Coolidge's favorite corner of the world

Return to These Hills: The Vermont Years of Calvin Coolidge, by Jane and Will Curtis and Frank Lieberman. Woodstock, Vt.: Curtis-Lieberman Books. Distributed by David and Charles Inc. 96 pp. $9.95. Calvin Coolidge is an archetype of American politics -- a small-town boy who rose to high office but never left behind the rural values of his boyhood.

``Silent Cal'' was often the brunt of jokes, but he was also a sharp-eyed lawyer who knew exactly what he believed in and wouldn't give an inch on what he perceived to be matters of principle.

This book, by a set of authors who live and work next door to the Plymouth Notch birthplace of the 30th president, uses old photos and a simply written text to acquaint readers with the setting that nurtured the famed Coolidge taciturnity.

Summer for young Calvin meant bright, humid days spent on the Vermont farm of his grandfather, Calvin Galusha Coolidge, a bearded patriarch who taught him a reverence for the farmer's calling.

Even during his years as vice-president and president, Coolidge would return to the maple groves, fields, and stony earth of his youth to take a hand in the plowing or haying.

It was a reaffirmation of roots, and a refuge from a political and economic juggernaut that was inevitably, if imperceptibly to many (including, perhaps, this rigidly pro-business chief executive), hastening the country toward the crash of '29 and the Great Depression. Plymouth was Coolidge's assurance that everything was, or could be, right with the world.

``Return to These Hills'' gives a microscopic look at Coolidge's life. It won't help you understand the ambitions that harried him from the idyllic surroundings of central Vermont to the Massachusetts statehouse and later to the White House. It won't shed light on the turgid social forces that lay just beneath the glitter of the 1920s, and which may have made those occasional respites in Plymouth seem even more alluring.

What we do get is an introduction to the people -- grandfather, father, mother and stepmother, wife -- who had the greatest influence on the life of a rather idiosyncratic American president. And most of all we meet a place -- a tiny corner of a tiny state -- that launched this unlikely figure toward a spot in history.

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