Hinsdale, NH: A Slice of American Life

We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life edited by David Friend

I needed to drive to Walmart in Hinsdale to pick up my husband’s prescription which required a drive down to Brattleboro and over the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. You know you’ve left Vermont when you pass the state liquor store and the fireworks shops.

At the pharmacy a seventy two year old woman used a three footed cane to navigate the shelves filled with prescription bags. She told me her sciatic was acting up. When she asked for my husband’s birthdate she said, “Oh! That’s today. Tell him I said Happy Birthday.” “Yes, he’s 59 today,” I replied. She laughed. “In my next life I’m going to be 59 forever.” I wondered what circumstances in her life had led her to a job standing on her feet all day at a Walmart Super Store at the age of 72. Did she need the money to pay the rent or the insurance deductibles or the prescriptions she needed? Whatever her circumstances, she was witty and sarcastic and making the best of her situation.

Out in the parking lot I passed a car with two flags attached to the hood. Don’t Tread on Me and the U.S. flag. The back of the car was covered with bumper stickers. Impeach Obama. Trump for President. If You can Read This You’re In Range. Make America Great Again. It’s 3 a.m. and Hillary’s Already Telling Lies.

I’d been driving to this Walmart since we moved to Vermont in May. I decided it was time to see what else Hinsdale had to offer besides Walmart, bottle rockets, and cheap booze so I left the parking lot and headed south along the Connecticut River to the center of town. On the outskirts I passed a couple of next door neighbors with opposing political points of view.

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Hinsdale Headline: A 38 year old Hinsdale man was accused of raping a 14 year old girl he knew. He locked her inside a house and tied her up before raping her. He was released on $10,000 recognizance bail due to the fact he had cooperated during the investigation and when told by the police they were ready to press charges, turned himself in. The man lived with his parents and bail is continent upon him continuing to do so.

In Vermont, most people have taken down their lawn signs now that the election is over and we are learning how to live with the results. Except for the Bernie signs and bumper stickers which are everywhere. Don’t blame me, I too voted for Bernie and feel sad and helpless every day I hear about another Trump appointment. I guarantee Bernie would not have chosen a Treasury Secretary even remotely connected to Goldman Sachs.

The population of Hinsdale is 4,046. 1,548 people live in the designated downtown area. Pisgah State Park and Wantastiquet Mountain State Forest are inside the town limits so there is some excellent hiking around here. The farmland is also described as excellent.

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Main Street Hinsdale, NH

Hinsdale Headline: A 24 year old local woman has been charged with possession of heroin with intent to sell and pleaded not guilty. Police found 130 “bindles” – small packages or bags – in the car she was traveling in. She was pulled over on Brattleboro Road (where the Walmart is located). because her drug counselor was driving eleven miles over the speed limit. The woman was sitting in the back seat and one of the police officers recognized her from a previous arrest for driving with a suspended license. A warrant has also been issued for failing to appear in court so she was asked to step out of the car, which she did while pulling 2 bindles (equivalent to 20 bags) of heroin from her bra. The police asked the driver if there were any more drugs in the car and he said he saw the woman place a large quantity in her coffee cup where allegedly the officers found an additional 110 bindles. Two more bindles were found in her purse. The driver told the police he had come to Hinsdale to pick up the woman and drive her to Connecticut to continue her rehab. She is being held on $50,000 cash bail but the court approved $30,000 personal recognizance bail if she is accepted into the Cheshire County jail’s electronic monitoring program.

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Main Street Hinsdale, NH

The media is now analyzing what went wrong with their election predictions. They blame the faulty polls, the DNC, Hillary’s emails, the FBI chief Comey, the fact people wouldn’t admit they were voting for Trump, and angry white men. They also blame each other. It was Fox. No, it was CNN. Rarely do they admit they all ignored the candidate drawing the largest crowds. Bernie Sanders. They were too busy making sure Donald Trump dominated the airwaves because he was good for business. His tweets were breaking news.

Hinsdale headline: A 50 year old man has been accused of home improvement fraud. He allegedly accepted more than $50,000 for a project located in Vermont but never did the work. The Brattleboro State Police arrested him in Townsend, VT without incident and the accused man did not post the $5,000 bail. He is currently at the correctional facility in Springfield, VT.

In 1875 George A. Long built a self-propelled steam vehicle in Hinsdale. It was referred to as the Long steam tricycle for which Mr. Long received one of the nation’s earliest automobile patents. Hinsdale was also the home of a paper mill that manufactured tissue and toilet paper.

 

The oldest continually-operating post office in the United States is also here. It was established in 1816 and is located on Main Street. A popular greyhound race track was a draw to the area but it was closed in 2008 due to competition from casinos. The facility has since been demolished.

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Post Office Hinsdale, NH

According to the website Best Places the unemployment rate in Hinsdale, NH is 2.80%. That’s damn close to full employment. Future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 37.57%. The state of New Hampshire has no sales tax or state income tax. Income per capita in Hinsdale is $24, 362 with a median household income of $48,015. The average price of a home is $150,300 but mobile homes are available for as low as $13,000. 88.4% of students graduate from high school. 43%  of students are economically disadvantaged.

Hinsdale Headline: A 37 year old Hinsdale man allegedly jumped through his neighbor’s windshield and faces four charges in connection with the incident: criminal threatening, resisting arrest, reckless conduct, and criminal mischief. Police said his behavior was due to a drug-induced psychosis brought on by “two drugs mixed into one”. The drugs he took are unknown. The incident occurred when he was walking down the street and saw his neighbor driving toward him. He sprinted at full speed toward the car and hurled himself through the windshield, landing partially in the passenger side. After being extricated from the vehicle, he started to growl and the responding police officer had to use a taser to subdue him.

