The first words I remember hearing at the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire were, “Welcome to Mud Season.” The first words I remember saying, as we drove through Franconia Notch, were, “Holy shit.” The first thing I remember thinking as I drove up Highways 89 and 91 to St. Johnsbury, Vermont was that I was home.
It’s been 16 years or so since that first trip to Vermont. I’ve flown into Manchester and into Burlington and—a few times—even driven there. Each time, I have felt this incredible sense of homecoming. When our kids moved back to Indiana, I was thrilled beyond all reason, but there was this thought at the back of my mind that I’d no longer have a reason to go to Vermont.
Although I love mountains everywhere, the Green Mountains are the only ones that have ever laid claim to my heart. I also love small towns everywhere, but especially there. Although autumn is as amazing there as it looks on all the calendars, I don’t actually have a favorite season—I even like April’s mud. I truly believe that Vermont should be the National Postcard.
However, it took forever before a story allowed itself to be told there. I have a whole handful of starts, but it wasn’t until Back to McGuffey’s that it actually happened. Although Fionnegan and Wish Mountain are fictitious names, they are very real places.
I’m not one who re-reads her own work once it’s “out.” That went to the wayside after the first book. But every now and then, when I get homesick for the Northeast Kingdom, I revisit Back to McGuffey’s. Here’s an excerpt, just in case you’d like to go, too.
Ben leaned into the bed-and-breakfast’s kitchen when he got back on Friday afternoon, and her heart quickened, beating a tattoo against her ribs that made her a little light-headed.
“I’m off to the tavern pretty soon,” he said. “Morgan’s talking mutiny, so I’m working the weekend. See you later.” He ducked out, only to stick his head back in a moment later. “If I need you, will you come and help?”
She thought for a moment of her weekend plans. There was a trip to the wholesale grocer tomorrow afternoon and church on Sunday. At some point, she would most likely clip her toenails and work highlights through her hair.
She could probably spare the time.
“I’ll take you bowling Sunday night,” he promised. “Not that you could beat me, but it will be fun.”
She snorted. “On your best day, if I gave you twenty pins, you couldn’t beat me.”
“Those are mighty big words for such a little woman who probably doesn’t remember where the bowling alley is,” he drawled.
She laughed. “You forget, tall guy, I stayed here while you went to the big city. I bowl on a league in the winter and teach it to kids on Saturday mornings from January through March. Winner buys dinner? Just remember how much I like steak.”
“Uh-oh, I’m scared.” With a wave, he was gone, loping across the yard to his apartment, and Kate sighed, feeling the emptiness he left in his wake. She kneaded dough for the weekend’s cinnamon rolls, pushing and pushing and turning over and trying not to hurt.
She liked being a temporary innkeeper. It was interesting meeting guests from faraway places and walks of life she knew nothing about. After nearly twenty years of living alone, she enjoyed sharing space with other people, especially since she had plenty of room and time to be alone if that was what she wanted.
But it wasn’t enough. She wanted a family. She wanted children she didn’t have to give back and she wanted to be in love. She wanted a man to look at her the way Dan looked at Penny.
She thumped the dough into a greased bowl and placed it on top of the refrigerator.
Standing at the sink, washing her hands, she watched Ben’s bicycle ride away. He’d been wearing a helmet all the time lately as part of teaching Jayson to ride. It made him look a little goofy, and she’d laughed uproariously the first time she saw it. His response had been to buy her a matching helmet and refuse to ride with her unless she was wearing it.
What a great father he would be.
There’s an emptiness to it, she remembered her sister Sarah saying during the couple of years she and Chris had had fertility problems. It seems as though everyone we know is either pregnant or they already have children. I don’t know what to talk about anymore.
Kate had seldom felt that kind of emptiness. She had friends, such as Joann, who had chosen to remain both single and childless and were perfectly happy that way. Kate had never minded it, either. Until recently. Until the doctor reminded her as kindly as he could that her reproductive time was running out.
She didn’t have a “why me?” personality. She’d even printed “Why not me?” in a 72-point font and stuck the paper to the front of the inn’s refrigerator to remind herself that she wasn’t the only person whose dreams had been deferred. She hadn’t really cried over her house until Penny poured her a pint Mason jar full of wine and told her no one liked a martyr. Then, of course, she had wept buckets. She didn’t like martyrs, either.
The truth was she didn’t want to be a single parent. She didn’t think it was wrong—some of the best parents she knew were doing it on their own—but it wasn’t right for her. She wanted not only a basketball hoop in the driveway, but a tall guard to partner up with her small forward in the game of parenting.
The thought drew her glance to the front of the refrigerator. Beside her self-directed “Why not me?” sign was a snapshot of Ben and Jayson on the inn’s driveway. Jayson was mid-dribble with the basketball, his tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth as he concentrated. Ben’s arms were up, and only someone who knew him well could tell he wasn’t really trying to stop his opponent.
What a great dad he would be, she thought again. What a great guard.