How Best to Get Along in a Small New England Town
MANY YEARS AGO, a member of the Grange in Brattleboro, Vermont, told me proudly that from the program of recycling hearing-aid batteries, the Grange had raised about $70 for its scholarship program.
“You mean you personally raised seventy dollars for the Brattleboro Grange by recycling hearing-aid batteries?” I asked.
“Heavens, no,” he replied. “I mean all the Grange organizations throughout the state of Vermont have raised that amount recycling hearing-aid batteries.” Their efforts continued at that pace for a considerable time period, but eventually enough was collected to send a blind student to college.
In the same way, ladies of the church will knit socks, mittens, and hats or sew aprons, doilies, and pot holders for months prior to the church fair. Several days before the fair, they’ll cook countless pies, cakes, breads, and cookies, and then they’ll spend hours setting up the fair, managing the tables throughout the day, and cleaning up afterward.
“Well, how did it go?” I used to ask my wife as she returned home, exhausted, in the evening of the church-fair day.
“Really well,” she’d usually say. “I think when all our expenses are accounted for, we may net almost three hundred dollars!”
For some people not accustomed to New England small-town ways, it might appear more logical to save literally hundreds of woman-hours by simply convincing one generous person to take a half minute and write out a $300 check to the church. But, of course, that would be missing most, if not all, of the point.
“Go slowly,” said the late Vrest Orton, founder of the still-thriving Vermont Country Store in Weston, when asked if he might have any advice for newcomers to a small New England town.
“I wish that some of the newcomers from metropolitan centers who just love our rural ways,” continued Vrest, “would, if they arrive on Monday, wait until at least Friday before they start running for office and telling us at town meetings how to run the town.” We both agreed that it is impossible to explain this adequately to a newcomer if said newcomer does not have the natural instinct to feel it.
“But I’m only running for the board of selectmen because I care about the town and I’m willing to work for it. What does it matter how long I’ve been here?”
Those are the exact words of a capable, hard-working friend of mine who had just moved to Dublin, New Hampshire, my hometown, from a city in New York State. And in spite of my urgent appeals to him that he be patient and wait a few years before running for the town’s top job, he continued his campaign, sending out letters to every resident in which he explained his opinions and made suggestions for town improvements, printing and handing out bumper stickers, buying space in the local paper and telephoning just about every voter in town. He received a friendly reception wherever he went, and the night before the election, he told me he was confident he was going to win.
“I’ve been through every name on the checklist,” he said, “and my ‘definite yesses’ alone will put me over the top — even without some of the ‘maybes.’ “
On Election Day, I believe he received three votes. May have been only two. Even I didn’t vote for him. His opponent, not incidentally, who’d lived in town for a number of years, had done absolutely nothing during the campaign except to sign his name, verifying he would serve if elected.
Vrest also used to advise new town or state officeholders to have a little patience, too. “Keep your mouth shut,” he’d say, “and listen for a while to those who have had experience. Until you know what is going on, vote no.“
I really miss Vrest …