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The Falls that once powered the mills. Hinsdale, NH

The only coffee shop in town appeared to be closed. Despite the neon Open sign, the shades were drawn and no cars were parked out front, so I didn’t have a chance to talk to anyone in Hinsdale. When I took a photo of the waterfall that once powered the mills that are no longer here there was only one other man walking his dog in the small public park. He stared at me in a suspicious sort of way. As I walked through the small town taking photos the rain picked up. A couple of people ran into the post office but other than that the streets were quiet. A sign in front of the Congregational Church had an ominous warning: “Watch and Get Ready. You Don’t Know When the Master Will Come.”

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Memorial for Hinsdale residents who fought America’s wars.

 

On November 8th, Hillary Clinton won Hinsdale 917 to 733 votes. Surprised? Yes, I was too. I admit when I Googled election results I expected to find Trump had won here. I’m not a politician or a public policy expert. I don’t know what Trump voters were thinking here or across America on Tuesday November 8, 2016 but I am living with the results of the election and I worry about my daughters who are just setting out on their lives as young adults in a very divided and troubled nation.

I left town heading west toward Route 91, referred to as the Heroin Highway around these parts. I am trying to find answers, trying to keep an open mind, and digging deep for empathy and understanding. I’ve visited a lot of these towns throughout America. I have seen the forgotten places and the people who are hurting. I am searching for hope in what feels like an angry, bitter world.

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Hinsdale, NH Home circa 1800’s

I Will Gladly Pay You Tomorrow: Stories From Higley Hill

The first time it happened was when my husband rented a power washer from a rental store in Brattleboro. We were finishing up the work on the new foundation. I am not sure why he needed a power washer but the next day he was busy with work and asked if I could return it. Brattleboro is a twenty-five minute drive down Hogback Mountain into the valley.

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The Tumbling Foundation

He’s not going to like me sharing this story. He cuts me off every time it comes up at a dinner party, a family gathering, or a football get together with friends.

The piece of equipment was heavy. He loaded it into the car and told me to ask the shopkeeper to help, then he gave me the rental agreement. The owner’s wife greeted me when I arrived. I told her I needed help with the power washer and she sent her husband out to get it while we dealt with the paperwork. The credit card info used as a deposit was missing. I handed her my receipt. As her husband rolled the heavy piece of equipment into the store I told her my name.

“Oh, this is the one, honey,” she said to her husband. “The guy who came in yesterday and didn’t have his wallet? Remember him?”

“Oh, yeah. How’s the foundation coming along?” he asked me.

“He didn’t have his wallet?” I shook my head. “That is so typical.”

The wife waved her hand as if swatting a fly. “He does that all the time, too.” She looked over her reading glasses at her husband.

“It’s like they’re kids,” I said. “They walk out the door assuming their parents will pay for the new sneakers and the Happy Meal.”

She nodded. “I know.” I gave her my debit card and thanked them for being so trusting.

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The house held up with cribbing

This blog is about trust in an era of mistrust, disbelief, and uncertainty.

Later in the week, my husband took a lot of the detritus from the foundation to the dump. When he came back I asked him how much it cost. Obviously, I am the one in charge of balancing the checkbook.

“Fifty dollars? I thought it was twenty-five a truck load?” I asked.

“It is but the last time I went I didn’t have my wallet with me so the guy told me I could pay him next time.”

Do you see what I’m dealing with here?

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Digging the moat to pour a new foundation

Last week, his truck battery was dead. It was the fourth time we had to jump it. “I think I need a new battery,” he said.

“Oh, you think? There’s money in the checkbook. Go get one. And bring your wallet.”

In Vermont, we often pass these old garages with junk cars out on the front lawn. The mechanics work in a barn and even do state inspections. There was a guy like this not far from here and he is also an Interstate battery dealer. He sold Rich a $150 battery for $135. Later that night while eating dinner, Rich told me he needed the checkbook. “Now what?” I asked. We’re trying to reduce our monthly nut but there’s always the endless car repairs and co-pays and other unexpected things.

“The guy I bought my battery from said he didn’t take debit cards and I had no cash in my wallet.”

We both try not to carry a lot of cash. If I take out a twenty from the ATM to go to the coffee shop, the twenty just seems to disappear. If I use my debit card it only costs me three dollars and most coffee shops I’ve been to in Vermont and other small towns offer free refills.

“He actually said his shop takes cards but HE doesn’t. I don’t think he knows how to process the card and no one else was around. He told me to stop back by today.”

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The New Foundation

 

My husband’s an honest, friendly guy but this was getting crazy. Then it happened to me. Two days after the election I went into a consignment shop and found a really nice Eddie Bauer jacket for fourteen dollars. While I was browsing the clothes racks, I eavesdropped on the owner and a friend discussing their fear and dismay over the election. The friend left and I made my way to the register. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” I said and told her about how I was still off the grid and sat in my car just across the street the night of the election with my laptop hooked up to the coffee shop wifi. “I was there until one in the morning,” I told her as I pulled out my debit card.

“Oh, we only take cash or checks.”

I of course had no cash and Rich forgot to give me the checkbook back.

“Don’t worry about it. You can pay me when you’re in town again.”

I couldn’t wait to tell Rich it had finally happened to me.

The store is closed Monday through Wednesday and I went to the Cape for a girls’ weekend. So yesterday, a full week after I bought the jacket, I stopped by the store. The owner was outside decorating the window boxes with pine branches and red berries. “Remember me? I owe you money,” I said.

