My dad pulled the Ford Expedition up to the gas tank. Pick-up trucks surrounded us, one just as beat-up as any other. A tall, bearded man stepped out from the pick-up truck next to us and looked down at me. He wore a stained white t-shirt and cargo pants. Before he opened the door to A&B Beverage, he stomped his camouflage work boots against the pavement. Smack, smack, smack. He held the door open for me and smiled, revealing a missing front tooth. Today, I still don’t quite understand the interactions I have with local Champlain Vermonters, but I do know that we both cherish the state’s natural beauty. Unanimously, we are grateful for the memories that a place as remote as here has given us.
Lake Champlain was founded in 1609 when Samuel de Champlain discovered the lake and visited the islands. Most are privately owned now; however, the larger interconnected island famously known when people think of Lake Champlain will forever be a home to me. Geographically, this land is classified as Grand Isle County, where the northernmost tip touches Canada’s border, and the southernmost end pokes out into the middle of the lake. With a resident population of less than 7,000, the locals view their lifestyle as farming, fishing, and deer hunting and, for some, occasional trips to the weed dispensary. Year-round and seasonal residences like my family appreciate the tranquility and isolation of the islands.Even though it has been over 400 years since the Islands were founded, there hasn’t been much modernization. Down the road is the smallest strip mall in the history of strip malls. Even calling it, a strip mall is saying a lot. My family would spend hours at the movie rental shop there, picking out what we wanted to watch for the entire week. It was a good day when my brother and I turned around to the ring of the bell hanging over the door to see the black and white sheepdog come trotting in. Angel belonged to one of the store owners’. When my brother and I first met the owner, we tried to put together how someone so “stylish” could have a dog like Angel. She had tattoos up and down her arms and many piercings… everywhere. However, soon she, my brother, and I bonded over playing fetch with Angel, and it was the highlight of our vacation when she and Angel walked through the door to greet us.
Other than the “strip mall,” the only place to get food and produce is A&B Beverage, a modified mini-mart with a gas station in front. It is like a fully operating grocery store with a produce and deli department, frozen goods, and even a small aisle of wine, but stuffed into a 2,000 square foot building. For years we waited for Boars Head to make its appearance in the deli section rather than seeing the ads in the newspaper for “$5 off of Country Man Glazed Ham.” Until then, we waited on the deli line for the pro-cholesterol people to await their extra bacon and mayonnaise sandwiches. Outside of the store, however, was where the weirdest interactions occurred. There was one instance where my dad was sitting outside eating lunch, watching the cows across the street when a grungy man walked up to him and complimented our car. He told my dad, “Wow, I haven’t seen one of these beauties in a long time.” Well yeah, given that it was a 1968 Oldsmobile. But he blamed it on the fact that he had been incarcerated in the Plattsburg Prison, some 20 miles away, for many years.
Before I turned 13, my family owned a small fishing cabin on the lake. Eventually, we grew out of the space and bought a piece of land to build and design our own larger cabin. When everything was falling into place with the build, the project suddenly became my parents’ worst nightmare. Not even a month after spending a billion dollars (according to my father) installing a brand new underground septic system, my mom found holes dug deep into the mound. She walked out one morning to find fuzzy orange creatures running from that side of the property. Not knowing what to do and being the only one at the house at the time, she called my dad for advice. Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was an unknown bearded man with a rifle in the back of his truck, pleading my mom for the pleasure of shooting the fox and “getting rid of the problem.” Needless to say, we didn’t let him.
Amongst all the weirdness, I’ve learned to look past people’s appearances as they are very genuine people. This past summer, I gathered with our family friends around the picnic tables overlooking the marina. Seated next to me were the renowned banjo player and his Labrador retriever, and across from him was the elder couple who ventured to whatever event was occurring, never forgetting to bring something in their gratitude. On the other end of the table was a gruff man, playing the harmonica alongside the banjo man, his son playing off in the distance with the lab, no wife to be seen. It’s moments like these where I realize that yes, the locals are different than me, but they appreciate everything that Vermont offers just as much as all us. Hell, they probably have just as much to say about us “out of towners.”