On June 19, 2024
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Graduation: Milestones and outlooks

By MargueriteJill Dye - Mont Saint Michel, a steep rocky island surrounded by sand in Normandy is connected by a causeway and crowned with a monastery. It was such a splendid sight that the author stopped to paint it, preserving its memory and her time there.

Building our Killington Dream lodge, Part 18

Mom and Dad were digging in deep to tie us to the state of Vermont and all it stood for like self-reliance, hard work, and the courage to create an authentic life. These qualities to me represented Vermonters and what Dad was striving to accomplish. Mom supported him through the decades as he built the homestead for our family.

I followed their example and worked hard in college which allowed me to graduate one year early. I took extra courses I was interested in plus summer studies in Graz, Austria.

When I returned to Vermont, I saw Dad’s hard work had certainly paid off—the tree on our roof announced its completion in the European tradition, represented the major milestone in building our ski lodge.

My short Vermont sojourn with my parents in Killington gave me the energy to return to Europe for my junior year in Paris. I had much more to learn at Schiller College and from living in Europe.

I studied a lot, enjoyed what Paris offered in culture and the arts, and ventured away some weekends with my girlfriends, Gigi and Sharon. We walked then hitchhiked outside of Paris, stayed in youth hostels or camped in fields. Couples or families offered us a ride if they had room in their small cars.

In February, we hitch hiked to Normandy to famous Mont Saint Michel, a steep rocky island surrounded by sand, connected by a causeway and crowned with a monastery. Salt marsh lamb, “agneau de pré salé,” are a French delicacy that thrive in salt grasses nearby. I remembered Vermont’s “sheep craze” in 1870 when 1.7 million sheep were raised for their wool. When prices fell, farmers replaced them with beef and dairy cows.

We climbed to the monastery, then down to shops and a restaurant where I devoured mussels in wine-garlic broth. My friends chose the “omelette of Mme. Poulard,” which she fed to famished seamen in the 1800s.

We walked out on the sand at low tide. A small airplane circled overhead. We didn’t know why, but returned to the shore. We had been walking near deadly quicksand.

The next day we caught a ride to Saint Malo in neighboring Brittany. Before the fort opened, we picnicked on the rocks, warming up in the sun and our winter coats).

 Suddenly, we realized our rock was an island. The powerful tide was racing in. We had to swim several meters with backpacks to rocks that jutted out. People ran to pull us out. Others shouted from the fort above, but the sea’s roar drowned them out. A kind young woman took us home and loaned us clothes while she helped us dry our clothes.

In the spring, we hitchhiked to Verdun to explore the famous battlefield where Sharon’s ancestor fought in the 1916 battle, the longest of World War I. We searched fields and woods for battle markers then slept by hedges in our sleeping bags. It should have felt eerie, but it was peaceful and reminded me of Vermont.

One chilly weekend we headed for Rotterdam for steaming, thick, Dutch split pea soup, or “Erwtensoep” with ham warmed us up like in winter in Vermont. French customs agents searched our back packs for drugs at the border due to Holland’s big drug problem. (We preferred chocolate and honey.)

Gigi and I left for Germany to visit Hans at the University of Tübingen where he was studying sports medicine. A kind truck driver picked us up and drove us through the mountains overnight. At breakfast, he transferred us to a friend who delivered us to our destination. People were so very kind. Our optimism and innocence were our protection. People didn’t want to let us down. (Hitch hiking isn’t be advised now. Even then we were truly blessed.)

I assumed I’d return for my senior year, but I had enough credits to graduate in May. So Mom flew in and Hans drove from Tübingen to attend our all-campus Schiller College graduation. Schloß Heidelberg, Germany’s castle, was in ruins but our graduation was held in a candlelit reception room. It was elegant and unforgettable.

Mom became a travel agent in 1969 when I left for Europe. She planned our summer travels in Scandinavia—Norway’s deep fjords and midnight sun, reindeer in Lapland, Swedish smorgasbords, and boating through Finland’s lakes and canals… Mom and I enjoyed the northern grand tour.

We finished in Graz, Austria for a Sister City reunion, then I worked at an international summer children’s camp, similar to Vermont camps with outdoor activities.

I returned to Killington to take hikes, swim in lakes, and help at our lodge. We were still sleeping and eating in the basement although we had a new roof on our house. I couldn’t imagine the steps remaining before we could ever move upstairs. I had to learn patience and recognize that building a ski lodge was no easy enterprise. The house and I had graduated to new levels and milestones. The time had come to figure out what was the next step in our evolution?

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between Vermont and Florida. She loves to hear from her readers at jilldyestudio@aol.

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