The Blessing of Becky & the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus

The Blessing of Becky & the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus

A few years back, I answered “a call” to SING–by reluctantly joining the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus.  This was a one time thing for me, but the women of BWC have continued for 16 years, including this past weekend’s Thanksgiving concert.  It is in the spirit of Thanksgiving–for the work of chorus director Becky Graber and the board & women of BWC–that I share the piece of writing below.

It was the second or third stop on the Mother’s Day Nursing Home Tour when it hit me.

The Low Middles and I had just patched our way through Que Sera Sera–a song my mother loved–one whose harmony slipped from my memory when it was our time to sing.

I’d been scrambling to learn my part to this and a dozen others for weeks in preparation for our big concert at the Baptist Church. I didn’t like the pressure. I didn’t like being unprepared.

My jewel of revelation was here.

I had long admired the work of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, and had even co-opted their music years ago to create a women’s sing-along in my community of Marlboro;  but I had never wanted to perform with them.  I didn’t like the responsibility of it.  My life had been too full with responsibility.

It was my spirit that cajoled me.
Over the years, I had grown accustomed to responding to this inner voice.  It had taken me on a wild ride from an Art and Meditation Class to a Ballet Class to this.  I knew there was a good reason why I was supposed to sing with the chorus, I just didn’t know what it was.

Once I had made the commitment and began rehearsing , I expected some great gift of joy to be released.

It wasn’t.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to focus on music for two to three hours at a time, particularly in the evening when I liked to crawl under the covers with a book.  I hadn’t realized just how much all my years at home had ruined me as a student.  I didn’t want to be told where and when to sit or stand.  I didn’t like being part of the herd and I didn’t know how to small-talk like women do on the rides home.

Sitting at a cafe one afternoon, I was approached by a friend whose wife had been singing with the chorus for years. “She loves it,” he told me, complaining that she wouldn’t take a break  no matter how full their plates were.

I told him that I didn’t really want to join and shared how anxious I felt about the performance.  Though it didn’t feel particularly sublime in the moment, his response, like a pebble tossed into a pond, rippled again and again.

“It is all of your voices,”  he said, “Coming together, that made the music so beautiful.”

Little by little, I began to experience just that.

On the day that we came to sing at the nursing homes, I knew it to be true.  It wasn’t the perfection of any one of our voices or parts, that made the music,  it was the mysterious alchemy of coming together–without perfection.

How can I begin to put into words the depth of my experience?  How can I communicate the breadth of its influence in my life?  Not one of us Low Middles knew our part fully.  But each of us offered something to the other–so that together, we made the music.

We made the shades rustle, the faces lift, the eyes brighten.  And for me personally, a profound understanding emerged: that I can be supported, that it is not all about me and my responsibility or my perfection, that it is in our fallibility as well as our competency that we support and uplift others.

On the following Sunday, I stood at the podium on the altar at the Baptist Church and gave VOICE to Julia Ward Howe’s words.  A wind came through me and spread her thoughts resounding through the room. Tears sprung from my eyes eyes and I was swept up in the passion of her voice.  I felt a strength that I have never known.  The strength that comes from vulnerability.

On the fourth floor of Eden Park, I had seen vacant eyes, drooping heads, drooling mouths. This is where we discard our elders, I thought. But when the music began, and we came together in song, the room came to life—not just in front of me, but within me.

I saw a husband tend his wife, wipe her mouth, hold her trembling hands.  I heard a woman, at first talking out a lifetime of troubles, begin to sing, eyes brightening, connecting with ours.  I felt a nurse spread love throughout the room with her caresses.

As we left the floor, I approached a woman who had never opened her eyes or lifted her head to our performance.  I gently squeezed her shoulder, and to my surprise, she moved her head to cradle it against my forearm.

I put down my backpack and gave her a full embrace knowing that she felt everything around her even though I hadn’t seen it.

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

For more about the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, click here.

For more about Director Becky Graber, click here.

Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training–in Southern Vermont

Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training–in Southern Vermont

Solar Hill gardens, Kelly Salasin, 2011, all rights reserved

When I first moved to Vermont, 18 years ago, I heard about Scott Willis, and a place called Solar Hill, I just never knew where it was. When I finally did meet Scott, just a few years back, he wasn’t what I expected.

The name “Scott” brought to mind a youthful, blonde-haired, tennis player, and maybe he was at one time, but now he was a middle-aged guy with a softer figure and a touch of grey.  Just my kind of guru.

When he opened my first yoga class with Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was hooked; and when he tossed out a few bad jokes, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.

It wasn’t too long before I felt the yearning to become a yoga teacher myself, only I knew that my tight muscled, low-keyed body couldn’t handle the intensity of some of the typical trainings. “I wish Scott would offer a yoga teacher training,” I said to my husband.

And then he did.

In 2011, Scott began Hits the Spot Yoga Teacher Training, a year-long program that takes place one weekend a month.  That first class filled up before I could get on the list, but I signed on well in advance for the 2012 program.

I am both excited and anxious. Anxious for all the reasons I’ve already covered–tight muscles, lack of ability or inclination toward physical exertion; those kind of things. Fortunately, what I look forward to outweighs my fears.

I look forward to the challenge of deepening into the body and out of the mind. I look forward to the challenge of learning basic anatomy–if nothing else than to develop a greater appreciation for the gift of this miraculous instrument we call the body. I look forward to the way the training would seep into my every day life and out into my overall outlook and presence. I look forward to expanding my platform as a teacher and group leader.

Despite all this looking forward, I’m still afraid, but I’m counting on some bad jokes and some good tunes to ease the way.