“Oh, I always like the sound of that,” she said. She wiped her hands on her jeans as I followed her inside. They were sticky with sap. We got to talking about the election again, and how things were going over a week later. We both agreed we were deeply disturbed with the Bannon of Brietbart pick for chief counsel.

She told me she voted for Bernie. She also told me her son died from cancer and the hospital bills and deductibles were awful. We both shared our concerns about the Supreme Court and a woman’s right to choose. We pretty much agreed on everything, except for one thing. She finally felt comfortable enough to admit she voted for Trump. “I couldn’t do that,” I said. “I voted for her, and it wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t vote for him.”

“I understand,” she said. “I couldn’t take another four years of the same old thing. I’m scared and I hope he sticks to the economy and the jobs he promised.”

“Me too. If he starts out with that, I may be able to get some sleep. We have to hope for the best. Like it or not, he’s our president now.” Then I asked if she ever needed help in the store. After all, I’m worried about my healthcare and we need extra income. My books are selling and I hope this new one gets an agent but in the meantime we need more income.

“Yes, I can always use some help. It’s Twig season now but I have your number and I’ll call you.”

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Springtime project: Replace that Deck

And this is how it goes here in Vermont almost two weeks after the election. How are things where you are?

***Please share your stories from your communities and how you plan to get involved in the comments below. For those of you who are hesitant or afraid of the nasty rough and tumble internet world, please know this is a safe place. This is my Internet home and I am open to all viewpoints if they are presented with kindness and respect. I have the ability to block any nasty vitriol directed at me or my commenters, so please join me. My voice may be small but together we can turn up the volume.***

“I will gladly pay you tomorrow, for a hamburger today” ~ Wimpy

Peaceable Assembly: Stories From Higley Hill

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Bennington, Vermont

I had errands to do in Bennington yesterday. It was gray and cloudy but clear as I drove down Higley Hill and through the town of Wilmington, population 2,225. The fog crept in just past Lake Whitingham and as I drove alongside the Deerfield River it continued to get thicker and soggier. Both the front and back wipers were slapping time to the music on my radio as I made my ascent to the top of the Green Mountains in Searsburg, elevation 2, 198 feet. This is the home of a six megawatt wind turbine farm owned by Green Mountain Power. The state of Vermont has put clean energy at the forefront of its priorities. The state is known for its fresh air, lack of pollution, tremendous stargazing, and brilliant fall foliage. One hundred nine people live in Searsburg.

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“We Build Bridges Not Walls”

Bennington is on the New York border and is home to Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, and the Bennington Battle Monument. During the Revolutionary War John Stark and 1400 other men traveled from Charlestown, N.H. to Bennington along what is now Route 9, the road I was traveling,  to assist the Green Mountain Boys in defeating two detachments of the British army who were attempting to capture weapons and food stored where the monument now stands. It was a decisive victory for the patriots and eventually led to the surrender of the British at Saratoga, N.Y. John Stark was married to Molly and their home was a hospital for his troops. Molly acted as nurse and doctor and though she never stepped foot in Vermont her name is everywhere around here, immortalized by her husband’s patriotic spirit and his battle cry, “There are the Red Coats and the enemy are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.”

Bennington is the most populous town in Southern Vermont and third most populous in Vermont. 15,431 people live here.

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Front Porch Flag Bennington, VT

Driving through the center of town, I stumbled upon a protest taking place on the corners of Main and North. I parallel parked in front of a bakery and joined the crowd. Young and old were chanting “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.”

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Love Trumps Hate

The streets were wet but the rain was now only a drizzle. Cars tooted horns in support of the protestors. A few rolled down their windows and hollered things like, “Go Home” or “Make America Great Again.” The protesters just kept chanting. “My body. My choice.” “No hate. No fear.” So many issues to worry about now, so many freedoms at stake.

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Teach Your Children

Some parents brought their kids, sharing a lesson on lawful exercise of the 1st amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

A woman standing next to me told me the group had planned to meet in the Walmart parking lot and march from there to the center of town. Walmart told them they couldn’t assemble in their parking lot. “That’s why I boycott Walmart,” she said.

Boycotting Walmart is a tricky one for me. When we lived in Florida, my husband got his second DVT. He has a blood condition called Factor 5 Leiden. His blood is like peanut butter and clots easily. He ended up in the hospital for two days and we ended with a $1700 copay just for the room along with various other deductibles for every doctor who stepped through the door, the CAT scans, and all the rest. I’m still paying down the credit card. After he was released we drove to the drugstore to pick up the blood thinners he will need to take for the rest of his life. The bill was $450 for a three week supply. I almost fainted. The pharmacist knew we couldn’t afford this. It was a Friday night so he gave my husband three pills to get him through the weekend and told us to go to Walmart where we could get a better deal. The pharmacist at Walmart not only got us a better deal, he got my husband on a clinical trial and when he handed me the receipt we owed him three dollars. Every day in America people face these kinds of challenges and I have found most pharmacists on the front lines of soaring prescription drug costs are kind and helpful.

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“We will not be complacent in the face of oppression”

We now drive just over the border to the Walmart in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. For a long time there were no Walmarts in Vermont. The National Trust for Historic Preservation put the entire state on its list of endangered sites, citing big-box developments as a threat to its signature greenness. Now there are five with a new one opening in Derby, population 4,604. The local news reports some of the people of Derby and the surrounding small towns are happy abut the jobs. They are out of work and need the paycheck. Eleven assistant managers and two co-managers have salaried positions. Everyone else will be paid by the hour starting at a minimum wage of $9.60. I don’t know if that includes benefits but I do know it’s hard to manage on $9.60 an hour. Others are worried about what will happen to the small local businesses that are so much a part of Vermont’s economy .

