This story is dedicated to Francine (Beanie) Orton, (1985-2004) who in the nineteen years that she lived, knew more about life & appreciation for simplicity than most people do as adults. Francine, always missed, but always remembered.
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And to my father, Daniel E. Koziol, (1949-1997.) Dad, You showed me consistent, unconditional love throughout my entire life. Though your soul rests somewhere out of my immediate reach, I keep with me our memories & shared love for art, beauty, life and fun. I love you, Dad.
Though it’s been a while since my first days, with eyes closed I’m
able to relive each memory as if they happened just moments ago. And
it all started with my thin fifteen year old body standing outside
an old empty farm home that smelled like freshly mowed hay fields,
cow manure and mold.
With arms folded across my chest in obvious disgust, I stood motionless on top a small grassy hill observing open meadows of sloped land and spacious country sky. Not a house was within sight. Not a store was close by.
I had just moved
three-thousand miles from a suburban neighborhood in Mileoaks,
California to the remote town of Hillden, Vermont after inheriting
one-hundred acres of farm land with my single mother. We'd be
living on Wells Road, a road named after my great-grandfather,
I stood still as an annoying
breeze blew my long light hair into my brown eyes. With a forceful
gesture, I pushed my hair away from my face and continued on-looking
the land I’d be reluctantly residing on for years to come. I had
never been to Vermont. I had never been outside the state of
California. I had only heard stories about the land and road
existing in the small country town.
With eyes gazing across capacious land dominated by deep-green gradually slanting hills, I noticed the pond in our backyard. Immersed in dark water with a bottom layer of thick mud, the pond was occupied by oversized bullfrogs, fish and leeches. Tall thin stems of cattail grew along the edge and shifted side to side as the cool summer breeze moved across the open land and still black water.
kids in town entered tractor competitions and found entertainment in
milking cows, I clearly pictured myself spending the
summer days alone in an unfamiliar farm house surrounded by fields,
forests, an old barn and a pond filled with bullfrogs and
The farm home had been vacant and uninhabited for years.
Though my great-grandfather would tell me stories about waking at
the first sign of sunrise to muck stalls, feed hens and milk cows,
the land was nearly empty. There were no farm animals. There
were no signs of life - just the stray cats that found their way
into the barn looking for mice or a warm place to sleep.
Hearing about the energy and past events that once existed on
the farm, I wondered why the area felt and looked so bare. The land
was silently still and untouched. My mother, however, wanted
to change that. She wanted to raise farm animals and bring the
spirit of life back to the family owned land.
In Mileoaks she’d prance around
our house showing enthusiasm over moving to the country to raise
baby pigs and chickens. Assuming I’d be excited about her plans, she
even told me I could name them. Lucky me. Most of the time I’d simply roll my eyes
and tell her we were fine right where we were…in
California. But she’d insist that country life was better, more
simple and much more peaceful.
I didn’t want that. I didn’t want peace and simplicity. I wanted to be at the mall or movie theaters or beside a best-friend’s pool. I didn’t want farm animals. I didn’t want to scoop manure. The mere thought of such tasks appalled me and I simply wanted what was familiar.
Though familiarity was far away on my first day. I
stood alone on top of that small hill as I continued to fight with
the cool summer breeze that seemed to insist on blowing my hair
across my face and into my eyes. I heard the chirping of frogs and
loud splashes as the slimy creatures jumped into the murky pond
behind the farm home.
Looking beyond the rippled water and rolling hills, I
squinted my eyes to the street sign that read my family name,
Wells. Wells Road had never been paved or maintained by the
town. Though it looked to have been partially layered in black
concrete at one point, passing the first two-hundred feet, Wells
Road was covered in loose dirt, gravel, rocks and potholes.
The images were clear. The reality I was facing was
obvious. I was going to spend an entire summer in a town
miles away from civilization, where there were more cows and
cornfields than there were people and stores. The life I knew and
loved was far from where I stood that early summer morning. The life
I lived for fifteen years was three-thousand miles away. I was
looking at new territory…territory I dreaded living on.
