Signs of the Times

What can you learn about life out on the road? It’s really simple.For me, life can be as simple as a New Hampshire Sunday drive. No map, no itinerary, nobody’s business and readjusting the FM pre-sets with each passing mountain.When tuning-in outside the valleys, the playlist/reception is reduced to Allman Brothers anthems, country-fried heartaches, dead-but-won’t-lie-down Disco or public radio monologues on voodoo economics (or as it’s known these days, “economics”).Ramblin’ man on the road again with Saturday night fever and an overdrawn Federal Reserve. That’s my cruising mood.I’ll drive up one side of Vermont, down the other side of New Hampshire, pushing on to a brief flirtation with the Maine coast, and get back heah from theah by day’s end, despite Massachusetts.Destinations? Historical Marker pull-offs along the way, and I always pull off to mark history.I don’t know about your threshold for excitement, but standing in the Farmington spot where Jeremiah Jones Colbath was conceived and brought forth gives me goose bumps. You probably remember him as Henry Wilson, vice president under Ulysses S. Grant.How about The Cherry Mountain Slide? No, not a backwoods speakeasy umbrella drink, but the very Jefferson site where “a million tons of boulders, trees and mud” broke loose from Cherry Mountain’s northern face and destroyed the home, barn, critters and crops of one Oscar Stanley, July 10, 1885.Oscar escaped the disaster, but a moment of silence, please, for Don Walker, Oscar’s hapless farm hand, who did get tangled up in the barn debris and died four days later.Being there and reading that sign, where a wide-eyed New Hampshire milker’s helper took his last refuge under a startled udder in a tumbling barn — well, it changes a man, and makes life just that simple.Farther on, I never miss the legendary New Hampshire highway store, service station and restaurant combo (if you live here, you know it). I remember a field trip one long-ago summer with Dad, with him laughing out loud and pointing to the sign that is still there, inviting all passers-by to “EAT HERE AND GET GAS.”We did.I still do.Simple.Lastly, there’s the small, always unattended up-country roadside farm stand lined with shelves of preserves, homemade salsa and pints & quarts of the season’s first strawberries.A crude, handwritten price list is push-pinned into a two-by-four signpost mounted on a rusty wheel pedestal. Sitting in full view, by itself, on a three-legged-going-on-two table: a closed cigar box.Inside? Money. Cash. Right out there in the open, unguarded.No rebates. No refunds. No frills. No returns. No usernames. No passwords. No hidden charges. No user fees. No minimum balances. No maximum penalties, except those we impose upon ourselves.The sign on the box reads: “OUR HARVEST IS YOUR FEAST. THANK YOU!”The ultimate automatic teller, the most telling Historical Marker of our times, and the simplest sign of all. NH
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