Day to day life in America is complicated and difficult in many places. That’s what this election was about. Whether we make life better over the next four years is an experiment we will all be participating in. It’s hard to imagine Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will deliver on issues the Trump voters are concerned about. One of the protesters signs read “I will not be apathetic I will get involved.” I am just one small voice but I am going to try to reach out with words and share the stories I see in my corner of this deeply divided nation.

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Students Against Bigotry

***Please share your stories from your communities and how you plan to get involved in the comments below. For those of you who are hesitant or afraid of the nasty rough and tumble internet world, please know this is a safe place. This is my Internet home and I am open to all viewpoints if they are presented with kindness and respect. I have the ability to block any nasty vitriol directed at me or my commenters, so please join me. My voice may be small but together we can turn up the volume.***

“Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.” – Michael Moore

Back on the Grid: Stories From Higley Hill

The outside world came into my house last Thursday. It was delivered by two very handsome young men. One guy looked like Ray LaMontagne. If you don’t know who he is you can watch this video.  That song played in my head quite frequently while I wrote Life Is All This. After last Tuesday night, the line “yesterday is gone, yesterday is dead, get it through your head and walk away” now haunts me in a different way, but I digress.

The other cable guy had shoulder length dark hair along with dark almost black eyes and looked like a Native American I wouldn’t mind sharing a teepee with. We were supposed to get cable on Wednesday. The day after the election seemed like perfect timing. I had missed the ugly non-stop political discourse provided by organizations calling themselves the news. But now I was wary. Did I really want 24/7 news access? I had become comfortable with my wifi coffee shop routine and my barstool at the Saloon and the best parking spot outside the town hall. Home was a sanctuary. A news free zone.

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The sunset view from Higley Hill

On Wednesday, I was given a reprieve. It was raining. Duncan, the guy who owns a mountaintop and provides our local cable and fiber optic wifi connection, doesn’t do installations when it’s raining. They rescheduled us for Wednesday.

Wednesday’s cable guy was close to my age and very helpful. He works alone and started at a telephone pole across Higley Hill in front of the Trump supporter’s house then moved his truck to a logging road that runs along the stone wall that marks the end of our ten acres and climbed another pole. My husband picked up a new skill by helping with traffic control. He can now add this to his resume and work for the highway department if all those infrastructure projects Trump is promising come through. You know – the ones the Republicans wouldn’t approve when Obama tried to do it during the Recession.

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Rich helping out Wilmington, VT

Either way, with the future so uncertain we will need to be prepared for anything. My husband has a lot of survivor skills too. Things like how to start a fire, make a lean-to for shelter, and forage for nuts and berries. I’ve always said if I was ever on the show I would want to be on his team.

Everything was hooked up and ready to go but there was some kind of problem with the wiring in our basement. The cable guy said his son would come back on Thursday. “Ray Lamontagne” is apparently the expert on wiring complications.

There was something very stabilizing and comforting about people doing their jobs while the world imploded. Vermont is a different kind of place, and I’ll be writing more about that, but I knew it was happening everywhere. Americans were going about their everyday lives because they had bills to pay, food to put on the table, kids to get to school. Thinking about that made me calm and nervous all at the same time.

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Working Americans Brattleboro, VT

Our schools are a mess. Twice this week I spoke to teachers who told me about a shortage of special education aides and classes filled with kids who have IEP’s (Individual Education Plans if you’re not familiar with the lingo). It’s hard to manage a class with kids who act up or need special attention. The kids who only need a decent education often get lost in the shuffle. I have no idea what will happen to public education over the next four years.

Then there’s healthcare. I can’t go there. Yet. I’ll cross that bridge soon enough. I am almost certain I along with 20 million other Americans will be losing health insurance. I always knew the consequences of this election. I am a left wing liberal who has been living, working, and traveling through rural America these past few years. A college graduate who became a self employed bookkeeper-an entrepreneur as both sides of the aisle like to refer us-who late in life found herself making thirteen dollars an hour as a temp in South Florida and being asked to provide financial statements for a million dollar bank loan. My husband paints houses for a living and my kids have college loans. I’ve straddled both worlds, the left wing liberal living the blue collar life, and I understand the anger and frustration. I also realize by saying this that in the candidate of Hillary Clinton I no longer saw the Democrats as the party of working people but of Wall Street. So this all came as no surprise to me. I was for Bernie. Social justice and equality for all are non-negotiable for me, so in the end I voted for her. But again, I’m rambling. It’s hard not to.

“Ray” came back up from the basement and fiddled with the TV. He asked for the remote. I told him when we moved from the Inn I packed everything but the TV and somehow my husband lost the remote.

“Oh, I’ve lost a few myself. That’s okay.” What is with guys and the remote? He reached behind the TV and Pop! there it was. We were on Fox and someone was gloating and talking about how Hillary blew it.

“Yo!” Ray shouted, and changed the channel. I have to admit he was a very nice distraction. I also thought I might want to cancel the cable, or was it too late?

We left the house and the new cable connection on Friday for the Cape. I was going on a girls weekend and my husband had some work to do for a friend. This week has been full of endless discussions, text messages, and debates with friends and family about how did it happen and whose fault is it. I was exhausted and depressed. Wine, female friends, a massage, early Christmas shopping, and a trip to an art gallery were just what I needed.

