Playing Tricks on Grandpa
Vermont was a sanctuary for Tom and me. After all, where we lived in New Jersey, you could not swing a bat to play ball without breaking someone’s window. So the coming of summer was full of eager anticipation. Space. In contrast to houses so close you could talk to neighbor’s without using the phone, Vermont had space. Behind the mid-19th century cape Dad and Grandpa had jointly purchased were acres of fields, a brook, woods, and so many possibilities.
But our Vermont world also provided new challenges during those years in the 60’s (I was about 12, Tom about 15. Water had to pulled up from a well with pails that were weighted on one side to dip into the clear chilly water. The sink in the cooking kitchen was dry. No faucet. Except of course when you sent dirty water down the drain. Someone had added an electric stove to the kitchen (Mom was relieved). But clearly the eating kitchen had once been the cooking kitchen, because the big black woodstove was not only a heat source. We learned to add wood to the fire box. Set kettles on the round disk burners for tea. Watch a needle on the oven door to see if it was hot enough to bake a pie. Mom was not excited to meet the wood stove. But Grandma had found an old and familiar friend, and she baked a raspberry pie just to test its prowess.
That’s the other thing about Vermont. In summer, we all lived like an extended family. The four of us, and our paternal grandparents. Otherwise, grandparents were people who came to tea on Sunday, and were at our dinner table for every birthday, holiday, and sometimes just because. Grandma was the bringer of plum cakes, eclairs, Boston Cream pie, Jan Hagels, and raisin cake. Grandpa , well, what we soon came to realize in Vermont is that we hadn’t known Grandpa very well. Not really.
Stannard, Vermont, in the Northeast Kingdom at that time did not get television reception. Radio reception was scratchy and annoying. It was said you could get a phone, but it would have been a 16 party line, and not often available. So Dad decided we didn’t need one.
The house was well stocked with decks of cards, scrabble and monopoly for evenings. We wrote letters to friends back in Jersey. We read books. We’d soon run out of the books we brought along. The one breadbox of toys we were each allowed in the over-stuffed station wagon served us well. I sewed doll clothes with the 1875 Singer Treadle machine we’d gotten at a church auction for $2.50. That is, after Grandma taught me how to use it. In nice weather, Tom and I would be outside on our land. A brook provided hours of entertainment, tramping around soggy ground in rubber boots from the Army-Navy store in St. Johnsbury. We’d try to build dams to make a place for ourselves to swim. However, once we realized how naturally frigid the Vermont water temperature are, we abandoned our quest.
Nonetheless, sometimes, especially on a rainy days, Tom and I got bored.
Houses in the country have problems. Mice, for example. On one of those first trips to the hardware store in Hardwick, Dad and Grandpa stocked up on wooden mouse traps. Grandpa, as we were learning, was often cranky. And he dwelled on problems. The mice were one of those problems worthy of dwelling. He set mouse traps under the kitchen wood stove, behind the Round Oak pot belly stove in the living room, and under the ugly oak hutch with the built in mirror. Any place he thought mice might go. Dad moved some of them that our cat might trigger by accident. Grandpa had no understanding, sympathy, or adoration for cats.
Tom and I conspired on one way to annoy Grandpa. Our reasoning was, if Grandpa was so worried about mice, we should help him out – give him something to worry about. In a way, we reasoned, we were being helpful.
First we found a roll of black thread in the drawers of that old sewing machine. The area carpet in the living room was all creepy dark colors – blacks and browns. Black thread was well camouflaged on that carpet. Grandpa had to walk by the Round Oak stove in the living room to get to his little bedroom on the other side. Tom and I strung black thread across the carpet. One end was tied to trigger a mousetrap.
As was predictable, Grandpa shuffled across the living room to his bedroom. Snap went the mouse trap! Grandpa stopped and looked around, and wondered where the mouse was. He was all excited about finally catching one. He peeked under the stove. He was crestfallen that there was nothing in the trap. “Must have gotten away,” he mumbled. Then he headed back towards his room, stopping to yank a piece of black thread from his shoes. He didn’t connect the two things (We didn’t get our brains from Grandpa’s side of the family). We, of course, were snickering beyond control around the corner in the next room. Mom and Grandma wanted to know what was so funny. After some thought, we told them. They just laughed with us. They did recommend we stop doing it, however. As I recall, we did not immediately take their advice. Tom was good at coming up with other ways to annoy Grandpa.
But that’s another story.