“Welcome to Powers Market!” says one of the two grey-haired men sitting easily in the corner, as I walk in.
He turns back to his companion and “well,” he says, “I made my wife’s favorite thing for dinner last night.”
They smile at each other.
Welcome to North Bennington, Vt. I’m grinning as I inspect the sandwich menu. I’m in a quiet room with a few shelves of local goods, maple and honey, and the Chocolate Barn’s ice cream on scoop. And right now I’m giving them points, because there are wraps on this menu without tomatoes or mayonnaise. I pick avocado, greens, peppers, cheese and honey mustard and settle in.
This is the center of the village, and on this blazing July day it’s one of the few cool places to rest. I’ve just picked up 50 pounds of chicken feed and two pounds of oyster shells from Whitman’s Feed Store around the corner, where the grain silos sit beside the train tracks. Whitman’s carries bird seed and tack and riding gear too, and garden plants, but I’m savoring the idea that we still have feed stores in New England.
Pulling around to pick up my grain, I accidentally came too far, through a kind of wooden tunnel beside the barn, and found myself feet from the track and looking toward what clearly used to be the old passenger train station.
Coming back into town past Marigold Kitchen, a cafe with outdoor tables, and Kevin’s Pub, where I hear Bennington College students come for live music, I found a rare shady parking spot and set out to wander the downtown. In some ways, this doesn’t take long. Downtown is a fountain in a square with the library on one side and Powers on the other, and a lawn care business in two weathered barns.
But I ambled past the Eddington House Village Inn, an old clapboard house flying a 1776 flag over its hostas, and past the Left Bank yoga studio with the old Vault Alarm still visible on the wall.
And here was the historic building I saw from a distance: The old train station, russet and avacado-green with a mansard roof like an old Victorian. Now it’s the village equivalent of a Town Hall. On the platform, a grey stone man in large, flat shoes checks his watch eternally — Matthew Perry’s “Man Still Waiting for the Train.”
He turns out to be part of the North Bennington Sculpture Show overflowing from the small park across the way. I crossed over for a closer look at a particolored goat with a look of intelligent sadness, a clay-red canoe the exact shade if the birdfeeder on a pole in the garden just beyond it, a filly made of vines.
The Vermont Arts Exchange summer camp was winding down for the day, and artists in the workshop were putting away evidence of the campers’ homemade boats, cars and planes. They had held races this week by water, ground and air.
I turned back to look for a cold drink, thinking that serendipity is marvelous, but North Bennington is small enough that it can help to come knowing at least some of what you’re looking for. Next time I want to see Lake Paran, maybe sit on the shore with a Chocolate Barn ice cream cone, maybe catch a concert at Kevin’s. They have the Ben Franklin Band and Mowgli coming this Friday and Saturday.
Now, before I head to a show at Weston Playhouse, I set off up West Street to walk through the grounds of the Park McCullough House — this isn’t a night for music or one-act plays or croquet there, and tours have ended for the day, but the gardens are open until dusk.
Crossing the lawn beside the old yellow porch, I understand why the villagers come up here on quiet evenings, as Judith Frangos, a local and the treasurer of the board, has told me they do. And across from the entrance I find one of my favorite serendipities of the day. A gardener across the street has set up a wooden sign with two boards, the first complete and the second broken off:
I’m sure it’s deliberate — it’s the sign in front of Piglet’s house in the Hundred Acre Wood. I remember it because he’s such a sm-m-m-all animal, and we little folk have to stick together.
But my favorite serendipity came earlier. As I was leaving the old train station, the signal came down with a clang, and I heard the engine, and a train came through. I’m sure it’s a freight train, but a man came out onto the platform in a day-glo green vest and stood quietly as it drew up — and the Man Still Waiting for the Train had company.
Photo at the top: The historic railroad station in North Bennington, vt., is now the Town Hall. Photo by Kate Abbott