Vermont Isn't Just a Geographic Area
Being a Vermonter carries with it some heavy responsibilities. First of all, he/she must possess a great deal of common sense. Although somewhere around 100,000 adults living in Vermont today never finished high school, ignorance is not a lack of education but rather a lack of common sense.
“That Hardwick road sign back there is pointing off in the wrong direction, isn’t it?”
“Sure it is, but anyone with a little common sense knows how to get to Hardwick.”
Ask a Vermont man if he’ll split a pepperidge (black gum) log; if he shakes his head, he’s smart enough for any job, or so that saying goes. Anyone with a little common sense knows a pepperidge log cannot be split.
In his book Vermont, A Bicentennial History, Charles T. Morrissey quotes from a survey taken of Nevada, Utah, and Vermont judges to “ascertain philosophical outlook, legal background, and social background.” In the questionnaire, “common sense” was one of seven choices concerning factors influencing judicial decisions. The results showed 37.7 percent of the Nevada judges marked “common sense,” as did 47.3 percent of the Utah judges and 72.2 percent of the Vermont judges.
Besides common sense, a Vermonter is expected to display a certain amount of dry humor. Senator George Aiken fulfilled this Vermont duty throughout his political career — as did Cal Coolidge — and the country seemed to appreciate it. Somehow it’s comforting to Americans when a Vermonter acts like “a Vermonter.” For instance, we all smiled when Aiken advised President Lyndon Johnson to declare the Vietnam War won and bring all the troops home. It would not have been as amusing or even as wise if someone from another state had said it.
A Vermonter must also have integrity, and Vermont’s state government does. Some years ago, historian Neal Pierce ranked it as one of only five states in America — and the only state in New England — free of political corruption. (The others: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Hawaii.) The old story is that there are so few nickels in Vermont that every politician knows where each one is located, making it impossible for anyone to steal one.
All of that may or may not be true today, but the closest thing to official “manipulating” of finances I’ve ever heard about in Vermont occurred at a small country church located on the outskirts of Rutland. Because the congregation had dwindled down to almost nothing, the members, one of whom was a cousin of mine, decided to disband. The question of the disposal of funds in the church treasury came up during the final meeting, when the treasurer reported a sum of $80 on hand. One of the members suggested that $40 of this be given to one Zeke Tuttle, a church member who was ill with tuberculosis.
Several months later, my cousin, who had not attended the final meeting, ran into the church treasurer at the post office and asked him whatever became of the money in the treasury of the disbanded church.
“At our last meeting, we voted to give $40 of the $80 we had to Zeke Tuttle because she was sick,” the treasurer replied.
“What about the rest?” my cousin wanted to know.
“Well,” said the treasurer without a hint of hesitation, “I wasn’t feeling any too good myself, so I kept the rest.”
Yes, being a Vermonter isn’t easy. The role requires common sense, a dry sense of humor, impeccable honesty, a direct manner of speaking, and a few more traits that maybe I’ll get into another time. Suffice it to say that most of the residents of the Green Mountain State would agree that Vermont is an “experience” as well as a geographic area of New England. To outsiders (i.e. “flatlanders”), however, who own a large portion of the state anyway, Vermont is a place you feel homesick for even before you’ve left it.
Actually, I sorta feel that way about New England as a whole.