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April 22, 2013

Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'

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The Daily Star

---- — We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something “magical” happens when you pass the state sign. “I think they spray ‘Vermont Vapor’ out of the sign or something,” she opined, “something that actually changes us.”

I think she’s on to something.

The minute you enter the Green Mountain State, you start to feel different. You have different desires — hankerings for things that you, well, never have hankered for before.

Like aged cheese, wind chimes, plaid hats, hand-hewn lawn ornaments, and maple-flavored everything. And moose.

Vermont is a snow-globe mixture of the best of Thomas Kinkade, Norman Rockwell, The Old Farmer and his Almanac, and Jerry Garcia. I throw Garcia into the mix because there is a decidedly twisted edginess to the whole state that is undeniable.

Our first stop was at an “original” “Ye Olde Tyme Country Store.” (They do that a lot here — add an “e” to old and refer to time as “tyme.”) They also refer to places as barns and shoppes — places that are neither barns nor shoppes. Like The Suspender Barn. Or Maggie’s Peanut Brittle Barn. Or Plunkett’s Down Home Bargain Barn. None of these businesses were in barns, of course. Instead they were all in shops, or shoppes. Oh well, you get the idea.

Although this store looked “original,” I guessed that every little town and hamlet in Vermont has one. They have to have it. It is the state’s currency. It is why we come here. Whether original or fabricated, we don’t care. This is Vermont and we want olde and tyme, darn it. This store had a creaky, old front porch, high-backed rocking chairs and a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag flapping in the breeze.

It was chockablock with Vermont themed bric-a-brac. One wall was everything moose. Moose socks, a “Moose and Canoe Coaster Set,” a moose-designed wooden toilet seat lid, moose antler hats, moose kitchen spatulas and a “Vermont Moose Lucky Lottery Scratcher.” I opted for the $14.99 “Moose on Skis” Christmas ornament. Why? I have no idea.

All I really wanted was a plaid winter hat that had flaps that came down over my ears. I’ve wanted one of these things since I was a kid. You’ll remember this was the kind of hat that Ralphie and his friends wore in the movie “A Christmas Story.” I finally found one. This hat promised that it “will stay in place even in gusty conditions.”

I put it on, pulled the flaps down tightly over my ears and snapped the chin strap under my ballooning face. I came around the corner and said to my wife, “What do you think, Honey?” She rolled her eyes as she choked on her maple-flavored, moose-shaped hard candy. No words were spoken. I knew I was going to have to wait a while before my dream of owning one of these childhood memories ever happened. As I unsnapped the hat and replaced it, I noticed the price. $129. Gulp.

For all of its odd quirks, Vermont is a still a favorite place for us, and we love it. We even honeymooned there when we got married years ago. Folks are cheerful and eager to help. Everyone speaks to everyone. Ask a stranger for directions and you will wind up making a new friend. The food is no-nonsense and hearty to a fault. The villages are just what you’d expect of them: small burgs huddled around green squares centered with a granite monument featuring a Revolutionary War soldier, anchored by a cloud-piercing, white-spired country church. The streams are cold and clear. Ancient covered bridges proliferate. The mountains are rugged and proud. It really is like that. Charming.

So why does it feel different when you pass the state sign just east of Troy? When I pass the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign, the only things I think about are construction holdups on I-81. When I pass the “Welcome to New Jersey, The Garden State” sign, I invariably say to myself, “Where the heck are all the gardens?” But “Welcome to Vermont” always means something good to me. It means I’m going to meet some nice people, have a very pleasant experience, eat great food, see some of America’s most beautiful scenery and come back to Oneonta with a bag of chocolate candies called “Moose Droppings.”

My wife says it all has to do with that “Vermont Vapor” that is spraying out of the sign.

I’ll catch you in two ...

“Big Chuck” Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorD’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.