This year, my wife and I made a surprise trip to New England so that I could accept an award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in Manchester, NH. I suspected that the prize would probably involve a lamp shaped like a body part, but I was incredibly honored to be recognized by this great organization. My wife and I immediately jumped at an excuse to escape from our usual exhilarating activities like de-pooping litter boxes, scraping toxic sludge out of rain gutters and serving as our daughters’ personal Uber drivers.
When we arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport and collected our baggage, our first stop was the car rental center, where we picked up a cute, little Ford Fiesta. The charm quickly wore off, though, when we climbed in and were almost overcome with a pungent aroma. Being the litter box connoisseurs that we are, we immediately recognized the stench of cat urine. Oh, well, at least we felt at home.
Speaking of urinous odors, we noticed while driving through New England that asparagus is a big deal here. There were roadside farm stands featuring asparagus, asparagus festivals, and even a dairy selling asparagus ice cream. Now, I like asparagus as much as the next guy. I consider it the Don King of vegetables, and to me, it tastes like the love child of an English pea and a green bean. But asparagus ice cream? Clearly, these people need to experience the wholesome, natural bounty of my native Texas–like corn dogs and Frito pie.
While resisting this obvious example of collusion between Russia and the asparagus industry to convince me to eat healthy green vegetables, we decided to use the opportunity of being in New England to visit a few historical sites, like the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. As a literature nerd and educator, I considered it quite a treat to visit the home of this iconic American poet whose works have been inspiring teachers and anesthetizing their students for decades. We even saw Emily Dickinson’s chamber pot in her bedroom, where she presumably wrote many of her 1,800 poems. Ok, it probably wasn’t her actual chamber pot and probably didn’t inspire her to write “There came a wind like a bugle,” but one can dream.
Next on our itinerary was a visit to the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftsbury, Vermont, where Frost wrote one of my all-time favorites, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It’s a poem about a creepy trespassing guy who repeats himself a lot and has a talking horse–according to an analysis by one of my more insightful students. Our journey through the beautiful Green Mountains was breathtaking and rather treacherous, with road signs warning about falling boulders, moose crossings, and overzealous maple syrup vendors. Although we didn’t see a single jaywalking moose or tumbling boulder, we did pass about 800 guys on Harley-Davidson midlife crisiscycles. (They were probably headed to an asparagus festival.)
At Robert Frost’s home, since rampaging moose and killer boulders aren’t terrifying enough, the museum director engaged us in a sparkling and educational chat about ticks and Lyme disease. She even showed us some tick specimens in a jar on display near the gift shop. I’m not sure what disease carrying parasites have to do with Robert Frost, but from this point on, I’m afraid the two will be forever linked in my mind–apologies to the Frost family.
When the night of the banquet arrived, I was nervous but proud to be in the company of folks who actually make a living with their writing skills, instead of just dribbling silly thoughts around to the embarrassment of friends and family. We were served a medley of baked salmon and–surprise–asparagus. (I was a little disappointed that moose wasn’t on the menu.) The keynote speaker of the night was Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd, who offered a funny but blistering critique of Donald Trump. With an audience of media professionals, delivering this speech was like offering an array of catnip-laden fidget spinners to a clutter of adolescent felines.
Before we left the gathering to pack for home, my wife and I were actually able to meet Ms. Dowd and, since we are from Texas, visit with her about the Bush family, with whom she actually has a cordial relationship. She seems to get a kick out of having been nicknamed “The Cobra” by President George W. Bush, and she has repeatedly asked his father to take another skydive–with her. Chatting with Maureen Dowd was truly a fitting end to a great trip. I only wish I’d been quicker on my feet and asked for her thoughts on ticks and Lyme disease.