There is a set of curves on the steep section of Howe Hill, just past Trafalgar Square Farm heading north in Pomfret. My mother would laugh as we negotiated those curves and recalled how her older brother, my Uncle Dick Richardson, lost control of his car and went over the bank, having to hitch a ride back home to Quechee. I still pass that spot from time to time and always think of my uncle and his family. They lived so far away but the influence belied the distance.
During the great depression, Uncle Dick knew a fellow in Woodstock who hailed from Philadelphia. He told Dick that there were bigger and better opportunities for him in the city, so Dick left rural Vermont behind to become the city relative. Uncle Dick put down roots in Philly, married a wonderful woman who was a Philadelphia native, bought a house in the suburbs and raised two sons. Dick worked in an office building downtown in the Insurance Industry, and came back to Vermont to visit all his relatives every summer as far back as I can remember. The earliest visits that I recall were made in a Hudson or a Nash that smelled of horsehair upholstery. Those summer visits were like an infusion of popular culture for me. My older cousin, Ron, had actually been on American Bandstand, which was based in Philadelphia at that time. Ron’s encyclopedic mind knew all the cool cars of the 50s, and lots of comic book trivia and other vital information that we were practically starved for back home in Vermont. If it was a popular trend, Ronnie was in on it. My cousins had the Philadelphia accent, and I can discern a person from that part of the world very easily because of it.
The summer visits continued, even after my Aunt Dottie and Uncle Dick departed this world at too young an age. Ron came by himself at least once, then brought his new wife, and eventually their daughter Holly, who Ron jokingly claimed he named after the famous carburetor. However, the spelling was different. Ron had purchased a rare 1964 Pontiac G.T.O. convertible in 1968, and had met his wife, Elsie, while pitted against her in a race against her Chevelle that he lost. I say he lost the race, but he won in the end after his best friend introduced her to him. They had an exceptionally successful marriage, and their summer visits to Vermont were something I always looked forward to. We even did a number of visits to Philadelphia over the years and our two families took in quite a few Pennsylvania attractions. Those were great times.
A little over a year ago I got a call from my cousin Jeff telling me to call Ron as soon as possible. I complied and learned that Ron was suffering from a rare lung condition that was looking pretty grim. It didn’t make sense to me because Ron had never smoked, and was a very clean living person. Over the ensuing months the condition worsened to where he suddenly needed a lung transplant to survive. After a long wait he got that transplant late last summer. It had been some very rough going but things were finally looking up. Not long after Ron was released from the hospital he was right back in there with infections and complications. Thus began a months-long series of stops and starts, elation and devastation. Just as things finally began to straighten out, infection struck again, and last week my cousin Ron simply did not have enough strength left for a final fight.
I just got back from the funeral in Philadelphia. Some great memories were shared and tears were shed. A good life was cut short and it seemed so very senseless, yet a legacy of family exchanges was left, and those visits will continue keeping a strong bond intact, regardless of distance, despite hardships and time. As long as I’m around I’ll pass those curves on Howe Hill and remember the distances we’ve travelled and good times with the best of family.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.