We’re Vermonters, the gentleman standing outside the Norwich Inn said. “We’ll survive.”
True, his words made my inner Deadhead do a little twirl (I know you don’t need help for such an obvious one but…“Touch of Grey” people, “Touch of Grey”). More than that, his confidence was – like this virus – infectious. Suddenly, I had a little spring in my step, like a man headed to the golf course when it was a workday for everyone else.
It wasn’t the only example of hope out there in our town. In conversation with a neighbor, he pointed out that when Vermonters say “Hi, Neighbor” it actually signifies something, with due respect to Narragansett beer’s official motto. It means, he explained, that there is something to the relationship we have with and to each other, a shared sense of community that may be more elusive in other parts of the country.[UNNAMED SOURCES] told me of a last-gasp, not-quite-but-almost-clandestine gathering around a firepit in [UNDISCLOSED LOCATION IN NORWICH], where [AN INDETERMINATE NUMBER] of families talked about what they were going to miss when Governor Scott’s latest guidance of no multi-family gatherings went into effect. While the laments were genuine, they paled in comparison to the group’s willingness to sacrifice to keep school open.
For those of you without school-aged children, please know that those of us with younger kiddos notice your commitment to and sacrifices for us. Thank you!
When school is open, we are all of us more connected to each other. Parents, educators, children, bus drivers, youth coaches, local businesses – McWhit artisans! Blue Sparrow latte crafters! – and town employees all operate in sync when the little engine of Marion Cross School is running at normal speed. Plus, when school is open, we all get to pretend that we are beautiful enough to stop traffic: simply signal to Norman or Demo that you would like to cross the street and vehicles will wait for you.
After school one day, I stood behind a fourth-grade boy in line at the local grocery store. He was with some friends, all of them masked up and playing by the rules, just in for a snack. At the post in between the freezers and the bread aisle, there is a rack with postcards featuring images of all that makes the Green Mountain State beautiful. The boy pointed at one photo of our famous fall foliage, the word “Vermont” blazing across the crimson leaves.
Each autumn since I can remember, when leaves were at their peak, my brother and I endured our mother stopping the car, pausing a hike, or interrupting one of our stories to force us to look, to notice Mother Nature’s display. “People come from all over the world to see this,” she would say.
Of course, we never listened or paid her any heed. Yet, when the boy pointed at that postcard, saying, “Hey! That’s where we live!,” you can bet her words echoed in my ears, and I cried just a little bit, so hopeful for the next generation of Vermonters.
So, when we pass each other out and about, try to see each other. Gradually, with time, patience, love, and some modern medicine, our masks will start to come off. The vaccinated will hug you, bridging chasms that a single malady has dug in just a few months. Dreams and plans will come back into your daily discussions. Travel – TRAVEL! – will be all the rage once more. We will adjust to a new world. During that adjustment, that return to “normal,” let us try to pause and reflect. Of all the places on planet earth where we could have been during this most crazy of years, we were here. Together, we rode out this storm, finding silver linings (and, yes, touches of grey), taking walks, trusting each other to do right. Make sure to say “Hi, Neighbor” when you’re out and about. It’s just our little code here in Vermont, a sign that we understand how we rise and fall and struggle and succeed together.
After all, we’re Vermonters.