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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

'Just Kind Of Lost': Looking Back At A Summer That Wasn't

A summer road stretches to a blue sky
Anna Van Dine
VPR File
Summer was 93 days long this year, from June 20 to Sept. 22, and most of those days were missing the usual summer activities.

Over the past few months, Vermont has maintained low COVID-19 case numbers, but to do so, many of the hallmark events of summertime in Vermont were called off. As we come to the end of the pandemic summer that was, what about the summer that wasn’t?

Ric Lancing has a concession stand. He sells strawberry lemonade made with real strawberries. He’s also got cotton candy, virgin pina coladas, a few flavors of slushies (green apple, blue hawaii, black cherry), pretzels with salt or maple cream...

“Aaaand, I guess that's — oh, one other thing is I have loaded nachos," Lancing said. "Nachos with a ton of different toppings.” 

More from VPR: Vermont's Maple Creemee Season Appears Immune To Pandemic

It’s likely that any festival or parade-goer in Vermont has at one time walked by Lancing’s concession stand. His long table under two pop-up tents can be found at 20 events around the state every single summer.

This year, though, none of them happened.

“So it’s been a very dry summer financially,” Lancing said, “and a very long summer, because I find myself very bored with not much to do.”

Two concession tents on grass
Credit Ric Lancing, Courtesy
Ric Lancing's setup, which he brings to 20 events in Vermont, one in Maine, and two in New York every summer.

A lot of what makes summer in Vermont, well, summer in Vermont, didn’t happen this year. Sure, there were creemeesand swimming holes, but in just about every county, town, hamlet and hollow, summer events large and small were canceled or moved online.

Ric Lancing lives in Enosburg Falls, which did not have its annual dairy festival in June. That same weekend, the heifers did not stroll through Brattleboro. And there was no live jazz to discover in Burlington for the first time in 37 years.

In July, runners did not huddle at the starting line in Waitsfield for the 10th annual Mad Marathon. No fathers won their sons a giant stuffed animal at the fair, then went to watch the pig races. No one took a date to listen to free music on the shores of Lake Memphremagog. No kids got to dance on top of the dugout with Champ at a Lake Monsters game. 

"I find myself very bored with not much to do." — Ric Lancing, concession stand owner

Overnight summer camps, a rite of passage for kids and teens, were allowed to continue with limits. But some cut their losses and called off the season anyway. Zeno Mountain Farm, a free overnight camp in Lincoln for people with disabilities, shifted their programming online.

It was the first time in seven years that 14-year-old Hannah Gallivan of Bristol didn’t get to go.

“It’s one of my favorite places to be,” she said, “because I feel such a sense of like, I’m supposed to be here, and like, I belong here, which I don’t always get in all aspects of my normal life.” 

More from VPR: Lost Shoes, Wet Bathing Suits And Flagpole Drills: A Day At Camp Hochelaga

Instead of spending a month in the separate world of summer camp, she saw her friends on the computer for an hour every afternoon. She said it was a bright spot in her days; they even had a Zoom prom and put on a Zoom play. But, she says, there were no hugs.

“To be on Zoom and do it for like an hour a day was awesome, but then you would suddenly turn off your computer and be like, oh, now — now this is what I’m doing again.” 

Woman inside a barn door
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
Pawlet Public Library Director Mary Lou Willits in the doorway of the dairy barn where donated books are stored. "It's a collection of readers, that's the other sad part about not having [the book sale]. It was a way to bring book-lovers together."

In Pawlet, Library Director Mary Lou Willits still feels a sense of disbelief that the town’s 53rd book sale was called off.

“Never in anyone’s wildest imagination would the annual Pawlet Public Library book sale not happen,” she said.

In a normal year, around 50,000 books are donated and sold for between 25 cents and a dollar apiece at the Mettawee Community School. There’s a raffle, and a cafe. Literature lovers come from all around and line up outside the school at 6 a.m. to buy books by the boxful. The library makes around $10,000.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Willits, “hundreds of people come over the course of two days.”

Instead, books are still in storage in a 40-cow milking parlor in a barn a few miles south of town on Route 30. The only ones perusing the volumes this year are the barn’s chickens.

Dramatically-lit chicken in a barn full of boxes
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
One of the chickens belonging to Jed Rubin, who owns the barn.

The final bit of fun before the cold weather fully sets in happens at county fairs and field days, with their gut-dropping rides and demolition derbies and oxen pulls and awards for largest tomato and best quilt. This week would have kicked off the last of them, the 149th Tunbridge Fair, which has only been canceled twice before.

This year, the 700,000 people statewide who usually attend fairs over the course of the summer stayed home. That includes Ric Lancing and his concession stand.

More from VPR: Cow Udders, 'Ball And Chain' And The Tractor Pull: The Orleans County Fair

Without that, or anything else, “It’s probably been, I would say, close to the worst summer of my life,” he said.

A retired teacher, Lancing usually nets $15,000 to $20,000 from his concession business. This summer, he made zero. And he’s been lonely. He’s 72, and lives by himself.

“When you spend three or four months every summer, very active, and then all of a sudden it stops, and the income that you counted on is gone completely, and there’s nothing at all I could possibly do about it, I'm just kind of lost,” he said, “like an animal lost in the woods.” 

Lancing says he will always remember this year, however many Vermont summers he has left.

Note: All archival audio used in this story is from the events referenced and previously aired on VPR, including the jazz, which was sung by Cecile McLorin Salvant.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

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Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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