Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sharing a Child's Summer Secrets

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sharing a Child's Summer Secrets

Article excerpt

THE LAST PLACE in Vermont before Canada on U.S. Highway 7 is a crossroads on the east side of Lake Champlain called Highgate Springs. It consists of a few houses, a resort named The Tyler Place, a post office, Martin's general store and a little white church with a fine steeple.

Martin's opened early, and you could get coffee there and the papers from Burlington and St. Albans. It carried beer and soda, local maple syrup, fishing gear and bait, a few tools and hardware, a selection of cheeses and cold cuts, tins of spinach and other staples with labels you mightn't recognize from city shopping.

This was a plain, cracker box of a place. There was nothing artful in the display or about the merchandise that would bring anyone there except for convenience or necessity. And yet that was not quite true, for there were certain customers who found Martin's irresistible.

Martin's had a wonderful selection of what people once called penny candy, and it sold them in the best packaging ever made for sweets - small brown paper bags. Over the period of a week in early June, I got to know Martin's well and the little brown bags that came back from it, filled with Airheads, Cherry Cola Pop'n Soda, Round Up candy cigarettes and other treats that try a parent's faith that appetites insatiable for such stuff may someday admit the pleasures of fresh vegetables.

We had driven up from Pennsylvania, where the two smaller boys and I had picked up their elder brother and their mother, the two of whom had flown to her college reunion. For the younger boys, this qualified as a Road Dog trip, which is what we call any drive by father and sons that covers one or more nights on the road.

There was a routine remembered from basic military training many years past when the formation marched up to an intersection and the leader called "Road guards out!" When that happened, two people broke ranks and blocked traffic while the rest went by. Then the leader called "Road guards in!" and the unit reassembled on the march.

Long ago, when Tom was our only child, he and I were starting out on a trip somewhere and as we pulled out of the driveway the words suddenly materialized: "Road Dogs out!" In addition to that dormant service memory, the cartoon world also may have had something to do with the name. With children, that world is ever near, and now and then I find myself in it, as an inhabitant.

Since then we have been the Road Dogs, the smaller boys qualifying one by one for membership as we drove across the country to meet their mother, who, preferring planes to cars, often flies ahead with one of the boys. That is fine with us, for by nature Road Dog trips are vaguely conspiratorial adventures, full of small secrets as to the numbers of sodas or Happy Meals consumed.

We have piled hours upon hours along highways, over mountains, past wheat fields and along salty water far from home. …

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