Kelly Salasin, October 2011

For more information about Scott Willis and Hits the Spot Yoga and Yoga Teacher Training, click here.

To read more about balancing life with yoga, click here.

The Place of Belonging

The Place of Belonging

Last summer I walked through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Peter Gould

Peter BouldIs it the place or the people that make Vermont a Mecca for the soul? This piece by local Peter Gould (see below) speaks to both.

I first “met” Peter on the stage at Marlboro College where he and  Stephen Stearns, offered their comic rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. I was seated in the third row, and I remember the moment exactly, because in addition to the laughter, I felt the baby move inside–for the first time–and I knew he liked comedy too.

A handful of years later, Peter (aka. “Pedro”)  became this same child’s Spanish teacher, and later accompanied his Junior High class on their trip to Costa Rica; and in his graduated year assisted them in preparing for their annual Cabaret.

Peter “clowning” at the 2009 Heifer Stroll (with his mother!)

During this time, Peter also helped create a theater school in Brattleboro, and published a YA novel, Write Naked, which captures the tender heart of first love.

Last year, he retired from his role as Spanish teacher extraordinaire following a health crisis.

The next fall, I found Pedro’s words at taped the teachers’ bathroom wall–a long held dedicated place of poetry, humor and inspiration. I wrote Pedro for my own copy and he gave me his permission to share it here. No doubt you will find it as inspirational as this place called Vermont:

Kelly Salasin

Last summer i walked through the valley of the shadow of death one night. My heart stopped while i was riding in an ambulance.  i was in a beautiful, calm, and fearless state of mind—you could almost say, of meditation, grace and patience—when i nearly died. and this is exactly why i live to talk about it. The technician sitting next to me walloped my chest, and i returned from where i had gone to. He welcomed me back warmly–one of the three percent who live to talk about it.

i now live my life with four principles up front, as often as i can keep them in my mind:

Be grateful.
Have no fear.
Inhabit your life.
Maintain your belongings.

These have seemed to work very well for me for the past 14 months. Number one and number two are fairly easy to parse, and both have reverberated clearly since that night.
The third is really about envy, or haste, or that feeling we may carry around, of always looking forward to the next thing—i have tried to relax and be here, in my life, my house, my marriage, my work, and my town, not rushing through these, not regretting, not craving some other life, not thinking about change.

Strangely, number four has been the richest vein-—maintain your belongings. Not just what belongs to me but also: what i belong to.  Taking intense pleasure in cleaning out a drawer, fixing a broken anything, bringing a box of clothes to the thrift store, getting rid of books, taking the time to PLAN maintenance too–taking quiet delight in visualizing all the important steps.

The most amazing things happen: i decide to mend a hole in a dear old cashmere sweater. i decide to put it on the car seat beside me and drive to delectable mountain quilts in downtown Brattleboro to find just the right color thread. when i enter the store, jan, the owner, is leaning over her counter listening to a beautiful piece of female music. she is crying. i lean over and listen too. when the song ends, she says, “do you want to hear it again?” i say yes, and we listen.

Now we are friends who share music. Now I have brought her a cd of songs that speak in the same way to me, and now our friendship has hit a whole new level. Not just cloth and thread, but music, too, and the mutual appreciation of the place where women sing from.

When we decide to live in a different way, taking the time to take care of what belongs to us or what we belong to, we open ourselves to a revolutionary way of being in the world, which flies in the face of our history, of north american conquistador/militaristic materialism. Since pioneer days, we have moved on to new fertile ground after we have fouled the place we’ve been. We leave our unportable junk behind. That’s how we have behaved in Iraq, in so many places…

A great feeling of peace comes over me when I stop and say, I could fix this, I could maintain this, I could work on my relationship with this acquaintance i see coming down the street toward me. I could clean up my email inbox. I could sort through the boxes of papers under my bed. I need to tie up the pea plants: instead of trying to hack apart this garden string with a shovel blade, i could gently lean the pea plant against the fence, put the string down and go into the kitchen and get a knife. i could walk slowly and breathe deeply while doing this. i could stop in the kitchen and have a drink of water on the way.

The key word is “belonging” and imagining all the different aspects of that word. Maintaining the whole web of relationships we belong to… It’s become a whole new way of living, for me. I don’t have to retire my ambition, in order to be this way. I have to take the time to consider quality in my actions, visualize it ahead of me and in the path i leave behind me.

It’s the way I want to be, now.

~Peter Gould, 2010

The Flower Lady

The Flower Lady

To create a little flower is the labor of ages.

– William Blake

Hodler/detail (
“All that summer Miss Rumphius, her pockets full of seeds, wandered over fields and headlands, sowing lupine seeds. She scattered seeds along the highways and down the country lanes. She flung handfuls of them around the schoolhouse and the back of the church. She tossed them into hollows and along stone walls…” (an excerpt from Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney)


If you are familiar with the story of Miss Rumphius, you might suspect that such a person lives among us in the Deerfield Valley. For a special someone must be tending to all the beautiful flowers about our town–the whites and pinks and purples that trail over the bridge and pour out of window boxes along Main Street, the lush geraniums and petunias bursting out of barrels in front of restaurants and shops.

Downtown Wilmington

Perhaps you’ve caught her, as I have, in the act of watering or planting or clipping. Maybe you’ve spotted her digging in the dirt at the cemetery on Stowe Hill at the end of the day. Or perhaps you’ve passed her, arms full of buckets and gardening tools, in front of Memorial Hall just as you were getting your first cup of coffee. Some days she seems to be everywhere… the Kreemee, Grand Union, the tennis courts and all along Route 100. Other days she can’t be found.

