I take this story out and dust it off every few years and today it’s particularly poignant because I learned on Tuesday that Charlie has died.
It goes like this:
When Sam and Nate were young we lived a back-and-forth life between northern and southern Vermont. On most Monday mornings we drove from Charlotte to Pawlet, where they were in school. After much experimentation in regards to which spot on 22A had the best egg sandwiches, we settled on the Addison Four Corners Store and stopped there each week.
Pretty much every general store in Vermont has its crew of guys who gather there in the mornings to drink coffee and figure everything out. That’s how you can tell if it’s a legitimate general store — by the group of gentlemen standing in the corner, many of them on a break after early morning milking and barn chores.
Usually I don’t dare attempt to penetrate this particular version of Guy World, though I have made a small business out of that in my lifetime, starting in college when I preferred being a “little sister” at a fraternity to joining a sorority, into my 40s when I became a volunteer firefighter and right up to today: women in the clergy are still seen as outsiders.
However. One of the gentleman in the Circle of the Brotherhood of Morning Coffee broke ranks at some point and came over to say hello to me and the boys. He said he had noticed us there on Monday mornings and wondered where we were headed. So I told him, then he told me a bit about himself. That’s how we came to be friends, Charlie and I. Over the next few years of Monday commuting we shared stories, caught up with each other, came to know something about each other’s lives. One year at Christmas time he gave the boys each a wooden ornament he had carved, telling us that that was his hobby: making things out of wood.
Sam got a Santa head (and I’m sorry to say I don’t remember what Nate got) that became a kind of talisman for him. He carried it in his winter coat pocket then transferred it to his backpack pocket in warmer weather and that thing went with him everywhere.
Charlie lived in a white house right on Route 22A and sometimes when we passed by he was out working in his gardens. That was the other thing Charlie loved to do: grow things. One time we stopped to say hi and he invited us to see his wood shop. It was then we got a sense of just how much he loved woodworking. His shop was filled with all kinds of projects, hundreds of ornaments and small toys, most of which he gave away to friends and family.
The story goes that Sam had a wee bit of trouble passing his driver’s test (almost eight years ago now), and by the third try his dad and I were getting a little nervous, so we both went to the DMV in Rutland that day to lend our support. He finally passed the test and when he got back to where we were waiting Sam put his hand in his pocket and pulled out Charlie’s Santa and said, “It was because I had this.”
Sam is a junior in college now and last week he sent me a photo of the Santa in his hand. Every year he puts it in a pocket in whatever ski jacket he’s wearing that season. I’ll bet he’s had it now for fourteen years.
We stopped doing our 22A runs many years ago and so I lost touch with our morning coffee friend. I noticed in recent times that Charlie’s gardens had fallen into disarray, and so it came as no surprise when the gentleman who owns the Addison Four Corners Store told me on Tuesday that Charlie had died.
It’s funny, you know, the spaces we leave when we go from here. And the traces, too. Charlie’s not going to take up space at the store in the morning anymore, but Sam has the Santa that Charlie made with his loving hands and maybe eventually he’ll give it to one of his kids. And tell him or her the story of those early Monday mornings, of the egg sandwiches and cider donuts and the three attempts at getting his driver’s license and the woodshop and the gardens and our friend, Charlie, who one day came over to say hello.