With each direction I glanced in, I felt discomfort strengthen its way into my once happy and lighthearted mood as my young body became engulfed by what looked like foreign land. I decided, however, to begin walking along the path of matted grass. The footsteps I took slowly and hesitantly brought me to a wooden bridge with running water beneath that traveled to the pond accompanied by abundant signs of unattractive creatures and cattails.
I listened to the soft energy of sound that came from
those drops of water. Though the sounds were soothing, I wouldn’t
allow myself to find tranquility in anything I came across that
I looked at the wooden beams I stood on and noticed the
initials, W.W. carved along the base of the bridge. The initials,
W.W., indicated my great-grandfather, Walter Wells, built that
bridge years before I first stood on it. While such a discovery
should have enabled me to sense the family history that once took
place on the land, I found my observation annoying rather than
enlightening. It was simply one of the many reminders that I was far
away from previous comfortable surroundings of children on bikes,
sprinklers lightly spraying manicured lawns, and neighborhoods
filled with signs of suburban lifestyle.
As the water continued to gently glide over the gray rocks
engrossed with green algae, I began to hear a voice in the distance.
The voice echoed across the open land. Carried by the summer breeze,
it moved quickly over the meadows. “Avery…” the voice echoed again
with a screeching tone loud enough to feel as though a sharp metal
object were forced through my ears. It was my mother calling to me
from the back steps of our farm home.
“What?” I yelled back in an overtly harsh tone.
“Come here for a minute. I have somebody who wants to meet you.”
particular interest in who wanted to meet me, I assumed my mother
had brought home a baby pig or chicken she wanted me to begin
picking out names for. I left the wooden bridge, walking away from
the stream and away from the barn, slowly approaching the back steps
I soon noticed it wasn’t a pig or chicken who wanted to meet me as I insultingly thought. In fact, it was a boy who looked close to my age. I could see his dark brown wavy hair and light eyes faced in my direction. And from far away he looked kind of cute.
Though arriving at the unevenly arranged stone stairs, I was disappointed once again. He wasn't somebody I had any interest in meeting. He had rips on the shoulder of his black t-shirt showing dirt on the skin of his body underneath his clothes. He had holes accompanied by grass stains on his worn out jeans. Yet he stood faced in my direction and appeared anxious and eager to meet me.
“This is Randy Reimers. He lives just down the street in the white house,” my mother explained.
“The only other house on Wells Road?” I asked with ridicule.
“No,” Randy laughed, “there’s one other house on Wells but it’s too far back in the woods to be seen.”
I raised my
eyebrows showing sarcastic excitement and said, “That doesn’t
Though my mother was often oblivious to my dissatisfaction, she commented on my rudeness and said, “Randy would like to show you around. Why don’t you walk with him down Wells Road?”
“Sure why not,” I replied, as I shrugged my shoulders
As Randy and I began to walk away from the house, along the beaten path, over the bridge and water beneath, we caught a glimpse of the street sign that read my family name. Randy looked at the sign and asked, “Wells, right? As in Walter Wells who lived here years and years ago?”
“Yeah,” I said, “that was my
great-grandfather.” Randy nodded his head letting me know he had
heard of my great-grandfather and knew the history of my family
“So you said you’d show me around, what exactly is there to show? All I see are fields and trees,” I told Randy, implying that nothing I had seen in Hillden thus far had caught my attention or even slightly impressed me.
With a quick laugh he replied,
“Well, it sounds like you could show me around. Your family has
owned land here for so long. Aren’t ya familiar with the area?”
“No, not really. This is the first time I’ve been on Wells Road or set foot in Hillden. I'd heard of the town and knew there was a road named after my great-grandfather, but I only knew the town and road were somewhere in Vermont. I also had no idea I’d be living out here either,” I remarked with negativity.
don’t seem too excited about moving here,” Randy replied, finally
taking notice of my pessimism.
