Last Sunday

Last Sunday

After the flood: Marlboro residents gather at the farm stand on MacArthur Road for the last Sunday of Coffee & Scones; photo: Callie B. Newton, 2011; all rights reserved.

On this one-week anniversary of Irene in Vermont, I’d like to share some of what was posted on Facebook as the day of devastation unfolded:

Very scary in Medburyville. Our bridge to the treehouse is gone and our field and horse pasture is flooding fast. Our horse fence is starting to go down…

Stream in front of my house looks like it may jump the banks… car is packed up and on high ground…. Keep your fingers crossed that my house doesn’t get flooded!

Route 9 near the Brattleboro Naturopathic Clinic is washed out. Be careful folks!

Whetstone Brook raging downtown.

Flat Street flooded.

Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge gone

The road is gone  just down a bit from our house in Marlboro.

Downtown Wilmington washed away.

As these posts trickled in (and then stopped as people lost power),  it was friends outside of the state, watching the news, who posted about the magnitude of the flooding:

Downtown Brattleboro is underwater with much debris heading down stream. Many many roads and bridges are washed out. Sounds like most people are in isolation where they are. National Guard is in West Bratttleboro  and trying to get emergency help up to Wilmington and Marlboro as they are in total isolation. Rte 9 washed out as well.

In the days following, power was restored to the Green Mountain State, and posts like these next ones expressed what we were all feeling:

I was hoping to wake today and find yesterday a bad dream….

Between the shooting, the earthquake and the flash flood, my little nervous system has been on overdrive.

It’s really amazing how a little brook can change so rapidly into a newsworthy disaster. Very sobering.

The community on Facebook grew day by day, and looking back, I’ll always remember the FB conversation that helped us find our way home on that treacherous night one week ago today. It began with this question that I put out to friends:

We’re on our way up 91 to exit 2, can we get home to Marlboro?

 Ellen:  No

Ellen: Route 9 is closed from Orchard St to Bennington

Ruth: They won’t even let you past the farmer’s mkt. they have engineers coming to check even the little bridges. we’re stuck in west b. if they’ll let you thru to my house, we have room for y’all

Is the back way open to Marlboro?

Jen: Hey Kel, I think you might make it somewhat close to your house if you go through Guilford, but up here the roads are washed out and I don’t think you can get down MacArthur

Jennifer J: Not likely. You can’t get close enough to get to a back roaads

Jennifer J.: IF, and this is a big if, you could go up and over Orchard St & IF the bridge on Meadowbrook was still in tact you could take a right on Western Ave to get to Ames Hill. Lots of questions about the bridges on any back roads.

Ellen: Meadowbrook was closed this afternoon

Jen: Liz made it up here just a while ago on Guilford Center Road. She said you could get down MacArthur from the Ames Hill side. This was a few hours ago, but they did make it…

Someone said that road was flooded

Jen: unsure….. everything is a mess, but it was done a little earlier; i think they only took guilford center to tater lane, the south street to come out by 7-11. then up ames hill…

Alright, we’re going to try that way now. Thanks Jen.

(We never saw the next series of posts until days later when our power was restored.)

Sara: Hi Kelly – Guilford is a mess all the brooks are raging and lots of roads closed.

Jen: Good luck you all!

Stephanie: Be careful!

Michelle: Be Careful!!!!

Sara: If you can get to our house you are welcome to stay here tonight – write if you need directions. At Richmond Auto take Guilford center road go approx 3 miles… I’ll leave the lights on.

Amanda: Are you Safe somewhere??

Stephanie: I just got a message from them. They are almost home, hiking in the last mile.

Michelle: Thanks for the update steph!!!!!

Mary: Just found out about the flooding there. I hope everyone is safe.

Robin: Oh my heavens!

Ciri: Did you make it home?

Robin M.: Did you make it home? Jason saw your car abandoned on Fox. Rd.

Three days later, we were back on Facebook and got our first glimpse of how widespread the damage had been. Image after image revealed the destruction in each of the surrounding towns and beyond. And yet, what resonated most with me and everyone I talked to was this:


One reporter who had covered both Katrina and Joplin, Missouri, said that he was struck by how upbeat the people of Vermont were following our catastrophe.

Except for those who lost their homes or businesses, most of us are focused on how fortunate we were. We all know someone who has it worse, and right now (at least in my town) there are more people offering help (even from out of state) than there are requests for help.