But she is there, somewhere, at work in her gardens. For she is The Flower Lady, and each one of those barrels and boxes and pots you see is a tiny garden that she has created.

Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant… they are saying, let’s stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another. – Anne Raver

Mary Pike-Sprenger (aka. The FLower Lady) grew up on Shafter Street back in the days when Wilmington was a very popular summer resort:

“There was a whole different air to the town then. Visitors would come up from the city or Connecticut and stay for months. It was mostly older people, and they would sit and rock in these beautiful rocking chairs on the porch at Crafts Inn. In the evenings, they’d stroll around town and they’d always come down our street which wasn’t so commercial then.”

Mary’s grandmother, Meda Crafts, lived with Mary’s family, and she would start their garden every spring. Mrs. Crafts was friendly with the summer visitors who’d stop to admire her work.

“It was a wonderful garden,” recalls Mary fondly, “with these beautiful, vibrant blue delphiniums, orange oriental poppies, pink lupines… and a meticulously maintained white picket fence.”

Mary’s father, Gordon Pike, was a carpenter, and he  built that fence himself. “It was handmade, piece by piece, gate by gate,” boasts Mary.

“We had a beautiful arbor with climbing roses over the top, and bird baths, and beds of daffodils… and I remember lots of wild yellow roses, and a lilly bed! My mother and grandmother did most of the planting and maintaining, but my brothers and my sister and I were expected to help out. (Have you ever dug up an iris bed?!) We did do a lot of complaining about the chores, but the garden was a real labor of love by all of us.”

The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies. – Gertrude Jekyll

“‘You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grand father. ‘All right,’ said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.” (an excerpt from Miss Rumphius.)


It’s no surprise that the Pike children grew up to love gardening. Both Mary and her sister Melanie Boyd made it a large part of their lives as did their mother and grandmother before them. Melanie was the first to be hired by the town to plant and maintain flowers, while Mary began doing gardening work for the Red Mill where she works as a waitress. (Both sisters also work full-time as teachers.)

Later Melanie’s interests took a different turn and she began to focus mainly on private accounts, including gardening with Tasha Tudor. It was at that time that Mary took over the town job.

“My girls Tyne and Brie were very young and this type of work made it possible for me to be a mom, to be home a lot, or bring them along to help. We all love being outdoors too,“ says Mary.

“My days were shorter then, but things grew over the years. It was a phone call here, a phone call there or people would just see me working and ask if I could come take a look at their flowers. No matter how busy I was, I always seemed to say ’Yes’, but now I do have to think more about it because the job’s grown so much.”

As the Garden grows, so does the Gardener.

Hyre, detail (
She started a little garden among the rocks that surrounded her house, and she planted a few flower seeds in the stony ground. Miss Rumphius was ‘almost’ perfectly happy. “But there is still one more thing I have to do,” she said. “I have to make the world more beautiful. (an excerpt from Miss Rumphius)


What was once a flexible part-time job has in twelve seasons blossomed into a very demanding full-time job for Mary, especially during the late spring and early fall when she is still teaching.

Mary starts her work each year in March and usually wraps things up Columbus Day weekend. In early spring, she begins her rounds at each of the planting sites, checking on the condition of the soil and the planters and determining what needs replacement.

Mary also takes a trip to her wholesalers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont to check on quantities and make sure “the colors” are just right (she has some horror stories to tell!)

By Memorial Day or the first week of June (depending on frost predictions and the eagerness of her clients,) Mary is in a planting frenzy, having to put in well over 2,000 plants at fifteen different sites in the period of one week.

After that, she can take a deep exhale, until the end of the month, when she begins to worry that her flowers aren’t growing fast enough. By July though, things are lush and beautiful, and she focuses on watering, watering, watering (and feeding… she feeds her plants every time she waters!)

During the summer months, Mary is up at dawn, making sure she gets to each of her sites by the end of the day, doing half the accounts one day, and the remaining accounts the next.

Before the end of the summer, she’ll talk with each of her customers to see what, if any, changes need to be made for the following season. And in the fall, she’ll be back in the dirt, digging up plants, and getting ready for winter.

Van Gogh/detail (

The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before. – Vita Sackville-West

“It’s very important to me that the flowers look nice for the community, and I take it very personally if they don’t,” says Mary about her choice of flowers for the town.

“I need something that people are going to be able to see when they’re driving through town at forty-miles an hour. My idea is that less variety of color has more impact. I use the huge geraniums and Grandiflora petunias. While a smaller, perhaps more interesting plant, would be nice, you’re not going to see it unless you’re walking up to it. Driving by, it would just look like a bunch of green. I also need to make sure I use a plant that is hardy and weather resistant, and that can take the dust from the road, from all the cars and tractor trailers. Delicate plants very often aren’t able to survive, they’re choked.”

Something else that Mary had to learn through a lot of trial and error was to cut back the plants.  “Sometimes, people will come up to me with a look of horror in their eyes when they see me ripping and tearing out huge arms of petunias,” she recalls.

“I used to think that as long as I had a lot of flowering plants in my barrels at the right time, it was wonderful. And then one day I drove by the Kreemee and saw a whole lot of white and not much red… the petunias had taken over! German ivy will do that too. Now all my plants get haircuts.”

The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.

It’s no doubt that the attention Mary gives to the flowers in town accounts for much of their beauty, and many take notice. “When people think of Wilmington in the summer, they think of the flowers, and I guess I’m a little surprised at how important it is to them,” she shares. “People will often come up to me and say,

‘Are you the Flower Lady?’

‘Are you the one that keeps all these flowers looking so beautiful?’