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And Then Beside Me at the Cahoon Museum of Art Cotuit, MA

Question. Did anyone notice the lack of lawn signs and bumper stickers or am I the only one who picked up on this? A few Trump signs came out about a month before the election.  I saw far fewer Hillary signs and I didn’t see many bumper stickers on either side of the divide. Here in Vermont I did see cars with Bernie peeking out the back window which said Don’t Blame Me. I voted for Bernie. I need to get two of these. The Trump lawn signs were all over rural Rhode Island, a blue state that went for Bernie then Hillary. The Vermont signs were prevalent west of Brattleboro where the houses have peeling paint. Abandoned cars , beat-up old RV’s, and tractors are a part of the landscape.

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Along Route 9 in West Brattleboro, MA

Michael Moore was right. This election was about a revolution, a molotov cocktail thrown in revolt of income inequality, bankers who never got prosecuted, stagnant wages, and loss of jobs. A primal scream that shouted Listen to Me.

You can’t run a democracy and tell the citizens to eat cake. A vote is a powerful weapon, and the white middle class hurled it. Bernie was screaming the same thing and I wanted a revolution too but the Democrats didn’t listen. They picked their candidate from the very start and she was the wrong woman at the wrong time in history. Much of my anger is leaning in their direction. I am now a woman without a party.

Sadly, I am now also a woman with TV again. We got home in time to catch the Patriots game on Sunday night. They lost to the Seahawks. Monday we turned on the news. The weather forecast was good to have again. Old Man Winter is knocking on the door and my husband and I had decided it wasn’t enough to just look out the window and see if it was snowing. Here in Vermont we need to load up the wood inside the house, make sure the batteries in the flashlights are working, and the fridge is full.

I did miss Charlie, Norah, and Gail. This morning the news of Stephen Bannon from Breitbart news as chief White House counsel made me sick to my stomach but the CBS morning team is running a segment called A More Perfect Union and this morning the Pushy Moms  gave me a great idea. I too can help kids apply to college. After all, I helped my kids get scholarships and financial aid. What will happen to financial aid I do not know. There are so many things I do not know going forward and I think a lot of Trump voters are in for some major disappointments. It’s unfortunate the rest of us will be sharing that disappointment. Anyway, my kids wrote killer college essays but some kids might need help with that and I am a writer.

The real Ray Lamontagne was writing a love song. It is true yesterday is gone but this is no time to walk away. Our communities are going to need us and we need to pitch in. Step up to the plate. It’s amazing how many sports analogies relate to life. One thing that needs to end is the media treating politics like a blood sport.

Besides the Democratic elite, I am mad at the media. I expect to see real news from here on out, especially after I got that so-called apology letter from the NY Times. Going forward, I want explanations on how Trump’s proposals will effect average Americans, the middle class who voted for him, and I want it explained clearly. I was an economics major and a tax preparer. Not everyone understands the implications but it’s the media’s job to explain it in clear, unbiased language. Just the facts. If we are pitching in and stepping up to the plate, the media needs to do their part. One thing that needs to end is the pundits treating politics like a sport. When “Ray” shouted “yo” and changed the channel on my resurrected TV that’s what we were receiving over my new cable line. A shouting match of he said, she said. Nothing to do with anything of consequence.

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Ten Houses For Every Hobo Brattleboro, VT

Even one of my favorite writers, Timothy Egan, disappointed me the other day when he wrote this: When Trump tries to ignore the provisions of a global accord to curb climate change, and charts a path for the United States as a rogue nation, the resistance will come from the millions of young Americans who found a voice in old Bernie Sanders.

Throughout the primaries the New York Times never just wrote Bernie Sanders, if when and when they wrote of Bernie which was rarely. It was always the socialist democrat Bernie Sanders. His campaign was repeatedly described as quixotic. And here we are now hoping for a resistance led by young people who found a voice in OLD Bernie. Tim Egan needs to read Stephen King’s On Writing. Adjectives like that are misleading clutter. Come on, even I know that.

Okay. I have to put it behind me. The definition of liberal is forward thinking, enlightened, reformist, favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms, tolerant, and open-minded. More than ever these qualities are being put to the test. Whether I like it or not, Trump is going to be my president. If I can find a silver lining, he did say some of the same things Bernie said about jobs and a rigged system.

We have to get out there and keep fighting. We have to hope for the best and protest the worst.

As my character Sam Ryder says in Life is All This, “I am a writer. I have a voice.” And there was this:

In Sam’s mind, politics had real life consequences. As the presidential election of 2004 reached its fever pitch, he felt swift boated from all sides by people who didn’t like him and his loved ones. He was worried about his son living in a world where it was okay to use real people, someone’s dearly loved child, as a political pawn to garner votes from the intolerant base. And what about his brother Joe, injured on a swift boat in the Mekong Delta? Intolerance was everywhere and it cut like a knife through the heart of his family.” ~ Life Is All This, Sheila Blanchette

Well, here are. We need to be vigilant. Each and everyone of us need to shut off the TV and get active. We need to reach out and help those in need, whoever they voted for. Politics has consequences and we are all about to learn that lesson the hard way.

Twig Season, Election 2016: Stories From Higley Hill

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. Since we all found out the election results, I’m trying not to say the sentence that begins with “I told you….”

So.

Two years ago I was living in Florida working for a nice looking man, a very kind man, who ran a drywall company and was working on the project to build the new international terminal at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I was his bookkeeper and we had sixteen guys with green cards on the payroll. They were from Guatemala and Mexico. He paid them well and when the airport wouldn’t provide enough buses to get the workers from the employee parking lot to the construction site, he rented one of his own for his crew.

“They work a long, hard day. They don’t deserve to be waiting around for another hour.”

