It’s 1956 and we’re bouncing along route 15 in our ‘54 Ford wagon headed to Aunt Rose and Uncle Alcide’s farm in St Johnsbury for a late afternoon Thanksgiving feast.
The farmhouse is primitive as were the hardscrabble lives of our aunt and uncle who are still managing the farm in their old age. An old Sam Daniels furnace in the cellar radiates heat from its four-foot firebox up through a huge cast iron floor grate covered with drying barn boots, coats and mittens, perfuming the living room with the faint scent of manure. Meanwhile, Aunt Rose in the adjacent kitchen bustles over a six-burner Glenwood wood stove stirring gravy and eyeing the huge pot of boiling potatoes soon to be mashed with a pint of her own raw milk and half a pound of her butter. The turkey’s browning in the oven.
Leaving Wolcott, we pass under the St J and Lamoille County railway trestle and Dad turns around and says, “be sure and ask Uncle Alcide about the day the elephants grazed with the cows in Wolcott.”
At dinner, we kids whisper…“You ask ‘im.” “No, no you do it,” Then Uncle Alcide , taking the cue, says, “Did I ever tell you bout the time the elephants was grazin’ wi the cows in Wolcott?” “No,” we blurt out, “Tell us!”
“Well, when King Reid used to move his circus show around Vermont, the carnies would pack it all up on trucks and caravans and they’d drive from county to county and set up. One year ‘hey got ‘em two Indian elephants and a rig big… ‘nuff ta haul ‘em ‘round… a wonder to behold. Many of us never seen an elephant ‘cept in pitcher books. They was movin’ ‘em from Morrisville up ta Barton fairgrounds when, comin’ through Wolcott, their rig got stuck in the ST J and LC underpass. There wan’t no markins then and ya had to eyeball what ya could get through there. The driver musta been in the sauce cause he wedged that rig right into the underpass. Well they had to unload ‘em elephants inta Bill Batty’s pasture right long side his girls. Looked kind a funny see’n ‘em all grazin together. Folks come from far away to see it. Talked about it fer years ‘ey did. Ya know made me think about how ‘em elephants woulda liked the winter up here. Even thought ‘bout getting’ me a pair, but cher Aunt Rose don like at much attention.”