‘Do you just do this for fun?’

I think they must have this image of me, like I’m Miss Rumphius or something, going around taking care of all the flowers with nothing else to do. I kind of feel bad telling them that I get paid to do this, that it’s a job.”

Mary says that it would be nice to be as carefree as Miss Rumphius. “But the reality is that I have kids to get through ski academies and ready for college.

“I see myself continuing with the job though. I feel like I’m carrying on a tradition, especially now that the girls are helping me a bit. When they were six and seven, it was, ‘Oh, Mom, do we have to?’; now that they’re older it’s different. Each of the girls has their own garden at home, and they love flowers.

On birthdays and holidays we give bouquets, and gifts of flowers and bulbs. The love of gardening has come a full cycle it seems… first my grandmother, and my mother, then my sister and me, and now my kids. Now, I look at this work I do as something to pass on… as a another way of living on.”

The next spring there were lupines everywhere. Fields and hillsides were covered with blue and purple and rose-colored flowers. They bloomed along the highways and down the lanes. Bright patches lay around the schoolhouse and back of the church. Down in the hollows and along the stone walls grew beautiful flowers. Miss Rumphius had done the third most difficult thing of all![She had made the world the world more beautiful.]  Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney, 1982

All gardens are a form of autobiography. – Robert Dash

“Wilmington has changed so much from when I was a little girl, and often times I’ve thought, ‘Why am I still here? But it’s been a great place for my children to grow up, a safe place,” relates Mary.

“I don’t think Wilmington can ever be seen in their eyes as it was in mine when I was young. But I think this flower thing can carry on. A certain piece of my childhood can be passed onto them… the importance of beauty, and how flowers beautify things.”

Kelly Salasin

Wilmington, VT 1999

A Conversation with Mrs. Janet “Barber” Pool of Wilmington, Vermont

A Conversation with Mrs. Janet “Barber” Pool of Wilmington, Vermont

(This interview with Mrs. Pool took place in her home in Wilmington in 2001 just after 9/11 and was published in the Cracker Barrel Magazine that year.)

Janet Pool is eighty-eight years old and full of grace.  She’s a native of Wilmington and has spent pretty much her entire life here as have generations before her.    Born Janet Robinson Barber on July 6, 1913 (“the same month as President Gerald Ford”), Janet is a descendant of James Flagg who came to Wilmington in 1783, and of Issac Hubbard who arrived here in the spring of 1800.

In 1934, Janet wed William A. Pool , Jr. from Marlboro, Vermont.  Nicknamed “Mr. Somerset,” Mr. Pool was a  well-loved naturalist, deeply regarded for his work as a wildlife photographer.  Bill passed away in 1981 after conserving two-hundred acres of forest land around the Pool Family Farm in Marlboro, Vermont.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Pool served the town and county in many offices over a long period of time.  In 1993, Janet was the recipient of the American Legion Citizenship Award, citing her
extensive work throughout the community, including her involvement with senior groups, which she continues to this day.

Mrs. Pool is the familiar and welcoming face you see each week when you arrive at the Deerfield Valley Seniors meal site in Jacksonville.  It is no wonder that she is so well loved–renown as she is for her warm and gracious spirit.  Mrs. Pool astonishes those much younger with her amazing recollection of names and faces–as well as  life events and little details.  Janet leaves each person she encounters (whether an old friend or a new) feeling very, very cherished.

It is my honor and a great pleasure to offer you a glimpse of this special lady in her own “voice.”

Kelly Salasin

Family  Ties

My parents were Merton and Minnie Barber.  I remember somebody had a couple chickens that were called by those names!

My father was the son of HF Barber (Hardy Barber),  who owned HF Barber and Son, a store that was where the town office is now.  There’s pictures in there of my grandfather in the store.

(In the 1980 Wilmington Old Home Week book,  Janet wrote this about it,  “Many have memories of this store as a genial meeting place for card players or those who just wanted to sit around the stove and reminisce.”)

My father, Merton Barber, later sold the business and acquired a general insurance agency where I was employed until 1955 after which I purchased the company from him.  Though I have since sold the agency, it still bears the family name, BARBER and JARVIS.

My grandparents and my great-grandparents pictures are in Memorial Hall.  A while back, I  found my grandfather’s civil war papers and his discharge order.    My grandfather’s mother was a Flagg; and that’s why I’m so patriotic!

War and Patriotism

I have a picture here of (my husband) Bill (William Pool Jr.) when he was in uniform.  He was in the thick of it.  He was in the Battle of the Bulge.

Here’s a photo of VJ Day, 1945, August 14th in Wilmington.  That’s the day of the surrender, of Japan.  We built a fire right there in the town square and had a little parade; I played the accordion, and we all had a good time.

I don’t like the idea (of another war), no.   But I feel we got to do something.  In fact the other day at the Seniors, Tuesday group, I wrote a little prayer.  Peg Morgan had us join hands and repeat the Lord’s Prayer like we do, and of course we always repeat the pledge of allegiance first; then I read my prayer:

Dear Lord, Listen to this tiny prayer from a tiny group. Let it mingle with the thousands of prayers being issued today throughout the country.  America has been in mourning for a week over a senseless, horrible act… Bless those who have lost loved ones, also the leaders of our nation, the rescuers, and many others… Above all, God Bless America, the Land of the Brave and the Free.  Amen’

Sisters and Children

This is Beaver Street that I live on;  Beaver Brook is just over there.  I’ve been here since ‘47.   I was married then, I must have been thirty-four.  That was right after the war.  We moved here after Bill was discharged from the service.  My father originally owned the house and when he passed away in ‘65 he left it to me.

