The Vermont Family Reunion for Grandma’s 85th Birthday

Long, long ago, so long ago that nobody knows just when or where it was given, the name “Green Mountains” was bestowed upon the range that extends through the State of Vermont…the origin of the state’s name that was given by the French, “Verd-Mont” …most likely by the explorer Samuel Champlain or more probable by a French solider sailing over the lake on a warlike expedition into Mohawk country… or so the history is written in the year of 1913 by the Vermont Secretary of State, Guy W. Bailey. I read this origin story in the foreword of “Vermont, The Land of Green Mountains,” that was resting on the coffee table of my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Bill’s home in Lyndonville, VT with a weathered yet gilded cover and old pages that had the musty faint scent of vanilla. The extended Smith family of my mother’s side had gathered to celebrate the matriarch, Grandma Lois, on the weekend of her 85th birthday. This would be my first trip to Vermont as a destination and a reunion with family members who hadn’t been together in years.

With the anticipation for the weekend building, I had my concerns flying the great distance between Chicago and Burlington on a smaller plane at full capacity. I felt the many small dips in turbulence to be an unexpected surprise since my last flight in 2019 and I wore an N-95 mask for the duration of the flight as my best precaution against the Delta variant. The other passengers complied with the mask policy and it wasn’t terribly long before we glided over Lake Champlain into Burlington International Airport. Once my feet were firmly planted on the ground I wanted nothing more than to get outside and move. I ran a few miles at Ethan Allen Park and hiked the trails at Rock Point Sanctuary in downtown Burlington, just minutes from the airport. The terrain was moderate, yet scenic and I was able to take in some incredible views of the lake from Sunset Ridge.

After my nature itch had been scratched, I had dinner with my Berger family at their charming apartment in Essex Junction. My parents recently moved to Vermont this summer with my sister and had a whirlwind of adventure stories to share from their summer vacation. We all laughed while Dad told tales of driving in Germany and Mom described her favorite sights from their trip. After dinner, I drove to Aunt Debbie’s house for the evening where the birthday events would take place and shared warm conversations with my relatives until the relentless mosquitos forced us inside. The extended Smith family members were all visiting from distant cities in North Carolina, Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Indiana, and even England. It was a pleasure for us to have accommodations all under the same roof together and I loved my cot in the cozy nook upstairs. I awoke early the next morning to see the sun rise and enjoy a short walk before the family breakfast. Aunt Debbie cooked the most delicious spread of baked French toast, egg casserole, maple syrup sausage links, and fresh berries from her garden. The meal looked like it could be the cover of a food magazine and I savored every bite.

We were invited to “choose our own adventure” for the afternoon and many of us banded together to hike the Herbert Hawkes Trail to the summit of Mount Hor in the Willoughby State Forest. It was a beautiful sunny day and we climbed the mountain in a single file caravan. I was able to record a few bird calls of new species along the hike with my Merlin Bird ID app that were out of sight in the treetops that couldn’t be photographed. The trail was a little advanced for Grandma so a few people walked the gravel road at the base while the rest of the family hiked to the top with Will and Kim’s dog, “Captain,” leading the way in leaps and bounds. It felt good to be in the fresh air maneuvering over rocks and roots as the elevation increased until we were finally rewarded with a panorama of Lake Willoughby and beautiful mountains on the horizon, just under an hour’s distance from the Canadian border. After a few group photos, we plopped onto rocks and enjoyed sandwiches and fruit for lunch before hiking back down the mountain.

Saturday evening was Grandma’s birthday party commenced by Uncle William’s recitation of a Shakespearean sonnet written on the passage of time while Uncle David metaphorically crowned Grandma as Queen of the Smiths. She was delighted to open her gifts and bask in the warmth of having her family surrounding her. We took fancy family photos and gathered for a lovely meal followed by Grandma’s favorite recipe of pound cake along with homemade blueberry pie. It was an altogether wonderful day.

The final day was supposed to be rained out but we were blessed with another day of sunshine. Aunt Debbie officiated a family worship service as the minister of the family with various members asked to read scripture, sing hymns, and play their instruments. A highlight was listening to my mother play the flute along with her brother and sister on violin. They hadn’t played together in over five years since my wedding and it was once of Grandma’s favorite hymns. My father also accompanied family hymns with his trumpet on another hymn while the sun sparkled flickers of light around the room. Uncle David concluded the family service with a reading of the Benediction with the same timbre that the late Grandpa Smith used to resonate.

In the early afternoon, I had the pleasure of walking down the road to Debbie’s vegetable garden to compost our vegetable scraps and harvest produce for dinner. Grandma, Debbie, and I shared stories and stopped to admire the wildflowers along the way. Debbie gave us the garden tour and we exchanged stories from our previous gardening experiences. We picked pole beans, snap peas, kale, and dug up some red potatoes. Debbie pulled back the veil draped over her blueberry bushes and we filled a few cartons for Grandma to take home with her to Amherst, Massachusetts. I loved getting my hands dirty and helping out in the garden. I spent the afternoon reading, painting, and rocking on the porch swing in conversation with my Grandma. I will keep this afternoon in my mind as a happy memory.

While only a few days together, the time was well spent catching up on our lives and spending quality time together. The view of tall trees casting silhouettes on the ridge of a hazy pink sky is one that is not easily forgotten. It was a heartfelt tribute to our Grandma Lois on this birthday. May we each hope to live long and healthy lives to continue cherishing these family memories.

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