I respected him for that, despite the fact we argued about affordable healthcare and he told me if he got to twenty or more workers he would close down his business because he couldn’t afford to give them the healthcare required by the ACA. We argued about politics just about every day. From the minute I interviewed with him and told him I had written articles for the Huffington Post, he called me his liberal bookkeeper. My first day at my desk I changed my computer’s homepage from the Drudge Report to Pandora. Our constant banter was respectful but intense. We knew when to drop the subject and get back to work. My husband and I spent Christmas Eve at his backyard pool party in Pompano Beach and I tutored his son. He was one of the nicest guys I ever kept books for and last I spoke to him via email he was voting for Trump.

When we moved to Connecticut to run the inn, we lived in a corner of the state where jobs left long ago and heroin is a growing problem. I’ve driven through so many of these New England/Upstate New York towns I’ve lost track. A lot of what I saw ended up in the novel I have finished. Just back from California, Nevada, and Utah, I can tell you it’s like this all across rural America. All you have to do is open your eyes and pay attention.

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Wilmington, Vermont

The primaries took place while I was living in Connecticut and I voted for Bernie. It was his economic message that spoke to me because I’m as angry as anyone out there. All my working life I’ve struggled with securing affordable healthcare, sending my kids to college, and paying the bills. My husband is a self-employed house painter and the burden to obtain decent benefits has always fallen on my shoulders.

After we moved to Vermont, registering to vote here was easy. I did it online one night while I was visiting my daughter in Lake Tahoe. They just needed my address, social security number, and where I was previously registered to vote. The next morning I got an email. “Congratulations! You’re registered to vote in Vermont.” If only it were that easy everywhere. Unfortunately, after yesterday, it will most likely get worse not better.

So. Yesterday.

I drove down Higley Hill to the parking lot of the Twin Valley Elementary School. I was there to do my civic duty. I sat in the car for quite awhile, not because I couldn’t decide. Of course I was voting for her. But I was reluctant. It didn’t feel like democracy was working for me, for we the people. The media (and the DNC) dismissed Bernie and coronated Hillary from the very start of the primaries. The cable news shows gave Trump all the air in the room. The American Dream is a nightmare for many or just simply a dream that ends when you wake up and can barely remember what it was you dreamed about. A lot of things need fixing, not the least of which is how we get our news. Like the guy I worked for in Florida who wanted to do right by his employees but couldn’t figure out how a small business that was just making a comeback from the recession that hit the Florida building industry hard could afford to provide health insurance to twenty employees. Where were the round table discussions about that? Where was the news he could use?

I finally got out of the car. The line to vote was short. No one stood outside holding signs, no candidates arrived for a last minute sales pitch. I wondered if maybe this is a Vermont thing.

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Wilmington, Vermont

My ballot had more choices than I was used to. The Liberty Union party is very active here. A guy from the American Marijuana party was running for U.S. senate but I voted for Patrick Leahy. When you live in a small state like Vermont seniority on those Senate committees matters but it felt good to see democracy is alive and well in the Green Mountain state. Later that night, when we lost the Senate, I wished I’d thrown my vote to the American Marijuana party. I could use a few ounces right about now.

The guy who checked in behind me said, “You now live in a state no one pays attention to”. I told him Vermont is no different from anywhere else. Since when do politicians listen to We the People. He nodded in agreement. I wondered if he was voting for Trump. After my last comment he probably thought I was voting for him. A lot of this speculation would take place over the coming days.

A guy five voters ahead of me had trouble with the machine you slide your ballot into. He’d already chatted it up with the ladies who sign you out about some surgery he’d just had and trouble with high insurance deductibles. Pays No Attention to Us fidgeted impatiently and said, “Well see that, you can tell people you had to wait in a long line, even in Vermont.”

Walking back to our cars he said, “Too bad they don’t teach civics anymore. I don’t see a lot of young kids out here voting.” I told him my Dad taught civics and U.S. history. “Then you know what you’re supposed to do.”

Yes, I do and I did it, reluctantly. Once again, I sat in the car feeling eerie and nervous. I posted a few of the above paragraphs to Instagram. I watched a Mom walk towards the polls with her two young daughters, teaching her own civics lesson. The lesson girls can also grow up to be President. The radio ominously played a bluesy tune that opened with “We get what we deserve” and the chorus repeated “They knock you down until you can’t get up.”

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Mount Snow, Vermont

Around 10:00 pm I started getting a lot of panicked text messages. My wifi hookup was scheduled for the day after the election. I’m finally getting back on the grid and I thought I’d made it through the election circus without the media hype. I had company for dinner and had a few glasses of wine but the texts sobered me up so I put on my slippers and made the drive down Higley Hill to the empty town of Wilmington where all the bars are closed for twig season. I needed to find out what the hell was going on although the possibility had been in the back of my mind all day. I parked in front of the coffee shop, got on their wifi, and watched the unfolding news everyone was texting me about. I knew this was an election about anger but I had put mine aside and voted for her and now here I was at one fifteen in the morning on an empty Main Street in rural Vermont watching the world fall apart. A few semis roared by so at least commerce was still alive and well.

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Election night 1 a.m. Main Street Wilmington, VT

My husband woke up when I got home and I told him the news. “We’ll be okay,” he said. He’s a blue collar guy with a minuscule 401k that I should have moved somewhere safer and he’s never voted for a Republican. Yesterday he voted for Hillary. Something we need to remember in the coming days, not all white, blue collar guys are bigots, bozos, and gun-toting nuts. Stereotyping can’t be trusted and neither can polls.

Today everyone was pointing fingers. The media says rural America won this election for Trump. I’m a lowly blogger and Indie author who’s been writing about the middle class and rural America for quite some time, not a NY Times op-ed writer or a TV pundit, but I saw that coming over a year ago when I drove through towns like Woonsocket, Torrington, Pawtucket, Worcester, Brattleboro, even the ride up Higley Hill to my house.

