Burton on the Bay:

News From the Old Homestead

The more things change, the more they stay the same ...

Arlington, Vt.-What if it's election time - and no one's running for office?

What if it's sugaring time - and no buckets are hanging from the maples?

And what's it like when the rest of the world is building more fast highways - and here they want to rejuvenate the railroad?

Hey, Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. Things might not be the very same, but it's home.

And as T.S. Elliot wrote: Home is where one starts from. As we grow older the world becomes stranger, the patterns more complicated.

We can go home. Different in some respects, the same in others, it's still home. Change or not, home is where the heart is.


410 Miles Back in Time

So here I am back home for a short spell. The scenery is different than in Riviera Beach; familiar waters are replaced with mountains, the winter is colder, El Niño's effects are less obvious. But the people are much like those of Tidewater Maryland, rugged and individualistic.

It's pretty much like back in Tidewater Maryland. As new people move in, they usually change; they don't bring change. The heritage of individualism and resistance to change prevails in the character of those who dwell in the small communities. In the cities it can be different, but in the countryside, the inhabitants don't change. Period.

By the odometer of the Subaru, it was 410 miles from Riviera Beach in North Anne Arundel County to the old homestead on the outskirts of the town where Norman Rockwell lived for many years, where he painted his best works - including the "Four Freedoms" for The Saturday Evening Post during World War II - and where there is now a gallery exhibiting and selling reproductions of his art.

My aunt MiMi (Marjorie) Brush, well into what city people would call old age, is my host. She works a day or two a week in the gallery, is actually one of the attractions there, having served - along with her husband Larry, son Jo Jo and daughter Ann - as a model in the artist's two-page Saturday Evening Post illustration "Norman Rockwell Visits a Family Doctor."

Some who buy a Rockwell reproduction seek her autograph, and she has been on regional and national tv productions on the artist's life. But she's still MiMi, just another participating member of a small southwestern Vermont community who recalls getting $5 - or was it $10 - for sitting as a Rockwell model.

I think of her most fondly as a former home economics teacher at the local high school who by lantern light read me my homework as I milked the cow on dark winter nights. The old red barn is gone, replaced by a small garden shop, and her home is now several hundred yards away atop a knoll in the shadow of Red Mountain.

The neat and large white colonial house was built nearly 50 years ago - shortly after I went away to join the Navy - but it's still the "new" house. That's the way Vermonters are. The latest building to replace another, whether it be barn, house, shed or whatever, is "new."

Coming back, which I do a couple times a year, is not unlike Brigadoon, a step or two back in time. In the "new" red barn back of the "new" big white house, some boards still protrude over the stairs leading to the hayloft.

When the barn was being built in the early '50s, I promised to saw those boards off even with the passageway. But I never got around to it. My late uncle Larry left them as a gentle reminder of projects undone, and now I am hesitant to complete the job.

I must live to complete the job, but once that's done, the Good Lord might consider my life and promises fulfilled. So fastidious MiMi has tidied up the barn and installed an automatic door, but she doesn't include sawing those old boards as one of the projects lined up for my visit.


Snow and Maple Sugar

I'm away from El Niño up here. The day after I arrived, the snow came, the deepest fall of the season, maybe 12 inches of wet flakes. Snow plows rumbled on Route 7; I haven't heard them all winter back in Riviera Beach, where El Niño rules.

It's sugaring time hereabouts, so I set forth on the back roads to see the buckets hanging from the maple trees. Vermont is tops in the nation for maple syrup production. It produces one-third of the U.S. total, and sugaring time is a big event, looked forward to not only for tradition, profit and fresh syrup for hotcakes but also for a sign that winter is waning.

The nights are cold, the days warm, ideal for collecting sap, but where were the buckets? Storms have been hard on Vermont, many trees have fallen, but surely the rugged maples survived. Then, why weren't the galvanized buckets hanging from the main stems as I recalled from years past?

"They don't hang buckets anymore," MiMi told me when I returned. Even in Vermont, some things change. Now, long plastic tubes are attached to sharp spouts driven into maples and the sap is carried off to a centralized collection point, then to the sugar shack to be boiled.

El Niño might not be evident, but its effects are feared. Global warming, I'm told, means sap flows for too short a time; also, solid-freezing nights are needed, followed by warmer days. Already there are signs the best production comes from farther north.

Breathing Easier Now

This is town-meeting week. The first Tuesday in March is when Vermonters gather in town hall, or maybe the school, to debate issues and budgets. Traditionally, votes are by yeas and nays or by a show of hands, but now the Australian ballot is creeping in. On some sensitive issues, people of some towns can vote by secret ballot so as not to offend a neighbor who is running for office or spearheading a particular issue.

In nearby Manchester, home of Orvis, one of the biggest fishing/outdoor mail houses in the country, they're in a dilemma. They don't have enough candidates to fill some of the most important offices, and other controversies loom. Local folks want to limit the number of outlet stores, which are squeezing out local shops.

They also want the railroad back, this to avoid a network of highways to accommodate tourists and commerce. Vermonters are furious with the suggestion of NBC news that rail restoration was a "taxpayer fleecing." All they want to do is maintain their rural integrity.

Everyone is also mad at The Bennington Banner, the county's only daily, which the other day during a news space crunch printed all obituaries in small type, prompting a subscriber revolt. The publisher printed an apology, promised it won't happen again regardless of world or local news.

Vermonters are breathing a bit easier now that Ben & Jerry's, the state's premium ice cream maker, decided to reject a handsome buyout offer from Dryers, so a popular Vermont product will stay on shelves across the nation. But there is grumbling that 110-mile-long Lake Champlain isn't being seriously considered as the sixth of the Great Lakes, which would make it eligible for federal research and clean-up funding.

That's it from the old homestead. Moose crossing signs are going up along the highway, the sap is running, the snow is melting, and overall, Vermonters remain the same. So does the state, though so many ski trails are being cleared the mountains appear scarred by avalanches.

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VolumeVI Number 9
March 5-11, 1998
New Bay Times

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