A Jaunt To Sugar Grove On A September Day
On a sunny morning after the rain-drenched Labor Day weekend, my cousin Martha, my granddaughter Cassidy and I set out for a country drive. Martha remembered her father, Clayt Larson, and how he loved car rides. She often stopped to get him after her work day as a baker at Quality Market in Fluvanna and took him wherever he liked to go. Uncle Clayt was a genial man, ever kind and smiling, with thick lenses in his wire rimmed glasses. He liked to sit in a big brown chair in his living room on Superior Street and smoke a cigar. That cigar smell lingers from my childhood as does the memory of kind Clayt. He had been my father’s dear friend and mentor, his oldest sister’s husband. He taught my father to drive. He taught my father how to be a kind man.
So with Martha’s father in mind, we set out down the rolling hills of Forest Avenue Extension beyond the Jamestown city line and into the country, past Busti where five roads come together like spokes in a wheel, and on through the countryside towards Pennsylvania. Martha said her dad particularly enjoyed that route. Long after he could not drive, his daughter drove him to see his favorite places. Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, just south of Jamestown was one of his favorite places.
From the tops of Busti hills, the vistas stretched out before us as we headed due south for eight miles. The land rolled in long, lovely green hills. The yellow ragweed of autumn covered fields like bouquets. Here and there, a tree’s leaves had begun to turn golden and red, early, we commented, on this fourth day of September. The sun was warm, but fall was already in the air, tangy, sweet. We drove with windows partly open just to breathe it in. Black and white Holstein cows and a whole field of multi-colored horses grazed in pastures on our left. Chrysanthemums dotted farmhouse porches, gold and orange, burnt red and purple.
Forest Avenue ends at Route 957 in Sugar Grove where we turned right and pulled over on Main Street to sit a while on the benches. Flowers line the sidewalks, an indication of town pride. A farmer sold mums, three for $10, and fresh produce. We walked down the sidewalk to the Veteran’s Bridge across the lovely Stillwater Creek, which flows right through the center of town. At this time, it meandered gently over the flat shale rocks. We stopped to enjoy the community park right there next to the creek. A family had gathered in a pavilion for a picnic lunch. Their laughter was in the air. The trees were still abloom with late hydrangea, a gorgeous blend of white and blue, and dark green leaves. American flags showed the town’s respect for its veterans and its patriotic spirit.
Farther down Main Street we stopped to visit the yellow Victorian house called the Clock Shop. Martha said she had bought many clocks there throughout the years, and at one time she had 27 cuckoo clocks from Germany in her collection. She smiled as she told me about it. Martha is a collector of beautiful things. It does her heart good, I can see, to remember her beloved things. The Clock Shop is housed in one of dozens of gracious Victorian homes that line Main Street, with well-tended yards and porches in this charming little town of approximately 550 inhabitants.
Sugar Grove was settled in 1802 by veterans of the Revolutionary War, according to a website about Pennsylvania historic towns. It has a proud history of being one of the primary towns in northern Pennsylvania that served as safe havens for the Underground Railroad in the 1860s. Who knows how many slaves, escaped from their lives of servitude and bondage, found refuge in little Sugar Grove before making their way north to Canada and freedom? It’s a fine thing, a proud thing.
Just as one would imagine Sugar Grove is home to groves and groves of sugar maples. Main Street is lined with them, tall gray barked trees. They make the Main Street of town look stately. In the surrounding miles of country roads, some paved and some gravel, Amish live and farm the land, offering quilts and jams, fresh breads and honey, and of course maple syrup in various sized jugs as well as maple sugar candy. We saw a dozen Amish farms, pristinely kept, not a stick out of place, gracing the countryside with long lines of laundry snapping in the breeze between house and barns. We saw dozens of buggies and fine bay Standardbred horses pulling them, shining in the sun and looking proud. Some Amish waved to us.
We talked of our fathers, Martha and I. Those two men had been great friends though there was more than twenty years between them. We felt they were somehow along for the ride too, all these years later. When we travel, even short distances, we drive through memory and time as well as distance. We shared our stories, but we savored our silences too.
Martha and Cassidy and I drove home, Martha and I full of memories and smiles, each lost in our own thoughts, on one of the last summer days of the season.