Life Here: Good Things Still Happen, Even If You Doubt They Will

For the Valley News
Friday, January 11, 2019

Here is an Upper Valley adventure tale that isn’t meant to endorse anything more than that humanity and goodness still prevail among us, even if the headline grabbing mobs proclaim otherwise.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my beau, Carl, had a birthday, and I made dinner reservations for him, me and my son, Sam, at Ariana’s in Lyme, about 40 minutes away from where we live in Corinth.

What time will we be back, Son asked? He’s a 24-year-old, long-suffering homebody, happy to be home for the holiday, and was only coming with us out of the kindness of his heart; it was a birthday dinner, after all. Nine, I said. You’ll still get plenty of couch time before bed.

This dreary evening, following a day of rain slicking up the snow base on our driveway, there’d been some discussion about whether we’d make it down safely. Like many others, we’d been caught unprepared by the early winter, and I was still several days away from my putting-on-snow-tires appointment. The luge run contained our slide and we were underway.

I’d spent three years driving my son to school in Lyme, and though it had been over eight years since the last commute, Route 113 through West Fairlee, Post Mills and Thetford is a familiar road where not much changes, except for when the Merchants Bank next to Wing’s on Route 5 moved to Huggett’s and the space became a pediatric office. It was very convenient of my car’s engine to pop, whirr and start smelling like burning rubber just as I could pull into the familiar parking lot. Son and Beau looked under hood and said things like “seized pulley, burning belts, sparks,” and I said something like, “we should make it around the corner to Watson’s garage,” and we did. Parking out front, I composed an explanatory note to attach to the keys before passing them through the drop slot.

Now what? It was 6:25, our reservation was for 6:30, and we were 30 solid minutes from home. “Let’s call Brian to have him come pick us up,” said Son, who is hard-wired to dread being caught in a predicament with Mom at the helm, even though I’m pretty resourceful. And in love with living in a pocket of the country where cell phones don’t really work, hence no Uber or Lyft, or any taxi service. We still need to rely on what other people will do for each other in times of need.

At least we had enough service to make calls, and I rang poor neighbor Brian who, of course, was ready to drag himself from a toasty house at the end of an exhausting Thanksgiving weekend to come bail us out. With Son and Beau standing there prepared to wait, I quickly called Ariana’s to cancel the reservation, “because we’re broken down at Watson’s ... unless you’ve got somebody who can come pick us up.” The words came out without being overthought. Why not?

Son frowned in disbelief. The lady on the phone said she’d see what she could do and call right back.

“What,” scowled Son? “Why wouldn’t we not just go home?”

The lady rang and said Ian would pick us up immediately; he’s driving a Volkswagen! Wow, thank you so much! Hanging up, I called and caught Brian as he was heading out the door.

“Hold on, we’re going to proceed with our dinner plan and try and figure out a way to get home on our own.”

Son was coming undone. Why would I defer the inevitable and make Brian come fetch us later? No faith, unlike Beau, who would see what happened before adding to the noise. While Son grumbled and we waited for Ian, I checked my Uber app, recently downloaded while stranded in congested, connected civilization down south.

“There has to be at least one person trying to earn some Uber money in the Upper Valley. Look, there’s a car that could pick us up in 18 minutes.”

“They will reject this ride,” Son scoffed, optimistically. “Nobody wants to haul us up to Corinth.”

“This is our chance to find out,” I said, as Ian and his Volkswagen pulled in. “We’ll see after dinner.”

It takes about five minutes to drive across the Connecticut River from Watson’s to Ariana’s, enough time to find out a few things about each other. Ian already knew we were stranded, as he’d been sent out to fetch us. But, now we all knew he lived in Bradford, our closest town.

“You could come back with me,” he said, “but I don’t get off until 11.”

“We’ll find a way,” I said, and truly hoped we would. What was the worst that could happen? Giving Son a failure story he could milk for the rest of my life, I guess.

We sat down in the cozy living room of the former Lyme Inn, where all the diners were seated. The dismal weather and uncertainty about the near future made it feel all the warmer and cozier. Just as our server brought water and menus, Ian darted over from the kitchen, “Hey,” he said, “Good news for all of us. It’s a slow night, they’re letting me off early to drive you home!”

Beau and I celebrated with delicious dinners while Son scanned the prices and took the cheapest one, determined to provide an example that demonstrated the frivolity of my ways. Making dinner plans 40 minutes from home, driving a Subaru instead of another brand that wouldn’t have broken, ordering expensive food, this was all so unnecessary, we could be home economically having turkey pot pie for the third day in a row. Although, he did appreciate sharing my fine shrimp curry, the salads and chocolatey dessert.

During the ride home, we learned more about Ian, how he was back in Vermont because life had taken some twists and turns and he now needed family. We talked about our lives, found the ways in which our circles overlapped and as this story unfolded, I thought about how lucky we all were to be here. Ian had this little corner of the world to come back to and lick his wounds after the big wide world had let him down, and Son, Beau and I got to share this evening’s life- and good-affirming experience with him. That has to be worth something more than just words.

He dropped us off at the bottom of the luge-run driveway, I unloaded all our cash on him, doubling what the Uber app said this ride would have cost and knew I’d never pass his house again without remembering this connection. Standing in the warm kitchen after reloading the wood stove, I looked at Son and gloated: the cuckoo clock read 8:50. We were home 10 minutes earlier than I’d predicted before leaving. He still had plenty of couch time before bed.

Tania Aebi lives in Corinth.