I was walking up the (dirt, naturally) road by my brother's house in Woodstock yesterday morning, enjoying a nice summer morning outing with my girl. Earlier in the week Helen Cooper Hood Eyre had declared, essentially all in one breath, the death of the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The evening before, she had spontaneously decided to join Uncle Tommy (famous house-builder) and Aunt Stacey (famous skier-coach) on a long-weekend road trip to Tennessee. It's been that kind of summer already, what with all the girl talk about the impending fifth grade, bodily changes and the "I might have crush...I might," business.
The morning after the decision to board the camper and head into the country's southern hinterlands with the relatives, I rounded the corner and walked into the bathroom to find Coco on her tiptoes looking out the window, and the vision stopped me. I mean. It Stopped Me. I saw that thing a mother sees in a daughter. The future, maybe. I saw her long, graceful legs and her really long hair, which she's planning to cut soon to donate to some sort of wig-making charity. I saw that place between kid and not-so-kid-anymore. It might be the most bittersweet thing a parent ever feels. Lots of days I want to stretch her out so her feet reach the pedals on the Jetta and she can get her dang self to Piper and Rowan's house for a change. Other days I want to squish her back down so she still fits inside the little cavern my body makes when we're snuggling. This is hard, this letting the last kid go off into the world thing. The boys are big. They're already mostly gone. Sam has a car that's so fast I couldn't catch him if I tried and Nate is packing his bags for Copenhagen.
So we were walking up the dirt road, talking about Tennessee: "What other kinds of foods do they eat there besides grits?" Heh, heh, a little worried now, aren't cha, I thought to myself; Limited and potentially gross culinary options down there, right?
"Oh, you know, there's fried chicken and biscuits, collard greens; you're gonna love it."
Gosh I keep digressing from the dirt road.
So on we wandered, really happy that we live in Vermont and that everything's so green and quiet and then the neighbor came out and we said hello and kept going, but when we stopped to inspect the water flow through the viaduct situation, the neighbor had caught up with us, and so we talked a bit. It turned out that he knew a lot about the history of the area. Like that there had been a bomb shelter just up the hill; that his house had been built in 1790, which seemed incredibly fittingly Fourth-of-July-ish, and that when they had done some excavating around their house they had discovered the skull of a goat, facing out, buried just beyond the front entrance. "They believed it would keep witches and evil spirits at bay," the smart neighbor told me. "Did you put it back where you found it?" I needed to know. "Of course! We wouldn't mess with something that's been there that long." he assured me.
The neighborhood remains safe. No tooth-nabbing fairies, no fat, bearded guys sneaking into the house after dark, no giant rabbits with chocolate and absolutely no bubbling cauldrons. Phew.
Then he told me something that, to me, was so beautiful that it made me cry: "There were lots of little groupings of houses around here, a long time ago. There would be five or six houses and a preacher."
I thought about how goddamned great that would be, to have a little neighborhood, no fancy church building, just a little encampment of folks and me, the preacher. I thought about how maybe those people just got together and had dinner and said some prayers and hoped for the best, the way people do, to keep the relentless rain and the sicknesses that their kids got at bay. How there would be weddings and funerals and babies born, there in the hood. Simple. Five houses and a preacher, all right there, taking care of each other.
"Tears of joy?" my poor daughter who has seen me cry one million and five times asked as she took my hand.
Tears of joy for all of it. The people who thought it would be a good idea to have a preacher close at hand, the nice neighbor who took the time to tell us his stories, the aunt and uncle who, at the last minute, think it's a super great idea to take my kid with them for a long roadtrip. And for the girl who squeezes my hand and lets me be a crying fool.
Back at the house Uncle Tommy was cooking all kinds of crazy breakfast things, Stacey came back from walking the dog and Nate woke up and came upstairs. We ate pancakes and talked some politics trash. It turned out that the neighbor was a Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice smazzmatazz and it made me smile, because that's the thing about Vermont: the guy you're talking with about goat skulls, who's heading out on his tractor, could also be the guy who's making and breaking laws the next state down.
Then the kids started loading up that fancy camper to head out of town. And that little girl of mine, that little thing, left, too. Ready, now, and armed with her new-found truths, the dream of some mysterious and captivating boy back home, and her favorite stuffed Beary. She is off to see for herself what southerners eat, sending me dispatches from the road. I'm hoping she loses a tooth along the way.