Friday, November 6, 2009

* Doing My Time in Vermont

Bread Loaf,

When I came to Vermont 25 years ago people looked at me funny. I was a flatlander and didn't know it. I stood out like a sore thumb. The two big giveaways were: I was impatient in lines and I talked too fast.

Vermont is egalitarian to the marrow of its bones. Recall, Vermont was the ONLY state which outlawed slavery in its Constitution. So when I was impatient in a line because I needed to get somewhere and somebody was holding things up, I was saying by my body language, facial expressions and tone of voice and mutterings, that I thought I was more important than everyone else. After a while I was fascinated to watch how Vermonters put up with whatever delay was happening in a grocery store or other type of line: stoically, without a trace of emotion on a square inch of their bodies. It wasn't courtesy or manners exactly, it was a philosophical commitment to giving the other person whatever they needed.

I remember in a grocery store line in Rutland fifteen years ago, 12 people ahead of me (who, like myself, had been waiting for 15 minutes without moving forward an inch) suddenly broke out in spontaneous applause. When I asked what happened, a line member said: "The person at the cashier just paid nothing for $267 worth of groceries because they had a free coupon for every single item."

Only in Vermont.

The other quality I had besides impatience was my mouth. I used it too much and too fast. Cordelia says, comparing herself to one of her duplicitous sisters, in King Lear: I want that glib and oily art to speak but purpose not.

Vermonters are very suspicious of anyone who seems to be using words to lubricate an ulterior motive or hidden agenda: to impress others; to belittle others; to hide truth; to confuse others; etc., etc.

I was a fast talking polysyllabic city slicker to most Vermonters when I arrived here. I had to learn to speak slower and not use tuxedo words for wood stove converation. And biggest lesson of all: I had to learn to listen.

Listening, I discovered, is a form of talking, to a Vermonter.

When I first moved to South Royalton 25 years ago to live with my friend Carol and her young children, Carol told me, "You have to do your time in Vermont".

It sounded like a jail sentence---but it was actually a kind of therapy. You have to let Vermont work its magic on you, is what Carol meant. You have to let Vermont's values sink in and color you. You have to let Vermont bake you, as if you were dough. And if you wait just the right amount of time and have just the right ingredients and nobody jars the oven, you'll rise to a perfect loaf.

Well, Carol did her time in Vermont and has long since left for Michigan, Florida and Washington State.


I, on the other hand, will start my 25th year in Vermont soon. I'm still baking----and intend to keep doing so for the rest of my days.