Sharing My Confusion: Stories From The Road

Jack Kerouac once took a famous road trip and had this to say about it: “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Back at home on Higley Hill after over two weeks on the road I think I know what Kerouac meant. Or at least I know some of the questions, not the answers. I too have nothing to offer you but my own confusion.

I sat down to write this blog numerous times since I’ve been home. There were lessons to learn from the road. There always are. Travel for me is new experiences, new places, and meeting people who live different lives and have different points of view. On this particular trip it was the points of view that tripped me up. I can’t find the words to explain the meaning of all I saw and what, if anything, I learned.

A lot of the places we traveled from and to are rural places. Communities where nothing much happens but what did happen in November 2016 changed America into a place I no longer recognize. A place that induces anxiety and anger on many mornings when I wake to the relentless stream of bad news coming out of Washington.

I started this story on Instagram where I share short stories along with pictures. I’m including a few of the posts throughout this blog. I have never experienced writer’s block in my writing career – if you can call something you spend hours doing for little pay and often a lot of overtime a career. But at the moment my thoughts are confused. I can’t find the meaning of the journey.

Then I found these words from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

That led me back to the photos and the words I shared on the trip. They are a map across the landscape of my memories and a guide book to help figure out what it all meant.

#roadtrip #theroadislife

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We were not setting off on a ski vacation, exploring a foreign country, or headed to a beach resort, although we have taken those sort of vacations before and enjoyed them. On this trip our only goals were a change of scenery, sunshine, and warmer weather. We had nothing much else in mind.

We took the road less traveled by heading west toward Albany through upstate New York, then south into Pennsylvania. We were avoiding the Northeast corridor which is one long traffic jam with very few scenic vistas.

The scenery through New York and into Pennsylvania was farmland. Cows and silos, large agribusinesses and tumbling down barns. This is a trucker’s route and sometimes we got caught up in a convoy as we passed through the cities of Scranton, Wilkes Barre, and Allentown, where we discussed Billy Joel and I hunted for a tape of his in my box of music.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound The grass is green in Hershey, PA. We passed through Pennsylvania coal country. Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Allentown, Frackville. There were miles of windmills along the ridge off in the distance which contradicts the promise of coal making a comeback in this part of the country. We see lots of signs demanding the installation of safe gas pipelines. And then there are the Jesus and pro-life bumper stickers. We shared the $5 Subway sandwich of the day at a gas station in Harrisburg – ham with pickles, and at another gas station in some other burg I had a craving for a Klondike bar. #roadtrip #theroadgoesonforever #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #anamericantune #theroadislife

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The following morning in Lexington, Virginia, just north of Roanoke, we woke to blue sky and unfamiliar flowering trees. I have been here so many times before; a motel parking lot, crisp early morning air, car windows wet with dew, license plates from across the nation. On this particular morning we were at the crossroads of three major highways offering choices and options. A cluster of economy hotels, chain restaurants, and gas stations planted in an otherwise bucolic setting along America’s Interstate Highway System.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, signed the Federal Highway act in 1956, a year before I was born. It is forty-one thousand miles of highway meant to eliminate unsafe roads and traffic jams, and speed up travel and commerce. Advocates of the highway project made the argument that the roads would facilitate quick evacuations in the event of an atomic attack on our major cities and this bill was essential to our national security.

Apparently fear has always worked with the American voting public. However, I am grateful to Eisenhower for these highways and also to Lady Bird Johnson, a Democrat who as First Lady took on the cause of highway beautification. Over the years I have traveled to forty-five states. Although many of Lady Bird’s flowers are gone now, we came across red tulips and blue bachelor’s buttons planted along the medians of South Carolina’s highways.

History is a part of our American story. I learned this lesson when I was very young when my Dad, the U.S. history teacher, took us on historical vacations across America. One thing I gleaned on my current road trip is that Americans have lost a sense of their shared history. They no longer know what the fight was all about during the American Revolution. The Constitution means different things to different people, particularly politicians and their wealthy donors with personal agendas. As I watch President Trump and his cabinet undo everything I and my forebears have ever fought for my heart aches.

