Here is the definition of dogs in heat. Penny Lydecker, a female yellow lab, is locked safely inside her house on McIntosh Court in Stamford, Connecticut in 1969, while her owners are off at work. Buffy Fenton, a male golden retriever, thinks Penny is seriously hot – hottest dog on the block. So hot, that one afternoon he digs a hole under the Lydecker house, emerges through the mud floor basement inside, and he and Penny then proceed to do what dogs in heat do when you leave them unattended with a fireplace, a thick living room rug, and a refrigerator full of beer. The result? A beautiful litter of puppies, one of which my family adopted when I was a little boy. We named the dog Elmer.
Here is the definition of teenagers in heat. Vaneasa Norton and Dan Stearns in 1983. No, Dan didn’t dig a hole into the Norton’s house here in Lincoln thirty years ago. And Vaneasa wasn’t locked inside. She was 17 years old and didn’t have a car at her disposal. This mattered because her boyfriend, Dan, lived 19 miles away in Middlebury. Dan had recently gotten a speeding ticket, and so his parents had revoked his driving privileges – which meant that he couldn’t drive, either. The solution? Vaneasa left Lincoln on foot a little before lunchtime one hot summer day, and walked to Dan’s home on Weybridge Street. Arrived there at dusk. She wasn’t allowed to hitchhike, so she walked every single inch of every single mile.
“It might have been a little easier if I had brought water,” she recalled, “but I didn’t. I also didn’t bring any money. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight.”
Or, she was thinking exactly like a 17-year-old in heat.
But here’s what I love about this story. This Tuesday, June 25, she and Dan will be celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They married in 1988, soon after they had each finished college. Together they own the Lincoln General Store and raised two daughters, now young women.
I’m always a little moved when young love survives into middle age. I know how wonderful that can be firsthand, since my lovely bride and I have been together since February of our freshman year of college. I didn’t walk 19 miles to see her one summer day when we were teenagers, but one winter day I hitchhiked from Massachusetts to Manhattan to surprise her – and it turned out, her mom. I am honestly not sure who was more incredulous when I showed up at the family’s apartment in New York City: Mother or daughter.
Vaneasa clearly has that heat gene, but whether she got it from her mom or her dad is unclear. Her parents, Bill and Linda Norton, celebrated their fifty-first wedding anniversary last week, and both may have it. When they were teenagers, he lived in the banana belt of Bristol and Linda lived six miles up the Lincoln Gap from Vermont 116. One day when Bill and Linda were both without cars, he biked all the way up to her house. And, just for the record, this was no road bike. This was one of those tanks that posed as bicycles in the late-1950s. I have biked up the gap often and, trust me, what Bill did is mighty impressive. A sign of true love.
But equally as amazing is that he then brought Linda back down the hill to his house on the back of that bike. Yup: Linda balanced on the thin metal carrier behind the seat all the way down the Lincoln Gap road.
Which brings me back to Dan and Vaneasa. Thirty years after her Bataan Death March to Middlebury – and after a quarter century of marriage – she and Dan are as infatuated with each other as they were as teenagers. “Oh, I’d still walk to Middlebury for him,” Vaneasa told me. “I’d just bring a little money this time.”
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on June 23, 2013. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives on July 9.)