I realized I was being unnecessarily rude to a boy I had just met and answered by saying, “Well, it’s just that I lived in California my whole life. I was minutes away from the mall. My closest friends lived in my neighborhood. There was always something to do…and here… it just seems so different. I’m not used to rural life especially since my mom wants me to help her raise baby pigs and chickens.”
Randy seemed amused by my remark and looked over at
me, giving me a half smile in a slightly flirtatious way.
As we continued walking Randy mentioned that, although there were no malls in the area, the kids in Hillden had a way of keeping themselves entertained. With a light tap on my arm to get my attention, he said, “Hey, I promise I’ll introduce you to all the guys around here tomorrow.”
“Guys?” I questioned without interest.
“Yeah, there’s really no girls around here ‘cept for Tammy
and she’s about nineteen now and in college. So lucky for us, you’re
the first girl in the area who’s our age,” he said, jokingly with a
grin as he nudged me with his elbow.
After hearing Randy mention I'd be the only girl in the
area, my thoughts continued to look bleak. There wouldn’t be any
girls to go shopping with, go out to eat with or talk on the phone
to. I pictured a town not only filled with cornfields and scents of
cow manure, but an area filled with country-lovin’ farm boys who
walked around with pieces of chewed straw hanging from their mouths.
I wondered who I would share clothes with that summer. I certainly
couldn’t share clothes with my mother. It seemed as though spending
the summer at the retirement community with my grandmother in
Florida would be more appealing than living in Hillden.
I took in a deep breath and let
out an irritated sigh. We walked close to ten minutes before we
finally approached his house. I noticed it was plain and needed
work. The surrounding area was drab, yet to the contrary, looked inviting with
its obvious country location and appearance. There was farm
equipment in the yard and the remnants of a rusty car frame sitting
in the woods. He had a small pool in the backyard that hadn’t been
taken care of and had become inhabited by frogs, water bugs and
even water snakes.
Randy’s front lawn consisted of dirt and weeds but the
house had definite country appeal. I could tell by looking at
the place…to Randy and his family, it was home…home in
the country. And I knew, I'd have to accept living in the
country, as well.
“Well, this is where I live,” he said, as he extended his arm pointing to the direction of his house as if showing me with pride, an attractive display at a museum.
Again without interest I quickly remarked, “Okay thanks for showing me,” and turned around to walk home.
“So, do you wanna meet up tomorrow so I can introduce you to the guys around here?” Randy asked as I turned away.
What else was I going to do? I thought to myself before answering.
“Alright then, I’ll meet you at the end of Wells ‘round four o’clock. We hang out at the swimming hole.”
“Okay see-ya,” I replied and began to walk away.
Randy took a large step in my direction. “Wait up, my family and I are gonna be helpin’ you and your mom move in. So I’ll walk back home with ya.” He began to describe how Hillden residents would often help neighbors on moving day. “Sometimes,” he mentioned, “the whole neighborhood will get together since it’s pretty rare for a new family to move into town.”
Hearing Randy’s statement, I
assumed the whole neighborhood would be helping my mother and
me move that day. And the whole neighborhood seemed to include just
one family, the Reimers.
Though I didn’t have a noticeable reaction to Randy’s
statement, I was taken off-guard when I learned how helpful the
neighbors in Hillden were. Living in a suburban location like
Mileoaks, I saw a lot of houses being bought and sold. New families
were always moving in, and during the entire fifteen years I
lived in Mileoaks, I never once saw neighbors helping families move.
Explaining that to Randy, he simply smiled and said, “Life here is
different. It might take some gettin’ used to, but once ya get to
know the people and the land, you’ll see it’s not so bad out here.”
His words were spoken with
sincerity and for a moment lessened my apprehension towards living
in Vermont. He must have known I needed to hear something positive
at the time. But I remained unconvinced I'd learn to love life
in Hillden as much as he
did. Randy’s country look and laid back persona showed the dignity
he had for his simple lifestyle, but did little to create enthusiasm
in my intolerant and opinionated attitude.
As we eventually approached my house and headed up the small grassy slope, I saw Randy’s parents helping my mother pick up our couch. Without hesitation Randy ran to the back steps and grabbed an end of the sofa. “Turn it on its side,” he said, as the four of them made their way into the living room to put the couch down.
