June 20, 2018

Places I’ve Played

High winds and hard-nosed fathers

Nov. 23, 2011

By Bill Skiff


The knock on the door surprised me. I looked at the clock and it was six o’clock in the morning —a Sunday morning at that. My roommate and I were fraternity men; we never got out of bed before noon on Sunday. This time I got out of bed for two reasons: We were not in our room at Middlebury College (we were in an attic bedroom of our dates’ home in Burlington) and if that was her father knocking — and if he was as bent out of shape as he had been the night before — we were still in big trouble.

It all began as a wonderful afternoon on Nov. 24,1950. My roommate and I had hitchhiked from Middlebury College to meet our dates for a dance at the University of Vermont (grass is always greener on another campus). We were having a great time at the dance when the wind began to blow, and blow and blow. The more it blew, the more power it wielded — until we could hear trees cracking and snapping all around campus. We left the dance and started walking back to my date’s home. The trip was dangerous — trees and power lines crisscrossed our route everywhere.

It became clear that we would not be hitchhiking back to Middlebury that night … that was, until my date’s father entered the picture. Under no circumstances was he going to let my roommate and I stay overnight in his house. It was touch and go, until finally his wife convinced him that it was too dangerous to send us out into the storm. We were banished to the attic, which we gladly accepted. Not only did this plan keep us out of the storm; it gave us an opportunity to see the girls again at breakfast.

No such luck. When I answered the door, it was her father. He said, “Get dressed and meet me downstairs in 10 minutes.” My roommate croaked, ”Is he crazy?! ”

“Yes,” I replied, “but get dressed and let’s go.”

I will give her father some credit. He took us to Henry’s Diner for breakfast. Trees and telephone polls laid everywhere. Electric wires on the ground snapped and jumped like angry snakes. How we made it downtown I will never know. He ordered one egg and a piece of toast for each of us. After eating he wove his car in and around fallen objects to Shelburne Road and dropped us off because two huge trees blocked the road. The man left us standing there in the rain, wind and aftermath of the one of the worst storms in Vermont history.

There were no cars so hitchhiking wasn’t an option. A cold rain, fierce winds, and occasional snow were all we had. We just kept walking toward Middlebury, which at least kept us somewhat warm. At long last a milk truck picked us up, took us to Fair Haven and dropped us off again. You couldn’t get a ride out of Fair Haven, Vermont on a bright summer day, let alone after a near hurricane. Winds were clocked at 84 miles per hour. Even the cows knew enough to stay home. We walked the rest of the day and arrived at our dorm sometime in the early evening to find no power, heat or classes for a week.

Our experience that weekend put a whole new meaning to hitchhiking, high winds and hard-nosed fathers. I sure would like to talk to him again. I am not sure what I would say, but I know exactly how I would start the conversation.


Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

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