While perusing the pears at the farm stand, I heard a voice say, “Next week, we start impeachment.” I looked at the back of a head, and thought, “There’s an educator ready to walk his students through a constitutional complexity.” Then I remembered I lived in Norwich, and it clicked: that’s no social studies teacher; that’s our congressman. Over a couple of minutes, the farm stand employee, the congressman, and I chuckled, queried, and opined.
For a political nerd like me, those 100+ seconds were a unique gift: impossible to steal, replicate, or purchase. The experience got me thinking, in this season of gift-giving, how many presents we give each other in our community that simply cannot be wrapped.
In our neighborhood in the village, the woman in the house behind ours ignores my objections and spoons strawberry ice cream into dishes for my children, to their delight. The man next door found a basketball in some brush behind his shed. Instead of just chucking it back onto our driveway, he walked the ball up to our door and delivered it in person. One couple beams at my boys – calling them by the correct names – and tells them of an upcoming hunting trip to the Midwest. At the end of the road, no fewer than four adults have kept an unsolicited eye on our sons. Toward town, neighbors practically lay out a red carpet as invitation for us to use their property as a shortcut. Taken collectively,
it’s like having an advent calendar where each day one opens the little paper door to find a gift that is the glue of our town: goodwill, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, grace, selflessness, laughter.
At a Dartmouth football game, my sons lined up by the field house doors to greet the players as they emerged from Leverone. “Dad,” my youngest said, “if I got a high-five from Tom Brady, I would probably never forget it. But getting a high five from a college student is pretty awesome, too.” My oldest added, “Yeah, and there are not a lot of places in the world where you get to do what we just did.”
Not surprisingly, when I began to pay attention, Dan & Whit’s offered a gift, though you will never find it on the shelves. I saw the Book of Scottish Cookery over by the coffee. It seemed like a step into a Bizzarro-Norwich. I grew up in the 05055, and never – never – have I heard a fellow citizen express a craving for Scottish food.
As luck would have it, one Mr. Fraser – veteran, husband, brother, father, person who calls my sons “the helpers” and tells current cashiers that I used to ballroom dance with my fellow cashiers when I ran the register in the 1990s – was rearranging cardboard boxes by the shopping carts. “Now, Mr. Fraser,” I said, in direct defiance of his repeated efforts to get me to call him George, which I always did when I was a kid, but no longer do (except when I do), “this cannot possibly be a hot item.”
The proprietor of the general store that is the very definition of Norwich considered me with something in between amusement and pity. As usual, his pace was not rushed. “Actually, that book is selling quite well. We sold out of the first batch, and we have a whole bunch that customers have reserved in the office. There was a piece in the newspaper about it.”
Unconvinced, I thumbed through the pages and found a recipe. “George, get real. There is no chance you are going home today to make vegetarian haggis nachos.” Unsolicited, the young fellow manning the back register chimed in, “People are buying the book.”
My eyes were rolling more than a bowling ball when a gentleman walked briskly up the ramp into the store, marched directly to the display over which I was presiding, selected a copy of the cookbook in question, and proceeded to the front register. He had not overheard a syllable of our conversation. As Mr. Fraser, the young fellow, and I looked on, he purchased his copy and made his way down the ramp.
If you could package and sell the gleam in Mr. Fraser’s eye at that moment, your financial worries would be over.
You cannot, of course.
You can, however, celebrate all the wonderful gifts we give each other across this little town nestled in eastern Vermont.