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Lange: The Hat In The Road

03/20/12 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is a writer and storyteller who's reminded that one of the traditional ways of coping with adversity - like hubcap-deep mud on our dirt roads - is to laugh at it.

(Lange) It was March. Two old -timers were sitting on a front porch in Norwich, Vermont; there's not much else old guys can do in mud season. It was before Main Street was paved, and with all the traffic to the store and post office, the road was in pretty bad shape.

All to once one of ‘em said, "What's that comin' up the road? Looks like a raccoon."

Well, it wan't a raccoon, or a cat, either. Pretty soon they could see ‘twas a brown fedora hat. One of the old guys got up and walked on the planks across the yard down to the gate. When the hat went by, he give it a poke with his cane. It tumbled sideways; there was a head beneath it.

"Goll, Silas!" the old man said. "You're in pretty deep, ain't ye?"

"No, I'm okay. But I am some worried about my horse."

If you think that's an exaggeration, you've never experienced mud season the way it used to be in the good old days - and still is, here and there. It's hard to believe how deep the mud can get in poorly drained roads when automobiles begin churning it with their tires.

We don't get sustained subzero temperatures here much anymore, so the ground doesn't freeze as deep. Still, where a road is plowed clear, it can freeze as deep as six feet. When the spring sun warms the road, its surface melts. But because the earth beneath is still frozen, the water can't percolate. It just lies there, turning into Dinty Moore beef stew - without the carrots.

Those who can afford it, go south for a few weeks. Those who can't, either get grumpy and unapproachable - or, if they're real Vermonters, make up funny stories about it.

Two of the funniest Vermont storytellers were Francis Colburn and Allan Foley. They were regulars at church suppers, conventions, and annual meetings of volunteer firemen. Nobody has ever captured the ironic self-deprecation of Vermont humor better than they. The story about the fedora hat is one of Al's. Luckily, Francis and Al were recorded, and those of us who loved to listen to them cherish their old LP records. You can still find 'em, if you're lucky, on eBay or at garage sales; the farther north the garage, the more likely it is.

Or you can call your local road agent, ask him what's the worst road in town, and go experience it for yourself. Watch out for hats in the road, though.

This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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