En route to an early Sunday morning pickup, I wondered, How has this town escaped my radar? It's been hiding in plain sight.
When you drive for a living, as I do, your workday allows for hours and hours of reflection. For a naturally dreamy guy like me, it's a perfect fit. My assignment on this particular day had me thinking about Walden, a small town about a half hour northeast of Montpelier.
Until I bagged this fare, I had had no conscious memory of ever passing through the town or even noticing it on a map. The oddness of this mental blank spot was compounded by the fact that, adjacent to Walden proper, the GPS revealed fully three variations on the theme: North Walden, South Walden and Walden Heights, aka Walden freakin' Station! Shaking my head and chuckling, I thought, How could I have tooled around the Green Mountains for decades and missed this quartet of Waldens?
On the final stretch, motoring north of Cabot on Route 215, I was impressed with all the agricultural activity on this road. In fact, my destination was an orchard and nursery operated by a couple, Denise and Roger, who had booked the fare on behalf of Denise's uncle. "Uncle Kenny" was visiting from Boulder, Colo., on an East Coast swing. I would be driving him to Rutland, where he would catch a 10 a.m. bus to Monticello, N.Y., his childhood hometown.
When I arrived at the property, I was met at the farmhouse porch by the couple and an older woman whom Denise introduced as her mother and Uncle Kenny's sister. She lived with them on the farm, Denise explained.
Uncle Kenny then emerged carting a suitcase and small backpack. He looked about 70 but carried his age well on his rangy frame. He sported one of those Amish-style beards with no mustache — a look that suited him. Speaking quietly to his relatives, Kenny warmly embraced each of them before we got in the taxi and took off. As we drove south, I could see he was feeling it emotionally.
"Sorry about this," he said, wiping away tears with the back of his left wrist.
"Hey, it's fine with me," I said. "Tears are a good thing. It means you got people you love and you're gonna miss."
Kenny smiled. In 2019, it's acceptable for manly men like us to cry, and even — God help us — talk about our emotions. Not that we delved into it any further; a little goes a long way.
We drove past the Cabot Creamery, home to the finest cheddar money can buy. Whenever I'm driving tourists on a clear night with a full moon, I ask, "Did you know that the moon is made of Cabot cheddar cheese?" At this point, I've honestly lost track of whether this is even the least bit whimsical, but, alas, that doesn't stop me. Forget about "dad jokes" — I've entered the fusty realm of "old-guy jokes."
"So, do you still work, Kenny?"
"No, I've been retired for a couple of years. I worked for the Schacht Spindle Company in Boulder for over 30 years, making handcrafted wooden spindles and looms. They're great folks, a great company, and I miss going in there every day."
There was something about Kenny's demeanor — his "vibe," as we baby boomers like to call it — that made me ask the next question.
"Could I ask if you served in Vietnam?"
"That obvious, huh?" he replied.
"Well, I have friends who served, and you look about the right age. I think I'm a few years younger than you and just missed it by the skin of my teeth."
"Yeah, I was there for most of '69 with the Air Force."
As is common among veterans, he then proceeded to name the specific division and regiment in which he served, along with the places in Vietnam where he was stationed.
"Our company loaded munitions onto the 'copters and jet fighters," he added.
"What did you do when you got out?" I asked, knowing that the transition back to civilian life was often fraught for Vietnam-era vets.
"I got a bike and just traveled around the country. Eventually, I got married, had a kid and settled in Boulder."
Something in this part of his life story appeared to choke him up, and he paused. I said nothing and just kept driving.
Gathering himself, he continued. "Our daughter, Tessie, was severely developmentally disabled, but she was a shining spirit, a true light. Everybody loved her, and she loved them back. It was all too much for my wife, though. We divorced early on, and I raised Tessie as a single dad.
"But the beautiful thing was I had so much help. All my friends and family rallied to support me, and my boss — I was telling you about — he would give me as much time off and help as I needed, so I was able to keep working. Tessie passed away in 2006. She was 27."
"I'm sorry, man," I said. "She sounded like she was an amazing soul."
"Yeah, that she was," Kenny said, smiling again. "But here's an amazing thing. A few years ago, after Tessie passed, I get this call from a young woman who asks me if I had lived in Virginia Beach 29 years earlier and was friends with a girl named Jeanie.
"This freaked me out, and I asked who she was and why she was asking me these personal questions. She says, 'Because I'm pretty sure you're my father.' What a mindblower! I had had no clue whatsoever until that moment."
"Holy crap!" I said. "This sounds like a movie or something."
"Life can be like that," he said. "What do they say — 'stranger than fiction'? Anyway, we talked a few times and eventually got together. Amanda is a great girl and, you know, better late than never, right?"
Better late than never. I contemplated the profound wisdom bottled in this seemingly trite saying.
It's never too late for what many call a miracle, I thought, perhaps just around the next bend.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.