Biting the Bullet

Biting the Bullet

(To read Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer, click here.)

As we crossed into Vermont,  it occurred to me that we could pick up a few things at the Co-op, even though our car was stuffed with luggage.

“What if we stopped at the Co-op for a bottle of wine?” I whispered to my husband, and then I sucked in a deep breath at the thought.

“Okay,” he answered quietly.

“It might be good to get it over with,” I explained, “especially all together.”

When we took Exit 1 into Brattleboro, I prepared the boys, checking in to see how they felt about heading into the store after the tragedy. Once down Canal Street, we noted that the new construction had enjoyed a growth spurt since we last saw it in July–adding an entire floor to our soon to be store.It felt good to know that the work on our new space continued, even while the tragedy temporarily closed the Co-op’s doors just a week before.

The parking lot was bustling with activity on this Tuesday evening, and we were lucky to find a spot for our car.  I took my time getting out–both searching and avoiding faces.

Once inside, I surprised myself by stepping right toward the wine department where I picked up a new sustainable chardonnay, without looking for Richard. Just as I placed a bottle into my cart, a shopper approached me to thank me for my writing. She had attended the vigil, but was saddened to note that there was no mention of Richard. “What must have he been going through to do what he did?” she asked before heading off with her young son to finishing shopping.

In addition to the bottle of wine which initiated this bold re-entry into the Co-op, I went even deeper into Richard’s department and lingered by the beer cooler to find just the right brew to hold onto summer. It was only then that I glanced up into the office booth where I noted two strangers, and then Tony–who was always there when Richard wasn’t.

My husband and I then ventured down each aisle of the grocery store to jump start our return to a kitchen after two weeks of eating out on vacation.  I noted that there were a lot of “connections” going on and I imagined and hoped that the Co-op management loosened up on the caution against socializing during work.

As we rounded the corner past the Red Hen seeded baguettes, my sons’ eyes caught a board filled with pink paper hearts beside the customer service window.  We stepped up to this impromptu altar and took in the expressions of love, but felt unable or unready to take part ourselves.

As we finished our shopping, we paused in the Natural Living Department  where my son asked the clerk to help him find Emu oil from the scar left behind by the stitches.  Before Peggy pointed him in the right direction, she thanked me for my writing and then embraced, before she got back to business.

I continued toward the checkout numbly, and pushed my cart up beside Tom– the cashier who I knew the best from my days on staff.  Neither of us said a word about what happened, and I wasn’t sure if I was being considerate or afraid or wise.

Perhaps the Co-op needs to get back to business as normal, I rationalized. But why were there so many unfamiliar faces on the floor? And how is it that I didn’t know Michael Martin, when I know most of the other managers by name.

Overall, it felt good to return to the Co-op and to fill my cart and to restock their registers; but it came at a cost. By the time we arrived home in Marlboro, 20 minutes away, I was still shaky. It had taken all my self-control not to weep as I stood in the wine department or passed the back office space. Thankfully, my sunglasses were still on.

At home the guys set to unpacking the car while I began packing a picnic for South Pond. If I hurried, we’d catch the sun before it dropped behind the mountain, and I needed that. Although I’d been the one who offered to put away the groceries, I noticed my husband beside me pitching in. He had already emptied the car while I had hardly made a dent in what I had offered to do. The trip to the Co-op left me unable to focus.

We were hungry by the time we got to the pond, but I had grown too nauseous to eat.  I had also forgotten the glasses and the plates and the napkins, and most important of all–the wine opener. Friends frequently remark on my ability to pack in a dinner, and tonight they would have found my forgetfulness even more remarkable.

While my husband took a dip in the cool August waters, I began slicing our first harvest of tomatoes and cukes and peppers. I used the same small cutting board to cut the Red Hen and then the fresh mozzarella. I tore the basil into tiny pieces and then doused them with olive oil for dipping.

“It’s weird to be sitting here near the tennis courts,” said my husband, as he joined me at the table. It was this time of day that Richard and his wife would leave the pond with rackets in hand.

As we shared a simple meal, the water sparkled one last time, and a large plane flew overhead–dramatically punctuating  the harbinger of summer’s waning–as the sun disappeared behind the hillside.

It had been a mistake to go the Co-op on our first night back, but it had felt right to do so.


Kelly Salasin, August 17, 2011

More on the BFC Tragedy:

Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer

Which Wolf?

Even the Potatoes are Sad



For more on the BFC Tragedy, click here.