The house up on Lisle Hill where I was born belongs to my sister, Muriel Barber Manning .  She was born thirteen months after me.  My mother always dressed us just alike. Muriel lives up in Hinesburg, Vermont.  She went up there to teach and found a husband.   She wasn’t married ’til she was over 50.
Neither of us have any children,  but I always loved children.   I always had some around.    My husband, you see, had four sisters, and one brother; the brother didn’t have any children, but the girls had plenty, so some of them were with us lot of the time.

In fact, (my niece) Bertha (Pool) spent most of her highschool days living with us while going to the highschool here.   Her sisters stayed with us some of the time too as their family lived in Marlboro.
I went to that school (Wilmington Middle High School) all twelve years–and my father was one of its earliest graduates.
Yes, as I say, I’ve always had kids around; the people across the street, their children call me ‘Nana’.  Here’s a photo of me with the neighbors and here’s one taken a couple of years ago with the ‘Halloween kids’  I always like to dress up with them.

Romance and Floods

I met my husband, William Pool, at the (Deerfield Valley Farmers Day) Fair in ‘33.   A funny thing is, another fellow invited me to go the fair that day, but he called and said he couldn’t go.   So I went alone,  and that’s when Bill spotted me.

He’d come from Marlboro to go to the fair.  He used to walk seven miles to take me to the movies;  that’s when they had them in Memorial Hall.  His father would wait up for him to get home.  It was something!
I remember the fair of 1938;  that was the time of the flood.  Bill had a huge collection of deer antlers on the table there (on exhibit) and they floated around, but he found most of them.   That was quite the fair!

Hunting and Wedding Plans

I was married at home, just a quiet wedding, up at Lisle Hill.  I don’t remember much of a party after, but I remember we left on a honeymoon… went as far as Greenfield!

That was December 1st, 1934, and that makes me think of something that one fellow thinks is funny.   Bill was a great hunter you know, and in those days deer hunting was the last two weeks in November,  so he had to wait to December 1st to get married!

Girlfriends and School Days

I don’t have too much company anymore,  but one of my school friends was here last week,  and stayed a couple days, and we talked.  Her name is Meredith Wood.   She was born here.   She comes up every year to get maple syrup up at Carl Boyd’s.  She’s eighty-eight too.  She’s pretty spry!
Meredith and I graduated highschool together.  We had white dresses, white stockings, white shoes;  no caps and gowns then!  We graduated down at Memorial Hall, and I remember they would present us with a  bouquet of flowers after.
I was Salutatorian… that doesn’t mean much for eleven graduates!  (There’s just three of us left now.)  I had to speak and greet the people.   I remember the last part of (my speech):   I said, ‘Go forth, attain, attain!’ I’ve got a copy of it somewhere.
We used to have what they called public speaking (in school).   I started out when I was in the first grade.  I spoke a piece;  It was at Christmas time:

You know what the Christmas mousey did
before he went to his trundle bed?
‘Dear Mr.  Santa if you please,
put in my stocking some Christmas cheese.’

The Cracker Barrel and Old Times

Oh yes, I’ve been a fan  ever since it started.   I like it, it’s a homey paper.  It tells about people as they are, you know.   And there are so many things that I recognize in there.

I’ve been mentioned (in The Cracker Barrel) before, (but this is the first article just about me).  Nice of you to think of it.

Not much has stayed the same here (in the valley), not much.  Of course the buildings, the old buildings, they’ve tried to keep the outside as they were, but they’re different inside.   This house hasn’t changed though;  it was built in 1895.

There aren’t many folks left that I can talk old times with.  Evelyn Keefe, remember her?   She and I used to visit a lot.  Now there’s Dot Turner.   She lives on Dix Road, I think they call it.   Her house is the oldest house in town.

Women and Careers

I wonder if there are other things that I ought to tell you… I’m trying to think.  It was funny you know when my mother came to town;  she came to teach, and they told her there weren’t any eligible men left, but she found one!    My mother was a Robinson: Minnie Swazee Robinson.  My middle name is Robinson.   She was the oldest of six girls.

She taught up here at the school in 1909.  She quit teaching when she was married.  My mother was a very talented person, a good sewer, seamstress; also an artist, she could paint things.  Neither my sister or I took after her in that respect;  we were more career people I guess.

Muriel was a school teacher and I was in the (insurance) office; did that most of the time.  My mother stayed home; and she’d make our dresses and this and that.  I used to like her  Red Flannel Hash.  Do you know that?  It’s after a boiled dinner.

Aging and Some Advice…

Well, I’d like to be back, maybe not quite so young, but maybe in my twenties and thirties; that’s some of the prime of life, I think.

My maternal grandmother lived to be 95.  (And I plan) to go right along the way I am.  Course you have to look to the future.  Right now I’m pretty well set.  Bertha (my niece) nextdoor, runs errands for me, and Sam Hall, upstairs, does the outside work.  So it works out pretty good.  I do my own housework myself; I tell the doctor, ‘That’s my exercise!’

My advice on aging?  It’s all attitude! If you feel, ‘Oh , I can’t go today, I can’t do this,’  it’s good to push yourself a little and have a good time.   As a eighty-nine year old told me the other day,  ‘We got to keep going!’

I agree.  You got to be positive about things. I imagine I’ve always (felt this way).  That song, Young at Heart, is a good one to go by.

Fairytales can come true
it can happen to you
if you’re young at heart
For it’s hard, you will find,
to be narrow of mind,
if you’re young at heart…
And life gets more exciting
with each passing day,
And love is either in your heart
or on it’s way…
Don’t you know  that it’s worth,
every treasure on earth,
to be young at heart…
And if you should survive
to a hundred and five
Look at all you’ll derive
out of being alive!
And here is the best part
You’ll have a head start
If you are among the very young at hear

(written by Carolyn Leigh and Johnnie Richards.)

