After we digested all the lobster and coffeecake we set out for Windsor, the birthplace of Vermont. Also the home of three of my long lost cousins on the Miller side. Actually, my only first cousins on any side… It was time to catch up with them. We met up with cousin Gaile and her husband Ken a few years ago. I hadn’t seen Lana for almost 27 years, Doug for 40 or Donnie for over 50 years!
They are the kids of my Uncle Chick, my mom’s brother. Chick was quite the legend in this part of Vermont. He was the brains and brawn behind Miller Construction where he also built himself an airstrip. Chick loved to fly. Instead of driving to a nearby location, he would fly. Either his Cessna or his Seaplane. Many years ago he and his oldest daughter Dottie, now deceased, flew into Canada and got grounded in a remote area. There was no radio contact and they were stuck for several days until Chick engineered a fix for the plane and flew out. I still have the newspaper article about that. Unfortunately he died as he lived, in a seaplane crash where his pontoons kept icing up and he eventually went down. He and his friend David Hall died, but as my mom said at the time, “Chick made sure his two grandkids in the plane survived.” We passed the Miller Construction sign on the way into town and I started to tear up for the loss of such a unique guy. My mom and I flew with Chick out of that field the last time we visited there, in like 1979. Chick died in 1982. Yikes! Time to catch up!
The Elks Lodge is right on Main Street and it was easy to walk around town and to Lana’s house. When we called about staying there the gentleman on the phone said you can stay three nights, then you have to leave for a night and can come back. Groan. Oh well, OK.
After a hilly ride we pulled into the Elks and Jim said, “I don’t think this is going to work…” The parking lot was smaller than it looked on Google Earth and we couldn’t really see a spot to park. Emily to the rescue! The Elks bartender just happens to be a relative of Lana and Brent’s and she had blocked off a spot for us right next to the building. She also said we could stay as long as we wanted. The Exalted Ruler came out to welcome us and even got us plugged in. We went in the lodge to have a drink and make our donation and met people who knew Chick and worked for Miller Construction.
Early the next morning, a knock on the door. I looked out and knew it was Donnie; he looks just like Chick. I opened the door and he said, “I’m Donnie. What has it been, 50 years?” His wife Barbara is a creative chef with her own mouthwatering blog, Barbara’s Bistro. He came in and handed me a jar of pickles and a loaf of still warm zucchini bread. He had picked the zucchini that morning and Barbara baked the bread. Needless to say, it was delicious and gone a few days later.
We made a plan to meet for lunch at Windsor Station, the still operating train station where they also have a gourmet restaurant and bar. Donnie is a songwriter and creative guy! He has been working with a team of musicians in Nashville and they have put his lyrics to music. “That’s My World” describes the loss of his son, Ricky, in 2004. Ricky was one of the grandkids who was in the plane when Chick died in 1982. He wrote this song to celebrate Barbara and his 50th anniversary.
Donnie is also a movie star! “If I Could Bark” in which he plays an older gentleman, is a sequel to “If I Could Talk.”He wrote some lyrics and worked with Shawn Welling to make a recent short film “The Last Ride.” All animal lovers, please make sure to have your hankies ready when you watch. Filmed in Windsor and the surrounding area, they feature local attractions like the Windsor-Cornish Covered Bridge, the longest two span bridge in North America and still heavily used. My Uncle Chick’s grave and the beautiful Vermont fall landscape are also featured. And Lana’s house. Donnie is working on a new project called “If I Could Run” which will be filmed in Windsor this fall. Even though these short films are tearjerkers indeed, he said they had so much fun making them and working together with the people and dogs. Very well done, inspiring projects! We had a lovely lunch; we laughed and cried and connected as family again. We have to make sure not to wait another fifty years to see them.
Lana has a lot going on! She is a working hospice, oncology and same-day surgery nurse who rotates several jobs and assignments. An avid golfer, she follows in her mom Olive’s footsteps. Besides working and playing in golf tournaments while we were there, she and her husband Brent worked a check in and medical station at the Vermont 100, a 100 mile event for runners and horseback riders. After playing all day in a tournament, they put in a 12 hour shift at the event. They also had a houseguest who was walking the length of the Appalachian Trail. Hi Steve!
Some of the horses before the event. Lana said one of the medical emergencies she dealt with was a horse had a seizure and kicked the rider, breaking her leg. The fastest runners finish the 100 mile course in 14 hours!
They drove us around part of the course in Vermont woods dark and deep. We love this type of local adventure, getting to see things we never would otherwise.
These guys are like the Energizer Bunny! Always in motion. They raised four kids, so they are used to being on the go. They are busy renovating and moving into a new house in Plainfield, New Hampshire and we got to see that work in progress and the surrounding countryside. They will share the unusual floorplan and separate living quarters with daughter Chelsea and grandson, Noah.
On Saturday Jim went on a work-related event and BBQ with Brent while I caught up on work. Then Brent worked the VT 100! The next day, on little sleep for them, Lana took us on a long hike around Lake Runnymeade, known to the locals as Everett’s Pond.
Baxter and Tess, the fearsome guard dogs.
We also had Happy Hour at Lana’s with Brent’s sister Donna and her husband. and a lovely pizza and calzone dinner from Pizza Chef. I bet hey slept well that night.
Every time there was a knock at the bus door we said, “Which Miller is this?” One morning Doug and his wife Betty came over to invite us for dinner that night. Naturally we accepted, eager to spend time with them and see their house across the covered bridge in Cornish. As Lana described, it is unique and quite famous in these parts. They started building it in 1977 and still adding touches. They have a beautiful view of Mt. Ascutney, the local monadnock. Large freestanding mountain not contained in a range.
Betty maintains a large garden and we enjoyed the evening getting reacquainted with Doug and acquainted with Betty. We enjoyed snacks, wine and dinner and a tour of the grounds.
And their house is indeed unusual. Lots of rock and wood heating going on there…
The stove room. All that rock heats up!
And their view of Mt. Ascutney. Doug sent this pic offering bus parking. Be careful what you wish for!
The last day we planned a happy hour at the bus to thank all the Millers and Farnsworths for a wonderful warm visit. But first Lana served once again as chauffeur and tour guide and we went to St. Gaudens Historic Site. Augustus St. Gaudens is perhaps America’s best known sculptor and he was prolific! In his career, cut short by cancer in 1907 at 59 years old he produced many works, large and small. The grounds and house are fabulous with a lovely view of Mt. Ascutney. Of course. He was also part of the Cornish Colony, an association of artists and sculptors including Maxfield Parrish who lived and worked in the area.
There were fresh flower arrangements throughout the site, a really nice touch. And these hedges are about 12 feet tall and thick!
Donnie and Barbara had to leave town but everybody else came over to the bus for happy hour our last evening there. Even though they all live close together, they don’t see each other that often. They are a busy bunch!
What a fun time! It was fun to look back on our childhoods and what we remembered about each other’s families. Donnie remembered that when my Mom would pick him up at Grammy Miller’s house and bring him to her house that he always had to take off his shoes. I remembered Chick sitting at his kitchen table smoking a cigar and if it would break, he would tape it back together with a Bandaid and keep on smokin’! And I remember this verse from their house after all these years.
Sometimes, not often enough
We reflect on the good things.
And our thoughts always center around those we love.
And I think about the people who mean so much to me
And for so many years have made me so happy.
And I count the times I have forgotten to tell them
Thank You and I Love You.