I miss my friend, Lora. If she had been able to hold on for one more summer, weather just one more winter, she would have celebrated her 104th birthday this April. I would be making plans now to visit her (she liked to plan things ahead so she had something to look forward to). I’d bring a cupcake with a candle stuck in the frosting and a wrapped roll of toilet paper as a present—a joke gift we’d perpetuated since her 100th birthday when she declared that from then on she wanted only practical gifts.
I’d be packing my winter woolies, as April in the Northeast Kingdom follows its own calendar and there still would be traces of snow. Lora would be waiting at the door when I arrived, a huge smile creasing her face, her arms ready for a fierce hug. We’d begin talking the moment we set each other free and we would not stop until I left a week later.
The back deck would be frosted in the early mornings. Sunlight streaming over the mountains would turn the breath of the neighboring farm’s great workhorses to gold streamers as they pranced in the field. Smoke would be rising from chimneys in town, the first houses just visible across the silvered meadow grasses.
Lora and I would sit at the breakfast table eating oatmeal laced with maple syrup and strawberries put by from last year’s harvest, or eggs fried in butter, or doughnuts she’d made herself, and plan our day to the very last minute, then change those plans as we went along, depending on what struck our fancy. Often we’d set off for one place only to be distracted by something else—an unexpected tag sale, a sudden yen for something to eat, a quickened memory of some other place that would detour us from our original destination.
When we returned in the late afternoon, Lora would retire to her bedroom for a nap and I would take a walk, letting the fresh air soak into my very bones. I wouldn’t remember until I was there, walking the tree-studded hillsides or wandering the dirt roads, how much I missed Vermont and how glad I was to be back where towering spruce trees scratched the underbellies of the clouds and green hillsides rolled up the very flanks of the mountains.
This year there will be no Lora, no hugs, or all-encompassing conversations, no new adventures to savor on the long ride back home. I will pack my winter woolies all the same, and head north come spring. I will visit the places where I knew Lora best—the old farmhouse in Greensboro, the house overlooking the lake in Glover, the little condo in Newport, and the house in Barton where I last saw her. I will get lost on the back roads, laugh at remembered stories and bid farewell, finally, to the friend who used to live in the Northeast Kingdom but now resides only in my memory, and my heart.