Watching Randy, his parents and my mother, I felt uncertain if I should help, too. I thought about picking up a few boxes for a moment but instead, I stood in my backyard, folded my arms across my chest and continued to look at my bluish-gray shingled farm house with resentment.
Each time I came outside to grab another item, someone
usually stood or walked in my path and got in my way. At first I didn’t mind the slight
inconvenience, but eventually, seeing new neighbors move in and out
of my home became rather annoying. Throughout a few of my trips up
and down the stairs, in and out of the house, I wished the Reimers
would leave so I could be alone. But they continued to
help. All three of them worked persistently with my mother into the
night bringing in box after box, item after item.
The Reimers had a fourth family member named Raurey, who at the time was five years old. Though I hadn’t seen Raurey yet, I could hear him running and laughing nearby. For a few seconds, I stood in the backyard with a heavy box full of knick-knacks as I looked towards the pond and saw a little boy with bleach blonde hair running through the fields with a torn fish net.
It was Randy’s little brother, Raurey. He was obviously amused by the dragonflies near the water; he was trying to catch them with his torn net. His bleach blonde hair reflected the bright rays of sunshine as the sun shone onto his body and distant green meadows. It was as if Raurey’s youthful energy created a luminous glow as he ran playfully by the murky pond water. I thought his playful behavior was cute as he swung that torn net in the air to catch whatever creature flew above his bright eyes.
Standing alone in my room deciding which box to unpack first, I
began wondering what the following day would bring. Randy mentioned
something about a hang-out spot called the swimming hole. I didn’t
know what the swimming hole was then, but hoped it was something
interesting. I wasn’t sure who I’d be meeting the next day,
but felt convinced I was going to find a bunch of hillbilly-boys
wearing tractor competition t-shirts, spitting out chewed pieces of
hay and tobacco from their dirty mouths. And I was certain I'd
have nothing in common with any of them.
After meeting Randy, I thought he was a nice guy but
not someone I'd want to be friends with. I could tell
he was far too immersed in his country lifestyle and I was far too
focused on the lifestyle I left behind in California.
Hours passed and dusk turned to nightfall. As I continued to
sort through boxes and isolate myself in my room, I heard a muffled
horn honk as the Reimers shouted goodbye to my mother while she
stood on the sidewalk, smiling and waving. I looked out the bay
window in my bedroom and saw Randy, Raurey and their parents backing
out of our driveway in an old red Chevy truck with a wooden bed.
Randy’s parents sat inside the cab and the two boys sat crouched
down on bales of hay, outside on the wooden flatbed. I
watched the red vehicle as it headed down Wells Road.
With my big brown eyes peering out that old bedroom
window, I thought about the family I had just met. The Reimers
seemed delighted to have my mother and me as new neighbors, but my
feelings about them at that point were neutral. I didn’t
particularly care for them but didn’t feel bothered by them
either, once they were finally out of my house.
After our neighbors were on their way down the road and
out of sight from my bay window, I turned around to the sound of
quiet footsteps coming up the stairs. The stairs were old and wooden
just like the floors. They
creaked and cracked with just the slightest movement across the hard
wood. I heard the creaks become louder and knew my mother was
approaching my bedroom.
She stood in front of my closed door, knocked softly and said, “Can I come in?” I opened the door but began peeling back tape that sealed my boxes as she walked in. I wanted her to understand I didn’t feel a desire to speak with or listen to her. And so I ignored her. But as I continued to disregard her presence, she asked, “How was your walk, Avery?”
Without looking up to reply, “Fine," I mumbled.
Obviously unaware of my reluctance to engage in
conversation she said, “Ya know, you’d have a much easier time
making friends out here if you were a little more friendly, Avery.”