An Interview with Fay Hollander, founder of Klara Simpla

An Interview with Fay Hollander, founder of Klara Simpla

A long slow color is green.”

Fay Hollander

(This quote, from a poem by Faye, was engraved on a wooden medallion which greeted guests above the entrance to what was once Southern Vermont’s natural living Mecca~Klara Simpla.  This interview took place in 1997 in Faye’s apartment above the shop on Main Street in Wilmington.)

Fay, tell me the story of how Klara Simpla got its start…

Well, this was the Wee Ski Shop, and Wee Moran ran it.  I had just moved in up the street and happened to walk by.   Wee was out on the sidewalk, looking very glum, and told me that his wife had just been dropped in the hospital and had broken her spine.  And I, never having been in a ski shop in my life, said, Well, is there anything that I can do?

That was December 15, 1965.

So I came in to help with getting the equipment out and for sale.  On Friday nights, there would be a line of young people down the block because (don’t forget) this was the only ski shop in town when
Mount Snow opened.  We’d work all night just to keep things going.

Sometimes those people coming in late were hungry, and I began to think that maybe it would be nice if we had something here.  So I took three hundred dollars and bought honey and peanut butter from Walnut Acres in Pennsylvannia.  And then, they’d say, “Do you have any bread?”  So I started ordering organic bread from Canada.

And that’s what made it grow.

So how did you end up in Vermont selling organic foods?

My father was an organic farmer and a bee keeper in Virginia.  He helped other people learn organic farming, and that interested me.  I studied very practical things in college… how fibers and food were made, and how to test them, so I had a good background for this.
Coming to Vermont, over thirty years ago, was a real turning point for me.   I didn’t know a soul, but it felt like I should be here.  It was one of those things that you don’t have to think about it–you just feel very right without putting a whole lot of [mental] handicaps in your way.

You know some people use their minds to figure everything out.  I’m not that kind of person.  How can the heart speak if the mind is busy?

I heard that the locals wouldn’t set foot in here when you first got started.

Yes, it was a very weird beginning. The people in the town walked on the other side of the street because they didn’t want to come near me.  I  heard that they thought I was a witch!

I  first had a big herb table in the ski shop.  The police would come in, with their hands behind their backs, and walk around and look at it out of the corner of their eye.  As a matter of fact, they arrested a young man who was going out with a bag of herbs.  So it was scary for me.  I couldn’t see the humor in it then.

What turned things around?

When Wee died in ‘72, he left no will, and I was faced with eviction.  I had been living here and taking care of everything.  It was a monumental task but he needed the help.

People began to hear that this place might be lost.  (By that time it was almost a full-fledged health food store as it is now.)   And people came in… there was a crippled man from up North who brought in a check for me to use to pay the lawyers;  and there was a wealthy woman in Brattleboro who heard what was happening and sent another big check–without knowing how I would pay her back.

That’s what let me know how important this place was to people.

So many people write you and call you or want to come to visit. At eighty years old, how do you keep up with it all?

Well, I think a lot of the people who correspond with me must think I’m dead by now!

I actually have a lot to do to keep things going here, but I don’t try to put it all in one basket, I spread it out.

Here’s a quick question that I know a lot of people would like the answer to: Why aren’t you listed in the phone book under Klara Simpla?

I don’t know, it’s not important to me. [We  both laugh as the phone rings on cue.]

Some people are really overwhelmed the first time they walk into this store…

[Fay laughs as recalls this incident.]

I used to have some chairs out front in the summertime and I would sit out there.  One afternoon a girl sat down beside me; she was about twelve years old, and she looked at me and said, “Do you work here?”

And I said, “Yes.”

And she said, “How do you stand it?”

And I said, “
What do you mean?”

And she said, “
It smells so awful in there.”

Fay, what’s going to happen to Klara Simpla when you’re gone?

I have no idea; whatever needs to happen, I guess.  That’s a nice way for it to grow.

I thought you were going to ask me about the books.

I do love your book collection.

You know when I first put the books in the store, somebody said to me, “You’ll never sell books like that in this town!”  But in a short time, there were people coming from Boston to buy books here.

People would say, “
Oh I love this shop;  I could just live here!”  And I used to sort of giggle inside;  because I used to sleep in the book department before there was this space upstairs.  I would just uncover a cot that had books on it during the day and lay down there at night.  I loved the feeling of the books around me.   (They were my salvation growing up.)

Is there anything that you’d want me to say or not to say in my  article about Klara Simpla?

I’d want it to say what’s real.  I can think of an article that was done here where everything seemed flowery and nicer than it was–embellished–as though that was necessary. That’s a handicap, when you embellish things and then try to live up to something that isn’t real.

Klara Simpla has touched so many lives.  What has this meant to you?

If I make a difference and it’s positive, that pleases me.

Closing words…

I feel very lucky for the chain of events that brought, even us, together.  I  have a lot of love in my heart for Vermont and the people here.  I think it’s a great place to be.  There’s a freedom in this state;  it’s a real haven for having yourself expressed and getting to know yourself.

Kelly Salasin, Wilmington 1997

The Meetinghouse Preschool, Marlboro, VT

The Meetinghouse Preschool, Marlboro, VT

on the occasion of its 25th anniversary (1998)

Kelly Salasin

This year The Meetinghouse preschool in Marlboro, Vermont celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary. This milestone is testimony to the hundreds of parents who have come together since 1973 to support this school and entrust their children to its teachers.

