Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Regular readers might wonder about the picture above. Certainly it is not pretty, interesting or artistic like most of what I post here. But for those of us here in West Pawlet, Vermont, it's a beautiful image.
Last Winter, in the spot the picture was taken, Dutchie's store caught fire and burnt down. The two men who ran the store and lived in the apartment above it, barely escaped with their lives, and they lost two of their beloved dogs. The store, here for nearly a hundred years, was rubble and ash
This isn't just a news story of another fire. Here in Vermont, country stores are often the heart of the town. They are not just a convenient shop to pick up bread and beer. They are where people gather in the morning and talk. It's where the kids go on Halloween to show off their costumes. It's where triumph and tragedies are shared. Will and Eric, who ran the store, were a combination friend, bartender, therapist, newspaper and more to people here.
For me, a newcomer, the store was where I met people. I would often go down in the mornings and get a cup of coffee and sometimes a breakfast sandwich, and sit for an hour or so reading or writing in my journals. People would come and go and Eric or Will would introduce me, and fill me in on who was who and who was related to who and what they did. That way, I slowly came to know people in this New England town where people are wonderful, nice and kind, but in a typical New England way, also private and not prone to show up on your front porch and say "Hi!" I've made far less progress in getting to know people here since the store burned down, than I did when they were there.
At Dutchies' you could always find good conversation, on almost anything. At Dutchies, I, and my kids, have made friends, talked politics or fashion, or families, or antiques, and always felt welcome. Always. Were it not for Dutchies, I fear I would always have been just "a Virginian in Vermont". because of Dutchies, I have slowly became a Vermonter. In a town that at the time only still had the post office and Duchies still open, it was the heart of this village, and losing the store was a blow to West Pawlet's heart.
But not a fatal blow. In fact, losing the store did a lot to bring the area together. A totally grass roots fund raiser brought in over $30,000.00 towards rebuilding Dutchies. A local restaurant added a dollar to the cost of meals to help raise money. A nearby architect donated his services to design the new store. Others gave money, time and heart. That gathering together made local and state news. Other towns had lost their stores, lost their hearts, but this town was not going to let that happen.
And yesterday, the heavy equipment arrived, and began to dig out for the foundation. So this dark, muddy picture is, a picture of hope, of rebirth, of the return of heart. It will take a while, but there is a new joy here in West Pawlet, a new excitement. Our friends are coming back. Our meeting place is returning. The Phoenix is rising from the ashes.
PS - I know it's not pretty, but you can click on it if you want to see a larger version.