Hearing such a statement and realizing she paid little attention to my need for solitude, I was stunned she had the courage to insult me so blatantly. I carelessly tossed some shoes and shirts onto my bed, looked at my mother with squinted eyes portraying my disgust and bitterly told her, “I am friendly.”
didn’t take notice of my feelings and proceeded to insult
me by letting me know Randy said I was, “…a very pretty girl, but
seemed aloof and distant.”
At that point I felt my mother deserved to learn why I acted
as I did. She deserved to hear my true feelings about Hillden. I bit
my lip up until then and held back my emotions throughout the entire
move. Rather than clearly expressing what I thought, I made quiet
sarcastic remarks hoping my mother would gain insight as to how I
truly felt. But she hadn’t. She had simply been blind-sighted by her
own absorption in the moving process. It was something she wanted
and I didn’t. And I felt like she was unconcerned with my
Finally, without holding in my anger, I screamed, “I don’t
care what Randy thinks or any of these 'country folk' think about
me! I don’t belong out here; I belong in Mileoaks! I had so many
friends back home and now, I’m forced to move to a new town where
I’m the only girl in the area! How am I supposed to act when you
move me out here just as my summer vacation begins? Thanks a lot,
Mom,” I shouted as she stood motionless in the doorway. Her
eyes, wide open and looking at me in disbelief - I slammed the
door in front of her face, leaving her staring at a blank
undecorated door with an old-fashioned brass doorknob.
The room turned silent. I stood
there alone staring at the door that closed out my mother’s image
and presence in my room. I let out a deep sigh. I had to. It seemed
as if no one could possibly
understand my concerns or my feelings. How could they? They had all
grown accustomed to having no life outside that tiny, low-populated
town. I knew I’d never find happiness in an area with no mall, no
movie theaters and no friends.
I began to think about the area I'd be living in. I
began to recall my first trip through the town center earlier that
day. The few stores that occupied the town were a pizza shop, a
country market and a gas station that looked like it had gone out of
business years before. It too, was vacant much like the rest
of the environment I had seen.
There was a police-station that operated out of an old barn
and a fire-station across the street. There was a white church in
need of painting located on Valley View Lane, just off Main Street.
The sights I saw in Hillden included nothing I was familiar with.
The lifestyle of that country town seemed much slower than the
lifestyle I was encompassed by in California. I felt like I had
stepped back in time to an era revolved around black and white
television and doo-wop tunes played on transistor radios with static
Looking down at my hardwood floors, I realized sulking was
simply unproductive. It wouldn’t lessen my anxiety, and so, I
continued to unpack, trying desperately to store my feelings deep
within my young body. As I looked around my empty bedroom and mess
of scattered boxes, I felt like my life was an empty mess cluttered
with memories too far away to reach out and grab. I felt
far away from the town and neighborhood I knew and loved and far
from old friends. I was angry and resentful and knew those
feelings would remain throughout the summer.
I hated those feelings. I hated the weakening position I
faced. As I carelessly unpacked and threw things around my room,
tears began to fall down my cheeks. I angrily wiped them off my face
with my shirt sleeve. I tried so hard to act tough and unemotional
but the emptiness of my bedroom and emptiness inside was too
strong to ignore. The tears fell as if they were too heavy to remain
inside my body.
I cried as quietly as I could but the empty bedroom and hard
wooden floors created an echo that made it impossible for tears to
fall silently. My tears rushed quickly to the ground and tapped the
floor as they hit the solid wooden surface. Not even a soft carpet
for me to lie on or sit down on - just an old wooden floor that
echoed my emotions.
I stayed in my bedroom for the rest of the night and felt
consumed by feelings of resentment and overwhelmed by grief. After
an entire day of unwanted unpacking, the moon rose high above the
distant fields behind the farm home. The town of Hillden rested
beneath the early summer night sky. It was finally time to lie down
in bed. It felt good to rest; my bed was something familiar. It was
the same place I fell asleep in every night in Mileoaks. I closed my
eyes and imagined what I was missing out on in my old neighborhood.
I fell asleep that night to the sound of crickets outside my bedroom window and stars twinkling above the tall pines. They reminded me I was far away from familiar surroundings of neighborhoods filled with houses, families and pool parties.