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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    The teacher and the carpenter, a love story

    In 1906, a New London woman, Genevieve Avery, taught at the Cohanzie school in Waterford. She was lively and high spirited. Bystanders observed that the young schoolmarm always drove her horse and buggy down Vauxhall Street like a bat out of Hell.

    At the same time up in Vermont, Asa Weed, a small-town cabinetmaker, was 51 years old and single. Asa probably thought he knew everything that was ever going to happen to him for the rest of his life, but he was in for a big surprise. A chance encounter with Genevieve changed everything.

    They met at the train station outside Hartland, Vermont. Asa was heading home from a trip. Genevieve had come to Hartland for her summer vacation after an especially stressful school year. Mr. Weed and Miss Avery shared a ride from the station into town. He was distinguished looking and she was a beauty. As they made polite conversation, there was instant chemistry.

    Their courtship featured long buggy rides. Asa was a laid-back man, who let his horse meander along at its own pace, stopping and starting at will to crop grass. Genevieve, who grew up around horses in her father’s livery (G.G. Avery & Sons) in New London, was appalled. Finally on one occasion, she couldn’t stand it anymore and inquired if she might drive. Asa asked if she knew how. She said she did. He very reluctantly turned over the reins, Genevieve cracked the whip, and the astonished horse took off briskly. Asa must have been astonished, too, by this 4’10” slip of a woman with so much fire.

    They got married in 1907 out of Genevieve’s family home on the corner of Church and Main Street in New London. They went to Quebec for their honeymoon. On the train, Genevieve startled Asa when she briefly took off her wedding ring and said, “Look, this comes off. You don’t own me.” For his part, Asa, a well-read, scholarly man, sometimes joked that he’d married Genevieve because she had a complete set of Charles Dickens’ works. They were madly in love.

    Genevieve got pregnant right away, which prompted some speculation among their Hartland neighbors. Asa, who’d been sure that love and fatherhood had passed him by, was delighted, but their happiness was tempered by the fact that Genevieve’s mother was dying of cancer in New London. Genevieve made many trips back and forth by train to visit her mother.

    When Genevieve was away, Asa wrote her letters sometimes sprinkled humorously with lines from “Alice in Wonderland,” a book he loved and she detested. (Decades later, their granddaughter would ask Genevieve to read “Alice” aloud to her; Genevieve did so dozens of times without protest.)

    On one return trip from New London, the conductor informed Genevieve that there’d been a change of schedule and the train wouldn’t stop in Hartland. She insisted that it must; her husband would be there waiting for her. She added, “If this train doesn’t stop, I will jump.” The conductor correctly assessed the advanced state of her pregnancy and her steely determination. The train stopped in Hartland.

    When Asa and Genevieve’s baby was born, Asa stayed by her side throughout the delivery and wept at God’s grace for preserving his wife and giving him a little girl. They began to make plans to purchase a home of their own and talked about having another child. But neither goal was in the cards.

    Asa died in his sleep from heart disease, just 25 months after their marriage. Genevieve screamed and screamed at the doctor and made him try for more than an hour to revive a man who was obviously deceased.

    After Asa’s death, Genevieve went home to New London with their baby. They lived for a while in the family compound above the Avery livery, then moved to a cottage on Grove Street. During World War I, she rented rooms to military families to make ends meet. She didn’t remarry, although she had opportunities. She hated cry-babies and never complained.

    Genevieve often told her granddaughter stories about Asa and kept a framed picture of him on her bedroom wall. In all the times she read ”Alice” to me, I never guessed how much that may have pained, or more likely, pleased her.

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