• Driving, to distraction
    July 07,2014

    This piece begins in my head as I travel down the beautiful Route 110 valley toward Chelsea. It’s a great day both inside and out. Outside, a perfect blue sky watches over aging John Deeres giving the summer fields their annual close shave. Inside, my CD player presents a perfect complement to the “golden” setting, Susan Boyle’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

    I’m headed to the Vermont History Expo at the Tunbridge fairgrounds for a book reading about my last literary effort, “Sugar Words.” The subject of “history” brings back memories of a couple other trips into this Chelsea valley. Once when I was a 12-year-old page boy in the Vermont Legislature, I flew down these 110 curves with Walter “Peanut” Kennedy. Peanut Kennedy was Chelsea’s representative to the Legislature and father to Jimmy, a fellow page boy and my buddy.

    Back in those days Chelsea, Vermont was distinguished not only by the perfect mix of dumpling shaped hills, patchwork farms, and the quaintest of all Vermont villages, but also by more Chrysler vehicles than you could shake a Dodge Charger at. You see, right in Chelsea village, Peanut Kennedy ran one of Vermont’s most thriving Chrysler dealerships. His goal was to put 100 percent of the central Vermont populace into a Chrysler product and, you know by golly, he came very close to doing just that!

    One time, Jimmy invited me to spend the weekend with him in Chelsea. When the Legislature ended that Friday, Peanut, Jimmy, and I headed out to where legislators parked their cars. As we approached the lineup of vehicles, there was no doubt even from considerable distance which one would take us to the Kennedy home ... there sat a massive 1960 Chrysler Imperial. It stretched from its expansive front end clear back to two sleek high fins with “bullet” tail lights. Peanut Kennedy always grabbed the biggest, most powerful “beast” on the lot for his own transportation. The three of us piled onto the Imperial’s plush leather front seat and a quick turn of the key brought its killer V8 to life. Little did I know that, once Mr. Kennedy clicked the car’s “Jukebox” push button “D” that I was in for the ride of my life.

    We wound through Montpelier and Barre traffic on Route 302, blowing by lesser Fords and Chevys, until we turned east on Route 110. There, Peanut Kennedy opened ‘er up. I was sitting in the middle and began to get a little nervous when the speedometer topped 80 on the straightaway just beyond East Barre. When we reached the first curves after Washington Village, my thoughts turned in another direction ... I wondered if Mom had packed sufficient underwear for the weekend! Peanut Kennedy “straightened” route 110 as much as possible by cutting the curves and passing everything in sight, solid yellow lines be damned!

    We “screamed” into the Kennedy driveway and settled down for a great rest of the weekend. I remember a steak cookout at the Kennedy’s camp somewhere in the woods of Chelsea. Jimmy and I checked out all the latest Chrysler products on the dealership lot and dreamed of the day when we would have cars of our own. The only downside was my fear of our Monday morning return lap to Montpelier.

    Another memorable trip to Chelsea was over a car trade my dad made with Peanut. Harry Morse had traded a rusted Ford sedan and an old Jeep Gladiator pickup for a brand new fire engine red Plymouth Duster. The only problem was the Gladiator had no motor in it. Peanut’s agreement: ”Take in ennathin’ y’got Harry, just as long as y’can drive it in th’yahd” got solved at the last minute by a junk Jeep Wagoneer with a good motor and a young man with a strong back — me. I traveled to a nearby junkyard and pulled the motor out of the Wagoneer, brought it home and, in spite of my weak mechanical skills, put it in the Gladiator. Remarkably, when I tightened the last bolt and hooked up the last wire, the thing started up.

    Without even shutting the rig down, Dad and I headed, slowly this time, down Route 110 with the two vehicles to be traded. As our caravan of two drove into the dealership’s yard, Peanut Kennedy stood there beside the new Duster, arms folded. The Gladiator was steaming a bit when I, still covered from head to foot with grease from my motor changing, got out. It sat there sputtering for the best part of a minute, even though I had shut it off. Peanut furrowed his eyebrows and, looking over his glasses at the thing, said “That’s sure no creampuff, Harry, but y’did drive ‘er into th’yahd.” The old pickup seemingly agreed as it finally sputtered one last time and shut down with a gasp. The trade agreement was honored, regardless, and after the paperwork was finished, Dad and I headed back up Route 110 with the brand new Duster.

    My successful book reading in Tunbridge made me happy as I headed up that same valley toward home. The car windows were down mostly to let the “day” in. Just north of Chelsea village, the heavenly fragrance of new mown hay filled the air. Glancing at the distant dumpling hills, memories came back of my other rides on this highway, both wild and tame. The same CD playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” brought thoughts of rainbows and rainbows’ ends. I chuckled to myself thinking about those dumpling hills, “Perfect place for a rainbow to end, b’gosh.”

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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