Bea Fisher of Grafton remembers the day she took the school bus driver's test.
"I was always doing extra jobs to bring in a little more money," she says. "I had a very strait-laced state trooper run the test. He said, ‘OK, do the route.'"
Bea leans her left elbow on her kitchen table. She rests her cheek on the heel of her left hand. Her palm cups the side of her glasses, her fingers bundled together against her forehead.
She has set aside, for a moment, the gray hat she is crocheting for one of her 21 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren (the 21st great-grandchild is on the way). Her dog, Lucy, a rescued white Jack Russell terrier, pops up between her knees from time to time. He is
"I said, ‘Could you please tell me where we're going?' And he said, ‘I'll tell you in time to make the turns.'"
Bea leans back in her chair and slaps the table top. The light in the kitchen is bright and clear. She says that no matter who comes to visit, they always seem to end up in the kitchen, just like in the old farmhouse that burned down on this spot two years ago.
That kitchen, the gone one, was more than 30 feet long. Framed in post and beam, it was older than the willow tree in the front yard.
"Well!" Bea shakes her head. "So I took the test and did the drive. We started at the high school. On the way back, the trooper asked me, ‘Mrs. Fisher, how long have you
"I told him. ‘Only from the high school up here.'
"He said, ‘Well, you drive it as if you've been driving for years.'"
Her face brightens with the devilish smile of the kid she once was, long before she was a wife and mother. It's the smile of a country girl who has the world by the tail and is just starting to swing it.
"I said, ‘Well, I've driven everything from ox teams to my husband!'"
She laughs. "I thought he was going to blow a gusset. Every time he saw me he would ask, ‘Mrs. Fisher, what are you driving today?'"
Bea leans forward again. Her hand curves back around her glasses, and she tucks her right hand into the crook of her left elbow.
"I have so many happy stories," she says. "Some very unhappy ones, too. But mostly happy stories."
Bea Barnes was 19 years old when she married Vern Fisher, who lived on Fisher Hill in Grafton. His family was one of the first to settle in the town.
Bea lived in Bellows Falls and went to school with Vern's sister.
"I told her I wanted to meet her brother, and she told me I didn't stand a chance, that he didn't go with girls from around here."
She thinks back, tracing her memory through friends and sisters of friends and boyfriends of sisters of friends to the night she met Vern.
"October 10, 1942," she says. "Of course I remember. Who could forget? It didn't take us long to put two and two together to reach four. That Thanksgiving, he told his folks he was going to get his girlfriend to bring her up for dinner."
She grins. "His sister just about had a heart attack when she saw me get out of the car."
The new sweethearts went steady for two years. "Oh, we had adventures, us and my friend and her boyfriend, Herbie. Vern had the car and Herbie would furnish the gas. Sometimes we'd chase another couple around with our car! I loved to square dance, though Vern never took to dancing. We all made our own
Her face crumples. "And now the three of them are gone and I'm left here with the memories."
With a quick internal effort, Bea lifts her spirits up. "Good memories, such good memories."
Vern and Bea married in 1944, and Bea moved up to the dairy farm on Fisher Hill. She didn't just move in with Vern, though. Her new housemates also included her father-in-law, Cecil, and two male boarders, one 90 years old and the other 85.
"They told me I wouldn't last six months on Fisher Hill," she says with satisfaction. "I did. But there was a lot of give and a lot of take."
Her mind hovers over those first years. "I traded hot water for electricity when I came up here. My folks had hot water on the farm where I grew up, but no electricity. Oh, that was so wonderful to have."
Three years later, Bea gave birth to a daughter. Five more girls and two boys followed. The family farmed the land and milked the cows, bumped and jostled through their hardships and successes, went to church and listened to Bea read bedtime stories from "The Book of Knowledge." She would sit on the top stair so the children in all three bedrooms could hear her.
"We lost our first baby and the last, so we should have 10, but I have eight wonderful kids, the best family," she says. "When I was at Baystate Hospital after the fire, the nurses said I had the most wonderful family they'd ever seen, because someone was with me 24/7 all the time I was there."
The phone rings in the living room and Bea rises to get it. She moves at a measured pace through the short hallway, past the wall decorated with the framed copy of a 1981 "Vermont Shopper" article designating her Mother of the Year.
One of her daughters is calling to see how the morning went, how breakfast went. Bea, ever active as a volunteer in schools and with Grafton's White Church, in hospitals and with the Grafton Grange, in the town's Memorial Day celebration and with the many 4-H groups she's led -- in 2011 she received a Governor's Award for Outstanding Community Service -- this busy-giving Bea has slowed down some in the last few years.
The fire's trauma lingers, an upheaval as great as Vern's death in 1980. Bea's physical recovery from severe smoke inhalation has taken its time. The house she lived in for almost 70 years is gone, and with it a thousand treasures, such as the fountain pen Vern gave her for high school graduation.
"I miss a lot of the old, old things," she says. "But they are only things. Just ... articles. And I never thought I would live in a new house! When I was in the hospital, the kids kept asking what kind of house I wanted. I said, a little yellow bungalow."
She laughs, the deep, quick laugh of a lifelong Vermonter. "And now I have a little yellow bungalow."
With her sharp mind and loving heart, Bea is fully in the world, cherishing her family and community, crocheting and sewing and caning chairs -- and a step removed, in the way of those who have come to hold memories alone.
She moves from the kitchen to the small front porch, on the way passing her "Wall of Love," a white wall decorated with the colorful handprints of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She settles in her rocking chair. Lucy the dog tears around the house. Her body stretches out completely with each leap.
Bea points to the willow tree at the edge of the yard.
"Some of the branches got burned in the fire. They had to cut those off. But I love the way the new branches are coming back, right from that spot. See?"
She leans back and rocks the chair, vivid in this small happiness, the 19-year-old's fiery wonder inside the 87-year-old's face.
"Isn't it just amazing?" She sighs. "I am just amazed."
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer. To suggest people for this column, write to her at email@example.com.