Genny Cream Ale

The VA building had many quirks, probably because no one had ever thought through anything – stuff was just added on when it was needed, without any relation to what was already there.

One of the oddest quirks wasn’t structural, though – there was a large, overstuffed, living room-type chair sitting against the wall in the kitchen near the door to the side yard.

When I’d asked Meg Petronius about it during our initial tour, she’d told me it was called “Teddy’s chair” and that the kids were terrified of it. Shortly after VA had opened, a kid named Teddy had dragged the chair into the kitchen as a joke. As dinner was starting, Rich demanded to know why the chair was there.

Teddy said he’d put it there so he could digest his food in comfort. To demonstrate, Teddy jumped up from the table and ran over to the chair. He leaped high in the air, landed on the chair, and promptly dropped dead. Turned out he had an undiagnosed heart condition.

If a kid was acting up at dinner, Meg said, all you had to do was say, “You want Teddy’s chair?” and the kid would turn pale and shut up.

Anyway, Stilton, Vermont was in the middle of nowhere and I knew no one in the entire state. As a result, I worked all the time – what else was there to do? Besides, I liked the job.

One Wednesday morning just after the kids had gone off to school, Rich called me into his office. He was looking at my time sheet. “According to this,” he said, “you’ve worked 243 straight hours.”

“I was asleep a lot of that time,” I pointed out.

“Sure,” he said, “but you were still on duty. When something happened you had to deal with it.”

I shrugged modestly.

“Wow,” he said, “243 hours. Who does that? Do you know how much trouble I’d be in if Montpelier knew about this? You’re an hourly employee and I’d have to pay overtime for … well, let’s just say it’d bust my budget for months.”

“Don’t worry, Rich,” I said. “I won’t rat you out.”

“Well,” he said, “it’s long overdue, but you deserve some time off. I’m leaving for Newport in an hour and Terry can’t get here till two, so you’ll have to work through lunch. But then take the rest of the day off.”

What a guy, I thought.

The rest of the morning I alternated between excitement that I would have some time off and puzzlement about what the hell I would do with it.

My first thought was that I’d take a couple of six-packs up to my room and get roaring drunk. I hadn’t been drunk since I’d left college for VA and, as a nineteen-year-old, I was way overdue.

I went to the locked refrigerator and checked the supply. Two six-packs of Genesee Cream Ale – it’d been introduced by the brewery only a few years earlier and everybody was drinking it  – were sitting right there, nicely chilled.

But at two-thirty, when I headed up to my room it was so depressing I came right back down. I told Meg I had no idea what to do with my half day off. She said, “Why don’t you go see the crazy lady?”

Meg explained that the farmer who’d built the core of the VA house back before World War I had had a crazy wife and, to get rid of her, he’d built a small house for her up at the top of the mountain that VA sat at the bottom of.

The poor lady lived there all alone and no one knew what had become of her. Maybe she’d wandered off into the forest and been eaten by wolves or bears – both of which still roamed those mountains in great numbers. Or maybe, Meg had told me wide-eyed, she still haunted the house, ready to murder anybody who dared cross her threshold.

I would never have had the nerve to go up to that house at night, but now it was mid-day and sunny. I packed the Genny Cream Ale into the Vespa’s saddlebags and headed up the mountain.

The dirt road that led up to the crazy lady’s house was steep and pitted and narrow and it led into a forest so dense and dark I was getting the creeps long before I found the house. One of the best cures for the creeps is beer, and fortunately I had a lot of it with me.

I parked in a sunny clearing and stared at the crazy lady’s wreck of a house, downing another beer. Then I took a third beer and headed for the house. I walked all around it, looking in broken-out windows. I couldn’t get in the badly stoved-in front door, but managed to get in through the back. By then I was on my fourth beer and was urged on by what used to be called “Dutch courage.”

The place didn’t seem to be haunted, so I got bored and sat on the Vespa and drank some more beer. Then I followed the dirt road further, not sure where it would come out. Maybe a few miles south of VA, but possibly over on the west side of the mountain, near Route 5. It didn’t come out anywhere, though, it just petered out until it became impassable.

I sighed and headed back the way I’d come, drinking beer as I went. Eventually I came back out on the road that led to VA and I headed back to the house, weaving badly in my lane. Fortunately, there was never any traffic on that old country road.

I pulled into the VA lot, climbed off the Vespa and nearly fell over. Wow, I thought, I’m really drunk! I wobbled my way toward the side door, wanting nothing more than to stagger up to my little room and sleep it off. It was about 7 p.m., and I planned to sleep until 7 a.m., when I’d wake the boys up for breakfast.

But it wasn’t to be.

Next up: VA, Part 15

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