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  • I've been sugaring' for 10 years. When I turned 50 my aunt Ruth called me up and said she and Uncle Frank were going to give me $500 -- "10 bucks a year, that ain't bad, is it?" -- to spend on something I wanted but didn't need. She said if I paid any bills or bought anything for the kids, she'd be, well, pissed. "I want you to buy something extravagant, something frivolous. But fun."

    I definitely had a solution for that conundrum.

    That winter, I called up a sugaring supply house up in what they call the Kingdom, a part of Vermont where it's hard to see your neighbor's house because it's a mile a way. Rick, the proprietor, picked up the phone on the seventh ring.

    "Say, I'd like to buy one of those hobby evaporators, you know the small ones. Do you have one?"
    "I could," said Rick.
    "What do you mean?"
    "Well it depends on when you want it."
    "Well I was thinking of coming up next Tuesday."
    "Then I guess the answer would be yes, I'll have one by then."
    "Good. So what time do you open?"
    "How early?"
    "Early enough."

    So I arrived at Rick's Sugarin' Supply House or whatever it was called at about ten after 8 in the morning. I was fifth in line. The place was stuck in the milking parlor of an old barn and I was the youngest -- except for Rick who was in his 30's -- by a good 20 years. They all turned when I walked in. They smiled. It must have been a warm sight to see someone walking in with a jacket and tie at 8:10 in the morning wanting to buy some sugaring equipment.

    It wasn't long before the gentlemen ahead of me were done, and they all stuck around to help me with my purchases -- and to needle "Ricky" as they called him -- down in price for me, as in "Oh, Ricky, you can't charge him that!" All the while they gave me all sorts of advice and counsel about what I should do and how I should do it. They shared their knowledge. All of it. And then some. It was the most intense -- fun -- bit of learning I ever did.

    I also learned the role of the wives in all of this.

    I asked one of the men how many taps he had.

    "About 1200"
    "Yah, but my wife doesn't know. She thinks I'm still tappin' 500."
    "Yah," said another. "Don't let on about how much equipment you buy either."
    There was a unison nodding of the group and then a few chuckles.
    "It's an illness," said the oldest one. "It really is."
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