Even the Potatoes are Sad

Even the Potatoes are Sad

If there is any place in Vermont that represents the best qualities of our state – a place where the community comes together to buy local, laugh, make friends and celebrate what we cherish about our lives – it is the Brattleboro Food Co-op.  (Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin)

That something like this could happen at our beloved Brattleboro Food Co-op is unfathomable.

That this act was intentional is confounding.

That the murderer was someone who lived and loved among us is heartbreaking.

That a life was stolen is devastating.

I write these words from vacation, 300 miles away from the Green Mountain State, knowing that I will miss tonight’s vigil in Brattleboro.  But even this far away, I am blessed by my community’s response to this loss, as echoed by the outpouring of solidarity on the Co-op’s Facebook page:

What a sad day for the coop and all of us in this community. (Ruth Wilmot)

It is 2 AM and I’m staring at this computer, wondering how many other of us Co-op members are sleepless from worry, shock and grief – after this saddening event. (Nancy Burgeson Anderson)

We are all feeling this. It is heartbreaking and horrible. Love to all of you close to the scene. No one is worrying about when the Coop will be open again. We *are* worrying about each of you. (Johnny Lee Lenhart)

You guys are all very dear to us. We are helpless to do anything to make this better, but our thoughts are very much with you, and I hope you will let us know if there is any way we can help.  (Ted Lemon)

We are all so stunned by this news. Our thoughts are with you and the families involved as you work through this difficult time. (Gail Graham)

I take heart that what is shared is supportive, and life serving, rather than filled with the rage or malice that takes lives:

This is a time to really appreciate facebook. Reading these comments heals me and hopefully others feel the same. Knowing how people from all over the country are holding our community and especially the staff of BFC in their hearts is so meaningful. (Bari Shamas)

Certainly we are all angry. That which has been stolen, has been stolen from us all–even from the one who took the life (maybe from him most of all); and I cannot begin speak to the grief of those who were intimate with the victim:

My heart aches at the news. Micheal was such a loving guy. He will be missed by many. (Karen Ernest Hatt)

Michael was a friend and will be missed. (Chris Maher)

It is impossible to know the right thing to say. Michael was a good guy and will be missed in the co-op community.  (David Lippman)

I’m saddened to admit that I cannot place Michael from memory; but no doubt I will recognize his face–and even his kindness–as we all “know” each other in Brattleboro, especially in the aisles of the Co-op.

Given my lack of intimacy, I question the depth of my grief, until I read how deeply others have been affected by this loss, not just in Brattleboro or Vermont, but all around the country, and even around the world:

 Sending much love and healing prayers from Thailand. (Nathan Olmstead)

It’s 3:30 in the morning in Vancouver. Neither Cliff (a former employee) nor I can sleep. We are thinking of all of you in the community and send our love. (Lynn Levine)

My heart is broken today. Please know I am sending you my support from afar. The co-op isn’t just a place where I used to work; it is like a family home to me. (Wendy M. Levy)

It is a little crazy that i feel more connected to a store 200 miles away from my home than i do the stores right down the street- but i feel like i know you guys after 4+ years of stopping in for dinner once a week (sometimes more.) It’s a neighborly, small town family feel, and familiar faces, and that is one of the reasons why i love coming to Brattleboro. (Stephanie Santoro)

In addition to the personal expressions of grief, there are the “collective”–messages from co-ops in Belfast, Maine; in Oregon, in Texas, in California, in New Orleans.

As I read through this flood of personal and collective grief, I get a renewed sense of what a Co-op is; how it touches lives; how it connects them:

My heart is aching for the individuals and the collective… ever faithful that you all will make your way through this in a manner that has me falling in love with my co-op all over again. tender blessings… ♥ (Kim Weeter)

When you reopen again, you will feel a tidal wave of love, all of you who work there, who make our days just that much richer. It will be a hard day, but the town will speak to your hearts, and you will remember why you are here. (Jack MacKay)

In addition to messages from individuals and other co-ops, there is now a growing response from companies who sell their products to these stores:

All of us at Baudelaire Soaps offer our deepest sympathies and condolences.

There is something oddly moving by sentiment expressed by soap. It somehow speaks to what is also precious at the Co-op: the heart and passion of the people behind each product.

It’s hard to fathom the breadth of this single act, taken by Richard Gagnon, our wine manager, who traveled the world with his beloved wife Meg, to bring us the sweetness of the vine.

Today, even the potatoes are sad:

Your friends at Small Potatoes offer our deepest sympathies and condolences.


Kelly Salasin, August 10, 2011, Brattleboro Food Co-op Shopper/Member since ’94, past staffer

Click here for, Dear Richard, An Open Letter to a Murderer.