination, if not passion."
Rosie chuckled, looked at me for a moment and gave it up. "Well, I write plays. I've always wanted to be a playwright."
"Really?" I said. "That is awesome. What's your subject matter? What do you like to write about?"
"A lot of things," she replied. "The common thread, if I think about — well, they're all filled with some..." Rosie paused, and what she said next was in a conspiratorial whisper: "very dark humor."
"I can see that," I said as we laughed together. "I just bet."
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.