More than 300 preschool students have graduated from Meetinghouse since it first began. Some of those alumni were on hand for the anniversary dinner held this April at the Colonel Williams Inn in Marlboro.

Hannah Van Loon was a student in the first class to pass through the school, and remembers it as a safe, and comfortable place,  “I still remember building with those red and white cardboard blocks,” says twenty-eight year old Hannah, who now works as a paraeducator in Brattleboro.

Simon Holzapfel, twenty-five, and his brother Forrest, twenty-three, also attended the school in its early years. “I remember the windows being really high, “ says Simon about the classroom which is housed in the town church. “I’m still friends with some of the kids that were in my class back then,” he adds.

As an eighth grader, Simon returned to the preschool to work as a helper. “I read to the kids, pushed them on the swings, and helped them play more civilly,” recalls Simon, who is now a teacher himself at the Putney School.

Liza Murrow Ketchum founded The Meetinghouse School in the early seventies and served as its first director/teacher. As an educator and writer, she studied schools in England for the book she authored, Children Come First. Liza was impressed with the innovative primary programs there which helped shape her vision for the preschool she would start in Marlboro.

The directorship of the school has changed hands over the years, and Liza, who is now a children’s author, resides outside of Boston. She was excited to receive the announcement of the school’s twenty-fifth anniversary, saying, “I was tickled to see Joe Hamilton’s signature on the letter.”

At seventy-seven, Mr. Hamilton has served as chairman of the board since the school began.“All of my efforts over the years to retire have been fruitless,” says Joe with a hint of a smile, “Three or four years ago they passed a resolution… they won’t let me resign.

When first searching for a site for the preschool, Liza found the town church to be the perfect spot. Built in 1932 and located in the center of Marlboro, the building has a large center room, kitchen and bathroom facilities, and huge windows that let in plenty of light.

Like other rural churches in the area, membership had been declining, and services were only held in the summer months and at Christmas time. As church moderator, Joe Hamilton, a dairy farmer in West Brattleboro, supported the idea of turning over the use of the first floor of the church to the preschool. “It just seemed to me that it was better to have the building used,” said Joe.

The Hamilton family has been members of the church since the early 1800s (before the original building on that site burnt down). “Joe was a great link between the school community and the church community,” says school founder Liza Murrow Ketchum, “The first year or two, most of the people were nervous about the preschool, but once they saw that the families and I cared about the building, things changed.”

Liza describes the involvement of the parents in the school during those early years as “heartwarming,”and adds, “There just wasn’t any other way to run the place.”

This tradition of parent involvement in the school has been passed down through the generations of families, and has kept this cooperative preschool alive. Twenty-five years later, the parents continue to work closely with the director to ensure the school’s success:

Parents come in to cook and create with the children, they volunteer to work as substitutes or chaperones if needed, they provide snack for the class, they take on the jobs of maintaining and cleaning the building, and they organize and carry out the fundraisers that financially support the school.

For some this may seem overwhelming, but for the parents whose children attend this school, it is essential. “A lot of parents in this society are looking for a place to put their kids while they go off and do their things, I don’t think that’s the general consensus here,” says parent Kathy Pell,We’re looking for a place for our kids to go that we’re a part of as well.”

This is a different place than others,” continues Kathy, who also serves on the board. “There are preschools that we have been to where they won’t let parents come in, where they won’t let you stay, where they certainly wouldn’t let you sit there and help your kids out during the day– and be a part of the whole thing. Family is really important here, and that makes it unique.”

Board member and parent Carol Brooke-deBock agrees, “Any teacher that comes aboard has to feel committed that the kids just aren’t being sent to the school. She has to want to work with the whole family, and to encourage the parents to ask questions.

Parents are willing to make the commitment,” adds parent Jodi Paloni, who also serves on the board,That commitment is needed to keep things going, and it’s fun! It’s not just what get’s done… it’s the spirit of it all. That provides the momentum for the school.”

Celeste MacArthur takes advantage of the scholarship offered for cleaning the classroom. Her daughter Iyla is the third of her children to attend Meetinghouse. “Even when I’m cleaning, I think about the kids… It isn’t just a job. I have so much gratitude for Iyla’s experience here,” Celeste says.

Working scholarships are available to families who need tuition support. Generally tuition covers about sixty percent of the school’s annual budget (depending on enrollment), while the remaining portion comes from the school’s fundraising initiatives.

Fundraising can be a drag at times… It’s a lot of work, ” emphasizes school treasurer Carol Brooke-deBock, “But it also brings people together. People feel more invested in the school because of it.”

The school’s largest and longest-running fundraising effort is their Annual Cider Sale which has taken place each autumn for the past twenty years! The school even has its own pressing equipment.

Whether or not you know the school, you most surely know this event that takes place on Route 9 in Marlboro each Columbus Day Weekend. The landmark is the huge mound of apples and the big tents under which the cider is pressed and the home baked pies are sold.

The cider sale kicks off the school year for the parents and really brings their families together:  the week before the sale everyone gathers at Scott Orchard in Dummerston to do the picking. The preschoolers work along side their– brothers and sisters, moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends– to gather the apples for the cider and for pies that will be baked the following week.

The relationships formed in coming together to support the schoolcarry over into the community,” explains board member Laura Hunter. “There is this great friendship outside of the school… it’s really amazing. We are all so different from each other, but the core of why we are at Meetinghouse is the same, and that makes our bonds so strong.”

