Pulling up the long dirt driveway to the old farmhouse in Marshfield, I saw a single black suitcase leaning against the clapboard exterior wall and a gaggle of folks standing around on a long wooden porch. They had gathered, it appeared, to send off my customer, a Linda Levin, to the Burlington Airport and, via airplane, back to whence she came.
“Thanks for being right on time,” the traveler said as I approached the group. She was an attractive middle-aged lady, slender with short, black hair and cute bangs sliding over her right eye.
“You are quite welcome,” I replied and pointed to her bag. She nodded, and I carried it over to the taxi trunk and gently deposited it.
“Aunt Linda, it’s been great seeing you again,” the bearded man said, giving her a warm hug.
“Me, too,” said the similar-looking man standing beside them, and he, too, embraced the woman. Both the guys wore flannel shirts and jeans, and I took them for relatives, possibly brothers.
After a few more hugs and waves, we were off, driving west on trusty old Route 2. I routinely offer my customers the shotgun seat, but Linda had opted for the back, saying, “No offense, but I think I’m gonna snooze on the ride to the airport. I just underwent something of a family reunion and I’m worn out.”
“You know,” I said, “I just — Oh, jeez, I’m sorry. You said you wanted to sleep.”
“No, that’s fine,” Linda said, and I saw her smile in the rearview. “What were you going to say?”
“Just that I remembered my connection with this town. During a 1975 road trip, we were on this, like, circuitous route to Nova Scotia and we passed through Marshfield, where I acquired a puppy. This farm lady was breeding dachshunds in a big old barn. Man, what a great pooch Bongo turned out to be.”
I paused for a moment, thinking, Dare I? Why not? I asked, “And can you guess the reason I picked a dachshund?”
“Umm ... no?”
“I heard somebody say, ‘Get along, little doggie.”
“Oh, Lord,” Linda said, “that is a groaner.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“Changing the subject — did my nephews tell me your name is Jernigan?”
“Yup, that it is,” I replied.
“That’s so funny. My mother was in a Broadway show in the late ’20s. I think it might have been 1929, actually, when she was all of 17 years old. And the name of the play — I believe I’m remembering this correctly — was Jernigan. I recall it was spelled with a u, though.”
“Yeah, my name’s spelled with an e. But that’s an amazing piece of family history. Was your mom a gifted actress or singer? Did she go on to a theatrical career?”
“No, not at all. That one production was her debut, pinnacle and swan song all at once. She wasn’t really talented, honestly, but she was an extraordinary beauty. She actually met her future husband — my father — during the run and they were married shortly thereafter.”
We were passing through Plainfield, a town where I spent time as a teenager while visiting my older sister, who attended Goddard College in the ’60s. It was the height of the original hippie era, and a bustling Goddard was the hippiest of the hippie schools. To illustrate: One dorm was reserved for nudists. At other colleges, the students might take over an administration building for a couple days to protest the Vietnam War. At groovy Goddard, a building was occupied for two years. My brother-in-law received his B.A. in — wait for it — candle-making. Stuff like that. Riding a cultural wave, though, has its dangers: When that era faded, the school lost 90 percent of its enrollment and nearly folded.
“My goodness,” Linda said with a sigh, gazing out at the rolling landscape. “This is like paradise up here. It’s been so nice to get out of New York City.”
“Do you work down there?”
“Yes, I’m a psychologist.”
“Well, I know from firsthand experience that the Big Apple is rife with nutty people, so you must do great.”
“I do OK,” she said, chuckling. “I got into this late in life. When my younger child was about 6, I took her off to kindergarten for the first time and found myself alone back at the house, sitting on the couch watching ‘Captain Kangaroo.’ I distinctly remember thinking, Linda, you’ve got to find something to do now or you will go batty. So, I went back to school and eventually earned my doctorate in family counseling.”
“What a genuine accomplishment,” I said. “Good for you.”
Passing through Montpelier, I pulled out my Statehouse joke. I have only about a dozen gags, but I recycle them endlessly.
“So, Linda,” I said, pointing to the right, “can you see that statue atop the gold-domed Statehouse building?”
“Yes, it’s beautiful.”
“It’s a depiction of our first female governor, Madeleine Kunin. The legislature had it commissioned when she left office in 1991.”
“That is amazing. She looks like a Greek goddess!”
“Well, you’re actually on the right track. I was just fooling with you — it’s really Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.”
“I’ll give you this, Jernigan — this sure beats sleeping.”