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Front Yard on Higley Hill, Vermont

The media needs to point the finger back at themselves. They are a major culprit here. Reporters who commute from Manhattan to D.C. and collect six figure incomes had their heads in the sand. Do they ever get off the beltway and sit in a bar somewhere, anywhere, in America to register the pulse of the average American? I heard one newswoman say she doesn’t usually like anecdotal stories because she doesn’t think they reveal the big news stories. I work as a bookkeeper for money and share plenty of anecdotal stories for free, and even I know the truth is in the details.

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Providence, R.I.

This was a change election and Hillary was the wrong woman for the times. I argued this on girls weekends, at dinner parties, and on social media but you know how that goes. It wasn’t about ISIS or terrorism. It was about the economy and income equality, stagnant wages, jobs leaving the country, the cost of a college education. I still do believe Bernie could have beat Trump and it hurts, it really hurts. I’d like to contact that guy who called me a BernieBot on Facebook and tell him to go to hell.

We woke to heavy rain and the cable company called to say they’d have to install the wifi on Wednesday. Once again I drove down Higley Hill to see if anything had changed since one o’clock this morning. My phone dinged the entire drive down so I knew we were going to have to get used to the idea of President Trump.

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Pine Plains, New York

My favorite coffee shop was closed for Twig Season so I thought about going to the Cup and Saucer. The parking lot was filled with large pickup trucks. I walked to the door then hesitated. Here I was, stereotyping working guys like my husband. Come on, this is Vermont I told myself. Then I remembered the guy across the street from my house. The guy with the four Trump signs across the front yard, two of which went missing Halloween night. So I got back in the car and drove into town.

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Higley Hill, Vermont

At Dot’s diner there were a lot of somber faces at the counter and the tears in an old lady’s eyes at one of the booths told me if someone started up a conversation I’d be okay here. ESPN was playing on the TV but an array of newspapers with the headline TRUMP WINS were scattered across the counter.

The waitress told me she had a hard time explaining all this to her eight year old daughter this morning. A middle aged man said, “They shouldn’t have ignored, Bernie. Goddamn media and Debbie Wasser whatever her name is.” A very quiet old man with a long beard wearing a flannel shirt, dirty jeans, and work boots sat between us, looking from one side to the other as we commiserated. He was squinting and I tried to figure out where he might be coming from, until he looked me in the eye, and asked, “Are you telling me Trump’s our president?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I wouldn’t blame him,” I said. The guy to his right laughed.

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West Brattleboro, Vermont

I’m back at home, in the recliner by the wood stove trying to take a nap but sleep is elusive. My husband said we’ll survive. The house is paid for, there’s food in the freezer, a large woodpile outside, and ten acres of hard wood if we need more. He’s got work and I do too, for the winter. The 401K would have got us through two years, if we were frugal. Health insurance is another story but we’ve been here before.

The highlights lead to links of blogs I wrote throughout the election season. The tattered flag series is on Instagram along with pictures of rural America from Winnemucca, Nevada to Woonsocket, Rhode Island. I don’t need a six figure income, just a living wage, a reliable car, and an expense account. I like to eat in diners and order inexpensive apps at a bar. It’s where you meet people so my food budget won’t be much. I’ll buy my own drinks. I’ll travel anywhere and everywhere there are struggling Americans with anecdotes to share. Oh, and health insurance. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need health insurance. Consider this my job application. Hungry writer who knows a small anecdote reveals a bigger story and isn’t afraid to write it. I work for myself and write with eyes wide open. No filters or corporate sponsors. My contact info’s to your right.

“Education is the anvil on which democracy is forged.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

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Winnemucca, Nevada

THE WRITING LIFE: Stories From Higley Hill

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First Snow 2016 at Haystack Mountain, Vermont

Last night a howling wind came across Higley Hill. Snow flurries quickly followed but stayed only long enough to accompany us down the hill to the Valley Market where we picked up some lemon seltzer for the vodka and a bottle of chardonnay. If it was going to snow we needed supplies.

The fire in the Defiant wood stove was roaring. A beef stew simmered on the kitchen stove and there was a ciabatta bread in the oven. The lights only flickered a couple of times. We’re still without cable but we’re on the list for fiber optic wifi with Duncan, a local company in town. Duncan owns mountaintop land and has set up satellites. The locals say the service is good, fast, reliable, and cheaper than Comcast. We’re starting with just wifi and our smart TV. The lack of the Golf Channel presents a bit of a problem. When we lived in Florida and at the inn in Connecticut, my husband couldn’t survive without it. He says he’s learned everything he can from watching other people play golf. Now he just needs to golf more, and he did, late afternoons after work, all summer long and into the fall. He’s closing in on par.

While he golfed and worked, I finished a fourth novel, living what some people call the writing life. Bloggers on the Internet use this expression a lot lately. Writers on Instagram use it as a hashtag, #thewritinglife. I heard it mentioned several times at a literary festival I attended in Brattleboro last weekend. It sounds pretentious to me and although I have occasionally used the hashtag I feel awkward saying it out loud. My writing life. All the years I worked in bookkeeping I never referred to it as my bookkeeping life.

Looking back, it seems I was preparing for this so-called writing life. During the years spent crunching numbers on a calculator I accumulated characters, dialogue, and places, unaware of the fact I was preparing to exchange one keyboard for another.

Richard Ford was once asked about the raw material in his notebooks.

”What’s more interesting is what I do with it. A sentence in my notebook will come at a place where I never imagined it. And that’s really what writing is for me, taking the raw stuff and recasting it into a logic that is its own. Taking lines which maybe have occurred in life in one context, and then creating another context for them.’’