That bond is vital to parent Kathy Pell who was new to the community when her son Dakota was a preschooler. “When we moved here, I definitely didn’t feel like I was part of anything,” explains Kathy, “but being at Meetinghouse, first as parent, then as a board member, gave me this little tiny community to be a part ofa place where we share a philosophy of what we want for our kids… to have a really safe, really enjoyable, learning environment.

The common values held by these families are “apparent in the children themselves,” says parent Dolly Glennon, who drives from Wilmington each day so that her sons Brad and Drew can attend the school.

Meetinghouse has always attracted families from communities outside its home in Marlboro. Prior to relocating there, Laura Hunter traveled from Brookline to enable her daughter to attend the school. “Erica has special needs,” explains Laura, “We had looked at every place in the area, and nothing felt right. But the minute that I took her over to Meetinghouse, it was like, ‘this is it!’”

Paul works well with kids with special needs,says alumni parent Janie Ahern about the school’s director, Paul Redmond, “That makes it a very unique school… It’s not only unique to the kids who are already there, but also for kids that really need something extra. Not all preschools can do that.

Paul interacted with my daughter like nobody else did,” explains Laura, “I really needed that for her. I never felt like I could drop her off and leave her with anybody else before. This was a safe place.

Many parents seem to know that The Meetinghouse School is the right place for their child the moment they walk through the door.It’s definitely the perfect environment… the children have the space to expand, “ says Dolly Glennon about the classroom, “It’s also really neat to have a male role model for the kids.”

Janie Ahern served on the board in 1989 when Paul Redmond was hired as the director. She later worked as his assistant after her children graduated from the school. “One of the most important things about Paul is that he thinks of each child as being truly unique, and he treats them that way. Not all teachers do that,” Janie explains. “Paul really zeros in on the kids, and that’s his focus, “ she adds, “He is very concerned about the child’s well being and about what they are learning in the world… and that’s not just out of a book, and it’s not just from a project.

On first encounter, it may surprise you to meet the director who runs the Meetinghouse School– he’s not  what you might expect of someone whose days are spent with small children. For starters, there aren’t too many men working in preschools; and Paul’s not fresh out of college either, he has a masters in education and has been teaching for almost thirty years.

Paul Redmond is a big, burly kind of guy with a long droopy mustache. (He once came to school clean shaven and dressed in a tie and suit for Halloween… none of the kids recognized him.) There’s a definite solidness about Paul, in the way he talks to the children, and yet he is also very gentle. With his southern accent, you’ll hear him reminding the girls and boys to be “ladies” and “gentlemen.”

They love him!

Paul comes when we need him,” says four-year old Lindsay Ware, “When I am up in a tree, he helps me get down.”

We like when Paul plays tricks on us, like when he pretends that Brad’s lunch is his,” say five-year olds, Aaron Brooke-deBock and Margaret Bernhard, with a giggle.

Paul protects things,”says Liza Haughty,

and when somebody gets hurt, he comes,” adds Alex Hunter.

We like when he does scary stories!” three-year olds, Madeline Hawes and MacKenzie Fisher, say with a big grin.

At times the parents pull up to the school at the end of a rainy day to find the building vibrating with Latin music as Paul leads the class in a scarf dance. On the drive home, the children will laugh about how Goldilocks met The Three Pigs in a play they acted out that morning. Day and night, the house will be filled with song… “Mud, mud, I love mud! I’m absolutely, positively, wild about mud!”

I want the kids to be excited about being at school,” says Paul,I want them to sing and dance… I want the world to open up to them. If children feel safe, emotionally and physically, then they’ll explore, they’ll take chances. I provide that safety by being consistent, by assuring them that no harm will come to them, and by letting them know that there are certain things that I will allow and certain things I won’t allow. They come to trust me.

Paul is obviously ideal,” says board member Kathy Pell about the kind of teacher the parents want for their children. “We want someone who encourages the children to solve their own problems, but who also gives them the skills to do that… someone who encourages them to explore, who doesn’t push educational philosophies versus the children’s learning and growth… someone who will be enthusiastic and gentle, all at the same time,” she explains.

In the same way that children need to feel safe, parents need to feel that their children are safe,” says Paul, “They have to be involved in order to feel that. The better the parents know me, the more comfortable they are with me, and the more willing they are to talk to me about their children’s real issues. I like it when parents come and visit. I like for them to feel that this is their school, and I like for them to know what’s going on.”

Mornings at Meetinghouse are a nice blend of what this school is all about. At group time, the children come together on the green rug to sing songs and hear about the day’s activities. The parents circle around with babes in arms (or coffee), keeping their eyes on wandering toddlers.

There’s lots of laughter, especially among the adults, as Paul (who has been described as the David Letterman of preschool) targets comments their way. Parents linger just a moment more to see what he’ll say next as he manages ‘show and tell’,… always able to find a new angle on the same fire equipment that one little guy has brought in each week since the beginning of the year.

After group, the parents leave one by one, and the children begin their day.

The scene is timeless...

Alex and Brad at the easel, Margaret and Liza in the dress-up corner, MacKenzie and Orion dressed in capes and armor in the climbing frame, Lloyd and Griffin at the sandbox, Lindsay and Cody at the art tables, Eli and Iyla building towers, Jason and Aaron with Trent eating peanuts…

Change the names and the faces, and you are transported back to an earlier time when children who are now out of college did these same things.

Meetinghouse is not about a certain group of kids or even a certain group of parents, it’s not about one particular director or one particular way of teaching, it’s not even about the building that’s housed it for the last twenty-five years.

The Meetinghouse School is a tradition created by all of those pieces coming together, working together, to make a safe and happy place for our children.

Happy 25th Anniversary Meetinghouse!!!