Perhaps it’s because anyone who chooses to live here or visit here embraces the natural beauty in a way that transcends comfort or convenience, and relies on community to survive–both physically and personally.

Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s 30th President, summed it up best in a quote that has been circulating on Facebook this week:

“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, …but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” ~ President Calvin Coolidge

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, Vermont

For more on Irene in Vermont, click here.

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

Once Upon a Time…

Once Upon a Time…

welcometovermontThere was a single lucid moment in the month of May, 1993, when desperation fused with destiny and our dream to move to the mountains was winged.

Two weeks earlier, I lost our first baby at the end of the first trimester. Suddenly the good jobs, the benefits, the proximity to family, even the sea, lost its hold on us.

In one feverish week, we blanketed the Green Mountain State with our resumes, asking: Will you have us?

A lone school in a small town answered back.

Although its name lacked the kind of charm we’d hoped for (bringing to mind the huge metropolis in Delaware), we were relieved find Wilmington in our atlas in the southern most part of the state; which to our minds meant less winter. (We had yet to realize that Mount Snow was its closest neighbor.)

We spent the weekend before my interview at my husband grandmother’s place in Adams, Massachusetts. Over the years, we’d looked forward to our long weekends in the Berkshires, soaking up the view of Mount Greylock from Anna’s kitchen at the top of Anthony Street; and the occasional, flirtatious jaunts into nearby Vermont. While we never spent very long in the Green Mountain State, it stirred something inside us. Vermont was planting a seed.

That seed sat dormant until a handful of years later when my sister-in-law suggested we check out the hip town of Brattleboro. Though it wasn’t love at first sight, we did decide to drive across the state, on its southern most route, and came across  a quaint, snowy village with beautiful little shops.

“This is the kind of place we could live!” we both agreed, though we never looked any further into it, because when we returned home to the shore, another dream had been realized.

A simple two lines and our attention immediately shifted from adventure to nesting. We even began to look for a house at the beach, something we had long avoided for fear we’d never leave for the mountains. We put on our name on the home daycare waiting list. We found something called a midwife. I bought lots of books. My bought a stuffed bunny. My  mother in law a tiny pair of moccasins.

Thus I return to the beginning of this tale when one of the most excruciating losses of lives gave wings to a dream that keeps on giving.

The day that we pulled into town for my interview at Deerfield Valley Elementary, we had no recollection of ever seeing Wilmington before. Perhaps our minds were preoccupied with how much depended on this day. Perhaps the seasons here transformed everything. It was  a lush early June now, and it had been snowy February then. More than likely, it was also that our entire beings had been transformed in the sixth months since we’d passed through this place–at once thrust into the prospect of parenthood and all the space that this shapes, then abruptly regurgitated… back to the beginning, to start our lives anew.

We returned to Vermont with clear eyes.

Approaching Wilmington, this time from the west, our awareness moved from the village to the valley itself–greeted first by the Deerfield River whose strength is harnessed to provide energy for Vermont, and then by the great Harriman Reservoir where once the town of Medburyville thrived.

We felt the embrace of this narrow valley, cradled within its hillsides, its fields and woodlands. The welcome continued as we traveled up Route 100 to a greater expanse of sky and view, past the North Branch of the river in its quiet repose alongside the handsome Wheeler Farm.

Our broken hearts began to stir…

As we pulled into the parking lot at the school, we realized that we had seen it once before, many, many years earlier. We had even stopped to say how “right” it looked and how nice it would be to work a place like this, nestled in the woods as it was. My younger sister was at New England college at the time, and on one of trips up to the Berkshires, suggested we meet somewhere in between–to ski–at a place called Mount Snow.

There in the school parking lot among the trees and mountains and streams of Vermont, we broke into wondrous laughter. Fate’s hand played.

Despite 199 other applicants, I was hired. Soon after my husband and I settled into in a little farm house by the woods (an answer to another dream, long forgotten inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

A year later we conceived a child who became our first son.

We lived happily ever after…

Well, it wasn’t that simple.

There were realtors and bears and woodstoves, and lots and lots of snow.

And of course, there is always more dreams to dream and losses to bear.

But once upon a time, we asked Vermont if she would have us, and she resoundingly replied, “Yes!”