I was walking home from first grade on Maple Street in Morrisville trying to count the houses between the elementary school and my home. Ahead on the maple-lined street, I noticed an elderly woman walking purposefully towards me swinging a purse as if it were a plumber’s bag full of tools.
As she came more into view, it was clear she was a lady. Her gray hair was gathered in a bun. She wore a pillbox hat thought it was slightly askew. Her black dress came to below her knees. She wore black laced shoes with a half-heel.
I tried not to stare, but something was amiss. Having lost my housing count several trees back, I pretended to look uninterested and looked down at the concrete sidewalk squares.
But I couldn’t help glancing up furtively at the fast approaching woman. Each look was more troubling. She had breasts, but they were uneven in size and placement. She wobbled a bit and her shoes were disproportionately large even for the tall woman she was. I noticed the heavy nylon stockings rolled up above her knees. But the most troubling was her carriage. Gladys Farr walked all over Morrisville delivering eggs and butter. She walked fast but demurely, with her purse gathered to her chest. This woman swaggered and her purse swung at her knees.
We passed each other. I had been taught to greet all passers-by. So I managed a feeble “good afternoon.” A baritone response came back, “And good day to you.” I looked up in spite of myself into the face of a man in woman’s clothing. There was beard stubble under his makeup, wisps of gray hair tumbled out from beneath his hat, his legs were hairy and his scent was distinctly that of a man. He did not stop and neither did I. I hurried home.
On recounting this to my stepfather, he laughed out loud and said, “You just met Crazy Chase.”
That fall, my parents took me to the town dance in front of the Morrisville firehouse. On a wooden platform sat Mrs. Brown at a spinet. And there with a fiddle under his chin, stood Crazy Chase applying resin to his bow. He wore a floral print cotton dress and no hat. Nobody seemed to notice.
Soon the music began, French and Irish reels, gigues and waltzes, two steps. The whole town seemed swept away in the music. I looked up at my stepfather and asked why he wore women’s clothes and how come no one seemed to notice. “Oh, I guess you get used to it. He has always dressed that way. Kind of strange.” And that was the end of the conversation.
Sometime later, I heard from a family friend who was himself a bit eccentric, that he had come to Morrisville from Boston where he’d played violin in the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky.
Vermonters then as now embrace and even celebrate eccentrics. After all, that which makes us different makes us interesting.