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Summer Job

05/06/08 5:55PM By Leora Dowling
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(HOST) Writer-commentator Leora Dowling is looking forward to this summer - and a new summer job.

(DOWLING) When I was 7, summer meant a visit to my grandparents and great-grandparents - farm in Middle Hope NY., a place filled with wonder for this little suburbanite.

At 17, I had a summer job waiting tables.  I was excited to be out in the world, meeting people, making money. Every day was different.

Last summer was spent recuperating from treatments for breast cancer.  I was physically tired, and just regaining my emotional equilibrium.

This summer I'm feeling like a kid again. I've got a new summer job and I'm excited at the prospect of getting out, meeting people from all over the world, and learning things - even getting a modest paycheck.

I'm one of 14 new Visitor Guides at the Shelburne Museum, part of a group of 93 whose job it is to welcome guests, answer questions, and help interpret the museum.

New guide training is intense. It's a little bit like being back in college - and majoring in everything!  We've walked the galleries and grounds, listened to anecdotes and lectures, seen slide shows, met the curatorial staff, and even been given reading assignments.

As a new guide, I'll have a mentor, who'll take me slowly through the buildings I'll be working in this summer, including the big, red, horseshoe-shaped barn.

I fell in love with that unique building and its contents 6 years ago, when I visited the museum for the first time. Underneath the rough-hewed timbers, juxtaposed against the whitewashed walls, is a carefully preserved collection of 19th-and early 20th-century carriages and sleighs. I love them as romantic yet practical vestiges of another time and place. They're history, as well as graceful works of art.

I especially love the sleighs.  I've never had the thrill of riding in one, all bundled up in fur, listening to the sound of sleigh bells ringing through the icy air. But my great-grandparents must have, because there was a sleigh outside the barn at their farm. It was old even then; its leather seats were worn and its black paint was cracking as it proudly decayed in the sun.  Obsolete - but adored by me it fired my imagination, then and now.

There are lots of fancy sleighs at the Shelburne Museum, but among the ornately painted, the impractically wicker-trimmed, and the elegant Cabriolet, there is a simple black sleigh, a two-seater called an Albany Cutter and it's just like the one I remember from my summers on the farm so long ago.

How cool is that?
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