The wonderful Vermont Country Store
Weston, Vt. — I route every trip through Vermont to include a stop at the barn red Vermont Country Store in Weston. That's my favorite country store. Proprietor Vrest Orton speaks modestly of the ''thousands who have crossed the worn threshold into an earlier time.'' He can't be keeping a head count. I'd say thousands go through here on a single fall day, and come back bringing two or three friends the next time.
Many years ago, before ''old'' was new, the Ortons were the first to restore their store to its rightful place as a village institution. The nostalgic 19 th-century appeal is all here - scrubbed wood floors, pot-bellied stove, pickle and cracker barrels, and rows of penny candy jars - but the Vermont Country Store is not determinedly ''quaint'' like a lot of its imitators.
You get the impression that nobody here has the time or the inclination to fool around with anything that's not as genuine, useful, and practical as oatmeal on a winter morning. And well made too, from wholesome hundred percent stuff that, in one way or another, is good for you. If it isn't 100 percent, you'll know the reason why - as in the case of the cashmere hose for men that are now a blend of 60 percent wool and 40 percent nylon - ''Up to now cashmere meant hand-washing; nice for men, never welcomed by wives.''
''We discover and bring back things good 50 to 100 years ago and still good but hard to find,'' Mr. Orton explains. They've also revived many fabrics that were standard in the store 70 years ago when his father ran it. ''We have caused manufacturers to start making goods again that have not been on the market for years.''
You want a red flannel nightcap (''functional as well as historical . . . and it's kind of fun too,'' says their catalog), or all-wool knee warmers? They've got 'em. Huck toweling, lisle stockings, or raccoon fur gloves? They've got those too. How about oil parlor lamps, Pears' Soap, stove blacking, razor strops , milk pails, or Bag Balm? Yes, those too, and several hundred other absolute necessities you probably haven't had on your shopping list today. ''The very thing!'' you'll declare. ''I'd better get several.''
You won't be able to overlook the tempting comestibles either - whole-grain breads (''We bake bread, not air''), cheeses, cob-smoked bacon, jellies, preserves, flours, fudges, plate-sized cookies, and 23 kinds of ''penny'' candy. Or you might want to consider a modest display of favoritism in the form of a Vermont state necktie, conservatively embroidered with the state seal. ''It used to take three generations to make a native Vermonter. This tie might speed up the process,'' suggests their mail-order catalog.
Through the catalog, Vrest Orton entertains a devoted following coast to coast with sage counsel, honest descriptions, and upbuilding philosophies. In the store he's a concerned and considerate host and his advice is no less welcome. He and my mother, complete strangers to each other, once spent a mutually gratifying half-hour examining (and solving) the problems ''down in Washington.''
A friend of mine with a decidedly Slavic name was perusing the Scottish clan crests chart in the back of the store one day. ''What's the name?'' Mr. Orton asked helpfully. ''Perhaps I can find it for you.'' On being told, he diplomatically replied, ''Well, the chart's not complete.''
I suspect Mr. Orton is also responsible for the ''Notice to Dogs'' on the front door: ''You were bad last year,'' it proclaims, ''so you can't come in anymore.''
The store is open year-round, every day of the week except Sunday. There used to be a restaurant in the store where I once had the most memorable breakfast of my life, but it has been moved one door down to the red Bryant House and they still serve memorable breakfasts (also memorable lunches and teas, 8:30 to 4). ''Our restaurant is not continental, shore dinner, southern, Chinese, French or German,'' states the menu. ''The cooking is done by Vermont country women, is wholesome, plain, and relishing.''