Friday, August 13, 2021

Family Tradition

painting by James Augsburger

Vermont is a forgotten kingdom of vales cradled by gentle green mountain slopes. Creeks, streams, and rivers trickle over stone beds and cascade over rocky falls. Pastures are grazed by peaceful sheep and munching bovine. And it is as if the folks play along for their own amusement realizing no man can change it; nor would they want to.

The kingdom is ruled by hard work and shaped by the skill of trades. Ingenuity is often another word for the easy way. Work is not shunned but invited.

Sixteen years old Dennis Petit sat on the bench of the mudroom tying his boots. Light snow fell on the other side of the windows. It was the finishing touches to the previous 20 hours of snowfall.

Where ya heading,” Dennis’s father, Ray, said leaning against the doorway with a hot cup of coffee.

Snowmobiling with some friends,” Dennis said.

Everybody will be here in a half an hour,” Ray said. “Every year, first heavy snow, the whole family takes a sleigh ride.”

I told you, last year was my last year,” Dennis said. “Half the family doesn’t make it, why should I?”

Half the family lives hours from here,” Ray said. “And I know what you said last year. I thought you may have thought it over…”

And give in,” Dennis interrupted.

It’s a family tradition,” Ray said.

Dennis finished tying his boot and stood. Ray sat his coffee on the kitchen table and slung on a coat and stepped into his boots.

Before you go can you help me harness Ole Patch to the sleigh,” Ray said.

They trudged through light snow toward the red barn housing Ole Patch. Patch was a family horse. He was called Patch because of the splotches of white on a brown coat. He’d been in the family for 10 years. Patch was used for an occasional ride but if not for the traditional sleigh ride the first heavy snow he had little use beyond that.

On the way to the barn, Dennis asked, “What did you think of this when you were my age?”

I thought it was stupid,” Ray said.

There you go,” Dennis said.

But I did it anyway,” Ray said.

When did you stop thinking it was stupid?” Dennis said.

When I was your age,” Ray said.

So all of sudden you got smart,” Dennis said.

No,” Ray said, “It took about five minutes.”

What took place in that five minutes?” Dennis said.

Grandpa was living with us then,” Ray said.

Grandpa Lou?” Ray said.

Yeah,” Ray said, “Grandpa Lou. I planned on meeting up with some friends and playing hockey. There was a good freeze before the snow. We flooded the basketball court at the old school a few days earlier.”

Ray helped Dennis slide the barn door open.

The cold air wasn’t good on Grandpa,” Ray said as he stepped inside the barn. “He insisted on harnessing up Ole Tom for the sleigh ride. It was important to him and he knew it meant nothing to me.”

He sat on that old footlocker over there,” Ray said pointing to it. “That’s from World War One. He had to catch his breath.”

How old was he then,” Dennis said.

Seventy-five,” Ray said. “He’d had a couple of heart attacks by then.”

While he sat there, I harnessed Ole Tom,” Ray said. “He wanted to help me so bad but just couldn’t. I figured this must be important to him. And I wanted to know why. Have a seat,” Ray said pointing to the old footlocker.”

They sat on the locker together.

In 1887 Peter Petit built a house on a patch of land given to him by his father Charles. That’s the house we live in now. Of course, it’s gotten bigger and there’s been a tremendous number of upgrades but that’s the house Peter built.”

It was finished late summer of ‘87. His wife Annie was pregnant with a son, Denton. Peter wanted to raise all his kids in that house and pass that house down to his firstborn.”

There was a terrible snowstorm late spring of 1888, a blizzard. During the blizzard, Annie went into labor. Annie was having too much difficulty. It was beyond what Peter could do. He hitched up a sleigh and his horse, Ole Tucker. He drove her to the doctor in that sleigh during a blizzard.”

Quite a story,” Dennis said.

So on that night Peter was born,” Ray said. “If not for harnessing up the sleigh and Ole Tucker, Peter would have never been born. He’d have died at birth and maybe Annie too.”

Great story,” Dennis said with little interest.

You’re right, it is a great story,” Ray said.

You see,” Ray said, “if Peter would not have been born, Arthur would not have been born. If Arthur would not have been born. Nathan would not have been born. If Nathan had not been born my Grandpa Lou would not have been born. And if Grandpa Lou would not have been born. Your Grandpa Mike would not have been born. And if Grandpa Mike had not have been born I would not have been born.”

Dennis interrupted. “And if you were not born I would not have been born.”

Yep,” Ray said. “A man not only passes on his genes and name but traditions too.”

I get it,” Dennis said. “I can go snowmobiling tomorrow. I’ll hitch up Ole Patch.”

Nah,” Ray said. “Sit for a couple more minutes. Let it all sink in.”

Give it a full five minutes, right?” Dennis smiled.

Can’t have you catching on quicker than I did,” Ray said.

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