I have been observing people and places, and recording conversations all my life. I had so many different bookkeeping clients over the years. The cast of characters were the only thing that got me through the monotony of my days. I’ve worked for construction guys, a seafood restaurant on Rye Beach NH, and a vape shop in Pompano Beach FL. There was the costume jewelry wholesaler near Filene’s basement in Boston, an art gallery on Newbury Street, a tree removal guy in Brookline whose office walls were covered with Scientology quotes, and in Boca Raton, a flashy attractive young couple who owned a marketing company. When they argued they always spoke to each other in Hebrew. It was there that I had some trouble learning Quickbooks on the Cloud. I was already proficient in Quickbooks and that was good enough to pay the bills. I sensed they were arguing about me and my incompetence with working on the Cloud. She was very impatient and clearly the one in charge. Little did she know, I was working on my third novel, Life Is All This. My thoughts were lost in another cloud and I had reached a point in my bookkeeping life where I had no desire to learn Quickbooks on the Cloud.

They eventually called the temp agency and asked them to send over someone who knew what they were doing. There was a lot of work for a hungry bookkeeper in Boca and the surrounding towns but by then I was surviving on words. Surviving spiritually, not financially, so I continued to take temp jobs and did learn a new tax preparation program while working with two women CPA’s in West Palm Beach. What I took from that job was not the new bookkeeping skill I acquired but the way the younger woman was all nerves and jumpy jitters. Each day the three of us would eat lunch together in the conference room and she would do most of the talking while slicing and dicing her salad with a knife and fork then tossing the chopped up mess. While she chattered, her silverware moved like a conductor directing an orchestra. She never finished her salad. It was more like a prop or a receptacle for her nervous energy. She’s in my notebook now, waiting to appear in a story I have yet to imagine.

I also got a blog out of the tax season I spent with the CPAs in West Palm. It sprang from a boring afternoon spent creating a travel log on an Excel spreadsheet for a truck driver who brought us a shoebox of gas receipts and slips of paper he had kept his destinations and mileage on. The blog was really more about me and my fascination with driving the open road than about him. I never met the guy, just spent an afternoon sitting at a desk imagining traveling with him across the country in his eighteen wheeler.

I’ll share a writer’s secret with you. If you have read Life Is All This, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I hope this sparks your curiosity enough to buy the book and read it. Not all of my stories start with overheard conversations. Most are pure fiction but some are torn from the pages of real life. The opening scene in Life Is All This? The truck driver named Levon and the midnight ride from Houston to Galveston? That was my story and I gave it to Sam Ryder. It was a scene I didn’t need to write in my notebook. I’ve carried it with me for thirty years and to this day “(I can) still recall the reckless feeling of driving the big rig through the dark Texas night and hopping out of the cab in the early morning light at a truck stop behind a gas station; streetlights flickering, cows mooing in a truck nearby, hazy shades of pink, yellow, and blue enhanced by the smog on the horizon.”

There was another story at the end of The Reverse Commute, an accident that happens at a company picnic and changes the course of two of the characters lives. In an Amazon review, one of my critics thought the ending was contrived. I wish that were so. I witnessed that accident and saw someone die that day. It changed the course of my life. A year later I finished a novel that was based on my time working in a cubicle and the accident that led to the end of my full-time bookkeeping career. If you can call it a career. From where I sat, it was always just a job that paid the bills and provided health insurance but it was also a reminder that truth is often stranger and more tragic than fiction. I’d like to tell the reviewer that but authors are encouraged not to respond to negative reviews.

As a reader I don’t often think much about the author of a fictional novel. I know John Irving lived in Exeter, New Hampshire as I did for twenty-three years. I realize some of the things he writes are autobiographical but most of it is fanciful fiction.

My stories are tales of  middle class life in America. I gather the raw material from barstools, lines at grocery stores, gas stations – for some reason I’ve written several gas station blogs – and the cast of characters I’ve met in the various places I’ve worked. My resume is long and I’ve kept a lot of people’s books. I’ve also kept their stories. They reside in my notebooks waiting to be recast “into a logic of their own.”

The fourth novel is in the hands of two of my best readers. I don’t know what to do with myself now. I know I have to go through that list of literary agents I’ve compiled. Who will pluck me from the slush pile, for that is where my novel will land after I send it off through the Internet ether. I don’t have a friend or mentor in publishing to put in a good word for me. I am lacking relatives who work in the publishing business and Ivy League connections, which if you happen to look through a list of traditionally published authors that pedigree will show where the keys to the door are. It’s a rough business. You need someone to lend a helping hand. Yet writers are discovered in the slush pile every now and then, so this winter that is where you’ll find me.

I finally see myself as a writer, and in some ways I see myself living a writing life but there are still bills to pay while I wait to get ‘discovered’. In the meantime, I’ve been offered a job turning over condos during the ski season. It will put my housekeeping skills to good use. The skills I honed over the course of a year I spent as an innkeeper at a manor house in Northwest Connecticut.

That’s not to say if I don’t succeed you won’t ever see my latest book. I believe it’s an important story and publishing on my own is one of the many skills I’ve acquired over this ragtag life of work I’ve been keeping for many years now.

I am no longer just the keeper of the stories. I am now addicted to writing and sharing the stories. In the meantime I am here in Vermont, off the grid, living my so called writing life. To quote Richard Ford once again, “Writers are all doing the same thing. You are doing what Chekhov did.” And I suppose I am also doing what Ford is doing. All Amazon reviews aren’t critical. There was some unknown to me reviewer who compared me to the esteemed Mr. Ford, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and through her I found his books and his sage advice. All of it keeps me writing against the odds.