A Walk With Al
Copyright 2002 by Jon Bondy, All Rights Reserved.
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Jon Bondy, email@example.com
My friend, Al, lived in Vermont way before I “came around’, and I visited him as often as I could. Sometimes the visits were in the summer, when I was already up in New Hampshire anyway, visiting my parents, but sometimes I took a deep breath and visited in the dead of winter. One winter, with my business opportunities in a lull, I headed up to visit Al to see if some wisdom could be acquired. Perhaps he could point me in a productive direction.
We talked about everything under the sun (such as there is in Vermont in January), and we took walks every day, no matter the weather. Al had a route that was between 4 and 6 miles long, and we continued our discussions as we acquired our exercise.
There was a farm which straddled the road within about a mile of Al’s house. The farmer, Donnie, was a typical rural Vermonter, full of practical knowledge and history, but with very little book learning. He also seemed comfortable with a few less teeth than Al or I sported, and at a distance of perhaps ten feet, one could determine his disinterest in bathing.
In The Big City, one keeps one’s eyes averted, for fear that eye contact will be the prelude to some crime of violence. In Vermont, you say hello to everyone, even if you don’t know them. You wave as you pass people in your car, on foot, or on a bike. If you know them, you may stop to chat for a moment.
As with all social situations, there are unspoken protocols for these interactions. Speak too briefly, and you are insulting the other party. Speak too long, and you are preventing them from getting their work done. Ten minutes is polite; two minutes is rude; fifteen minutes is self-centered.
Some days, as we walked, we would encounter Donnie, and a conversation would ensue. Donnie had an inquisitive mind, and he read some, so there was no real telling what we would discuss. We usually started with the weather, but often we progressed to history, a subject of some interest to Donnie and Al.
One day it was snowing up a real storm, and Al and I eyed each other, trying to see who would crack first, who would wimp out, whining that it was too cold and too snowy to go for a walk. A few moments of silence sealed our fates, and we headed out into the storm, heads down, hoods tight, hands in pockets. This was not a day on which we looked forward to Donnie’s company. As we started out, we hoped, out loud, that Donnie would be otherwise occupied. Ten minutes standing still in the storm was more than we wanted out of the day.
Of course, as we approached, Donnie was walking across the road, and we had to chat. He seemed to be wearing dungarees, a flannel shirt, and a hat. No gloves. No coat. I’m sure he had long underwear under his cloths, but just looking at him made me feel cold. His nose ran, and snow collected on us all as we chatted as if nothing unusual were taking place. After the de rigueur ten minute visit, Al and I strode off on our walk. It was a beautiful day, in its own way, and once we got moving again, we were only cold in our fingers, toes, and cheeks. We reached the mid point, turned around, and headed back. As we approached Donnie’s farm, we wondered again, out loud, whether we would be lucky. It was not to be. Another long pause in the snow ensued, making conversation, being civil. By the time we parted for the second time, Al and I were pretty cold, but Donnie did not seem to mind.
I will always remember that walk, because it says something about how rural life can be. It was an experience that few city dwellers will ever know.