Talk of the Arts: Why we’re ‘Vermont strong’

We are a small state and we deal with each other one on one. The scale is more manageable. We know each other personally, and that makes a difference.

By Carolyn Partridge

There’s something special for me about this time of year. We just celebrated the holiday season and the new year and things, one hopes, are quieting down a little—except for those of us who serve in the Legislature. Now is when things get going!

But, back to the holidays — specifically, Thanksgiving.

Several years ago, I started a daily, personal practice of giving thanks for my life’s blessings. There are the obvious: a supportive husband of 32 years who does the barn chores and holds down the fort while I’m in Montpelier for the winter; three wonderful sons who all have fantastic partners with whom to share their lives; and, yes, three grandchildren who are the lights of my life. They’re bundles of energy and spark and brightness.

Carolyn Partridge at the spinning wheel.

And then there’s the thing that I keep coming back to again and again: my deep thankfulness that I live in Vermont.

I chose to live in Vermont 45 years ago, so I will never be considered a native even though my third great-grandmother, Hannah Purdy, was born in Manchester. It doesn’t matter; this is my home and I am thankful for it. My roots are here and two of my three sons have made it back to Vermont after college elsewhere. The third would like to return as well.

So what is it about Vermont that exerts such a strong hold on me?

It’s not an easy place to live, though with climate change it may have gotten a little easier. It used to be that we could expect a frost any time after mid August; this year my first frost came mid October. Believe it or not, I’ve been experimenting with growing cotton and have even got a couple of immature bolls this year.

When I moved here in 1972, I found people occasionally a little standoffish. I had a bachelor’s degree in oceanography but the jobs in that field, mostly in defense, dried up when the Vietnam War ended. It was kismet that brought me to Vermont. I knew how to do two things that proved valuable: I could cook and sew—thanks Mom—so I made a living as a stitcher at Toni Totes in Londonderry and Flamstead in Chester and later worked in restaurants as a cook and waitress. I found that if I worked hard and made my way, I gained my neighbors’ respect. There was a sort of fairness there.

More recently, I watched as Tropical Storm Irene ravaged our area. I witnessed the spirit and gumption of the folks in Vermont, many in my own legislative district, who showed up the next morning with their backhoes and bulldozers and their sleeves rolled up, ready to help their neighbors. It still swells my heart with pride and brings tears to my eyes to think of it. All over the state, thoughtful, resourceful people found ways to help each other out and bounce back from that terrible storm.

And now, as I observe the craziness in this country and the rest of the world, I am more thankful than ever that Vermont is my home.

We have taken on tough issues during my time in the Legislature—civil unions, for one—and done it, for the most part, civilly. Yes, there were the “Take Back Vermont” signs but many tourists thought this was a marketing strategy and wondered how much the state had paid people to put them in their yards. What actually happened in the State House was, aside from a few scary moments, relatively respectful. And, later, when marriage equality happened, hardly an eyelash was batted.

I think it is because we are a small state and we deal with each other one on one. The scale is more manageable. We know each other personally and that makes a difference.

We are also extremely fortunate to have a rich arts scene. I don’t know if there is a way to measure it but I believe there is more creativity per capita in Vermont than anywhere else. But that just makes sense, right? We live in a picture postcard and that has to have an effect.

I remember going to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris with my mother 20 years ago and visiting the Monet and Van Gogh rooms. The energy coming off those paintings was palpable. Who among us has not felt that same color energy vibrating the air during foliage season? It enlivens me and motivates people from all over the world to visit Vermont. It must have an effect on creativity.

My one wish or hope is that more people would move to Vermont, especially if they have children, or plan to. We are a graying state, second only to Maine. I am concerned for the future and wonder if there is some policy we could enact that would encourage young people to move here. I know many young farmers are finding their way here and we may have climate change refugees heading our way as well.

Increased cellular and broadband service will encourage people to move here and telecommute. Affordable housing would help too.

A week ago, my neighbor celebrated her birthday. I walked to her house across the road through the dark snowy evening, aided by headlamp, my potluck pan of home-grown roasted squash warming my hands. I was tired and thought to visit briefly and head home to bed. But the company and food were great, there was homemade hard cider, and everyone started playing music—Irish and old-timey tunes—including some of the Windham schoolchildren on their ukuleles. There was such oneness and fellowship and goodwill present in that warm home that I thought, at that moment, that the world around us could crumble and we, in Windham/Vermont, would survive and prosper.

It’s the people in Vermont who make us “Vermont strong” and for that, I am most thankful. And proud.

Vermont Rep. Carolyn W. Partridge (D-Windham) is a self-employed farmer and seamstress. She and her husband, Alan C. Partridge, have three sons, two granddaughters, and one grandson. She is chair of the Windham School Board, an executive board member and commissioner of the Windham Regional Commission, deacon of Windham Congregational Church, and a member of the Windham Community Organization, the Board of Neighborhood Connections in Londonderry, the Board of the Sojourns Community Health Clinic in Westminster, and the Advisory Board of Northeastern Family Institute.

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