It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since Sue and I moved to Vermont. That bright February day, 20 degrees below zero, when we walked up the snow covered path to the threshold of our schoolhouse. Hard to believe, yet being so absorbed in the moment with this place, it takes a purposeful shift of attention to recall where we were at the beginning of this year.
We miss our Marshall, North Carolina folks. In the full ten years we had lived there, a real depth and intimacy had developed, of the quality I had not ever experienced before. Our Marshall friends set an example for us for how good people behave. It’s a model we are aspiring to here in our new community.
In a way, we hit this Green Mountain ground running. We’ve been inspired by the excitement of a long-promised goal realized, and by the prospect of nurturing roots that both Sue and I had each separately left behind years ago. Those roots lay dormant, yet still alive and vital, in the ground waiting for us. In this short year we have been able to rekindle old connections in a way that we would not have been able to had we arrived as complete foreigners.
Partly by design, part by necessity, I have been time rich and money poor. This has afforded me the opportunity to invest in setting up house and making it our own. The activities of stacking wood, rehabbing a bathroom, restoring window casings and door trim, sanding, painting, organizing, digging in the yard, planting greens and berries and flowers… all these things send out a message of surrender to the place, “We are yours, you are ours.”
This school was built in 1880. A grand schoolhouse in its day, made larger than most of its time for the purpose of serving both as a school and for community gatherings. The single room downstairs accommodated 40 students of grades 1- 6. Upstairs was big enough to host dances and school theater productions.
It's single-gable construction is simple enough, yet its shape, said to reflect the “vertical tastes” of it’s builder, does indeed have the look of an arrow pointed skyward. The routine act of walking from parked car to the house with groceries can be an elevating experience. Once inside, ten large 9 over 6 windows fill the space with light. One never feels separated from the out of doors – the apple trees, the woodpile, hardwoods and conifers on the hill to the west in back of the house, our neighbor Paul’s, gorgeous Percheron work horses grazing on the field.
In the 1920s the PTA raised funds to build two additional rooms on the back of the school. One was to serve as a library, plus a “summer kitchen” attached to the library. During the Depression the school became one of the first in Vermont to offer hot lunches to the kids. All the food was donated, and mothers took turns preparing the meals. The library, built with a fireplace, became the dining room and a sort of all-purpose living room, which hosted many a men’s winter card game. In the summer there were community meals and canning parties out of doors beneath the massive maple trees that were likely planted 135 years ago.
Stories abound in oral histories, books, and people I meet, typically when picking up our mail at the post office. When I mention that Sue and I bought the Schoolhouse, I can almost expect a story. What impresses me most is the energy that exudes from these walls. It’s not ghosts that populate this place so much as it is the lingering resonance of scores of children, sitting, scribbling, thinking, talking, yelling, shrieking, laughing, crying, running, singing, reciting, stomping around, misbehaving, and feeling pride and the relief of graduating, growing up and moving on. And to consider all the comings and goings, every single day for so many years – the many teachers that passed through these doors – the discipline and nurturing given, the mothers and fathers dropping off and receiving their children in horse drawn wagons or automobiles. What permeates this space are not ghosts, but a reverberation of community pride and involvement. It is a bell that’s still vibrating.
Today I am typing out this essay sitting in the library next to the fireplace where I have installed a woodstove. As it ticks away, gentle waves of heat emanate from it. Outside the day is rainy, grey and cold. I imagine the hot meals served in this room, the men playing cards, and children through the door in the “big room” sitting at their desks, perhaps taking a test. The impulse Sue and I have is to honor this building and its original purpose, and bring people back here for education, music, culture, good food, and social therapy (which could possibly involve Scrabble and hard cider!).
In a couple of weeks we’ll be hosting the first of what I hope to be many public house concerts here, Pete Sutherland with his trio, Pete’s Posse. Today we are almost sold out at 60 people. I figure that will be the most people between the rafters and the floor since the 1940s – 70 years! It’ll feel good this house being used for what it was made for: folks making new memories to tell stories a generation from now. I reckon this is the language of the place, and we are learning to speak it. It sounds something like a bell ringing!