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Hackie: The Grapes Are Dead

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"I'm a seventh-generation Ver-monter," Cindy shared with me — matter-of-factly with just a sliver of pride — as we got underway to her home in Hyde Park. It was a crisp and sunny afternoon in early April. "I grew up in Stowe," she added.

"Aha, a Stowe townie," I said with a chuckle. "That's all kinds of cool. Would that have been, like, the '80s?"

In truth, looking at Cindy — a sturdy, middle-aged woman with a knowing smile — my actual guess would have been the '70s. But I always knock off 10 years in these conversations. I'm like this Cumberland Farms cashier I know who routinely cards forty- and fiftysomething women for alcohol (minimum age 21) or even cigarettes (18), which borders on the ridiculous. "Not a one has ever complained," he claimed. "They just smile and reach for their ID." Like him, I am an old-school flatterer.

"Yes," she replied. "The '70s and '80s."

"Did you know Rusty DeWees?" I asked, pulling out the name of the popular Vermont actor, musician and Stowe townie who I guessed was about her age.

"Oh, sure," she replied. "We were friends back in high school. He's a sweet guy."

"I bet Stowe was a different place back then."

"Yeah, in so many ways. I mean, there were always a few wealthy, out-of-state property owners with luxurious homes, but nothing like today. There was a real town atmosphere. Like, I remember Maria von Trapp would attend local events, like bake sales and dinners, and she would bring her amazing Austrian pastries. And us locals could ski for free on certain days. They cut that back over the years before finally doing away with it."

This discussion was stirring my emotions in a way that transcended mere nostalgia. In the mid-'70s, I was all of 21 years old when I landed in Vermont and moved in with my girlfriend in the town of Johnson. About once a week, we would jump in her VW Squareback and road-trip to Stowe to shop at Food for Thought, an early health-food grocery. She nearly always took the wheel, as this young woman was a skilled back-roads driver, while I was still getting my Vermont sea legs.

In my heart as much as my mind, I vividly recall our rides south on Route 15 and the shortcut through Hyde Park, past Cady's Falls and onto Stagecoach Road. I swear I can hear the music that was playing on the radio back then. Or perhaps I'm remembering my beloved's musical laughter, the curve of her waist, the light in her soulful eyes.

Back in the present with Cindy, I motored up Route 100 and through Stowe Village before forking onto Stagecoach Road. Hyde Park was the site of a major Hollywood movie in 1988, and I asked Cindy if she had any memories of that.

"Sure, Sweet Hearts Dance, starring Susan Sarandon and Don Johnson. A lot of local folks got jobs as extras."

"I once heard an interview with Susan Sarandon," I said, "where she explained the tough lesson she learned from acting in that movie. Apparently, it was pitched to her that the characters played by the two lead females — her and Elizabeth Perkins — would be as beefy and interesting as the two male leads, Don Johnson and Jeff Daniels. After she signed on and got the actual script, however, it turned out that it was all about the two guys. She said she never made that mistake again. Maybe she even fired her agent — or I might be making up that part of the story."

"That is interesting. I hadn't heard that," said Cindy. "Did you know that one of the main shooting locations was our local elementary school, and the film crew built a new gym for the big scene of the dance of the title? Apparently, though, they didn't build it too great, because this year we've had to rebuild it. My grandson, who also lives in town, is going to school at a Morrisville hotel that the school board rented while the schoolhouse is closed for the renovation."

"That must be exciting for him," I speculated. "It must be nice for you to have him living so close."

"Oh, I just love the kid. He's 7 and, do you believe, he actually enjoys my music — Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead. He used to say, 'Grandma's favorite band is the Grapes Are Dead.'"

"Oh, Christ, that is adorable! I'm gonna remember that one — the Grapes Are Dead. Heck, maybe they are!" I said, chuckling.

We passed Cady's Falls, a graceful set of naturally tiered waterfalls, and quickly reached Cindy's home, pulling to a stop in her driveway. The house had seen better days — the red paint was peeling, the porch sagging — but it had a charming, lived-in vibe about it. I said as much to Cindy.

"Yup, that it does," she allowed. "My husband died 10 years ago, and I really haven't been able to keep it up. Gosh, I still miss Carl. He was this gruff New Jersey boy when we met while he was visiting Stowe on a ski trip with some buddies. Quite a pair we made — me with my Vermont ways and accent, and him, well, 'Jersey through and through,' as he put it. But, somehow, we made it work."

I honor any couple who "makes it work," knowing how hard it can be. On the way back out of town, I pulled over at Cady's Falls and snapped a few photos. I had a feeling that someone I knew would love to see them.

All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.

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The original print version of this article was headlined "The Grapes Are Dead"

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