In Dothan, Alabama we stumbled upon the first of three mural cities. We found them in a neglected, rundown part of town. No one knew about them anymore. It was a metaphor for American history itself.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute We are driving north into Alabama then east into South Georgia. There are miles of cow farms and freshly tilled fields of reddish brown dirt. I keep noticing billboards advertising The Mural City. It is Dothan, Alabama – the largest town we will drive through on our trip to the pecan farm. The billboards are faded and peeling but I assume the murals must still be there. We drive along the main drag that could be anywhere America. Home Depot, McDonalds, but we know we're in the south because there's Popeyes and a farm stand selling Mayhew jelly. We don't know what that is but we saw small signs planted in the grass all along the route for that and Gator jerky. Gator heads too! Rich pulls over to check the Map. I run in the Howard Johnson's to ask about the murals. The woman at the desk has never heard of them but she thinks they must be in the historic district. She gives me directions. #muralcity #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #smalltownamerica #thestoryofamericain2017 #dividednation #roadtrip #theroadislife #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Historic Dothan, Alabama reminded me of so many small rural towns I have driven through and written about throughout New England and upstate New York. Hoosick Falls, Hinsdale, Woonsocket, Winsted. Empty buildings, lack of jobs. The industries that once made these towns prosperous are gone now. Some of them were the same here as in Apalachicola where we were just a few days ago. The murals paid tribute to them. Turpentine, cotton, lumber. In The northeast it was textiles, jewelry, furniture, clocks. Different places, the same problems. Why are we such a #dividednation? #muralcity #streetart #publicart #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #smalltownamerica #theroadislife

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In Lake Wylie, South Carolina, there was this wonderful evening:

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Last night in Lake Wylie, SC I met with a wonderful group of women at their book club and read from my third novel Life Is All This. There are so many stereotypes and pre- conceived opinions in America but in this room last night the author from Vermont and the book lovers from Carolina had so many things in common from our kids to our worries about retirement and the whole world in general. Thank you Kim, the evening's hostess. And thanks to my friend Cindy for making the evening happen. I will return when my fourth novel is ready, however I get it out there. #bookclubs #newfriends #readabook #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #lifeisallthis #theroadislife

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I will admit I was nervous about attending the book club, a northern leftist liberal in a room full of Southern readers, but these wonderful, friendly women embraced me with open arms. They even asked me what they could do to help. “Just read the books,” I said. “And if you like them write a review on Amazon. Reviews really matter.”

I bumped into a man name Felix numerous times throughout a day spent exploring the historic town of San Fernandina, Florida while my husband and his childhood friend, Peter, played a round of golf. Felix’s persistence despite obstacles made me smile.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound This is Felix riding off on his bike from which he sells boiled peanuts. We bumped into each other several times today as I walked the streets and he sold his peanuts. He walks with a limp that causes him to rock and sway as he pops into Nana Teresa's Bake Shop where I had a cup of coffee and a cheese Danish. We ran into each other again at Florida's oldest bar, The Palace Saloon with the coca-cola sign, where I poked my head in the open door to check it out for the possibility of a nightcap after dinner tonight. Shandel, the woman who drives the complimentary van from the Residence Inn to town, told me Felix is a fixture here in Fernandina with his jaunty straw hat and colorful Mardi Gras beads. I'm glad I met him. #floridalife #theroadgoesonforever #smalltownusa #southerntowns #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wemadeit #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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When Rich and I travel without definite plans, we just get in the car and drive. We open ourselves up to the unexpected. On this trip we learned about the dwindling longleaf pine forests.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute This is how life happens sometimes. You meet some people you hit it off with. Your kids are dating or whatever. You keep in touch. You spend some time together. You share things in common like a love of the outdoors, rural landscapes, and ecology. You watch a documentary about #longleafpines. A few days later you find yourself driving along dirt roads in rural Georgia through a carbon forest of these dwindling burnt bark trees dwelling in an endangered ecosystem that now fascinates you. There is something about coincidence, fate, and landscape that has always fascinated me. Who you meet, where life takes you, and how some grand design makes it all happen. A lot of it has to do with choices and your own relationship with risk. But there is always the randomness of the universe that writes the story if you read between the lines. Down in the garage where we drink and play pool each night the walls are covered with license plates, family photos, old signs, and this quote from Pat Conroy: "Entering Charleston is like walking through the brilliant carbon forest of a diamond with the light dazzling you in a thousand ways, an assault of light and shadow caused by light." #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #ruralamerica #patconroy #theroadislife

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When you open yourself up to the unplanned adventure you never know what might happen. One morning we ended up on a hog hunt at our friend’s pecan farm in South Georgia. Something I never imagined myself doing.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Hog Hunting: It was a dark cloudless night with more stars than I'd ever laid eyes on. No mountains to shrink the view. Just a flat endless canvas where I was able to clearly identify Canis Major, Orion's loyal dog. Ron had a constellation map that helped us find Leo the Lion. A hog hunter thought he might be able to come by tonight but something else came up so we were out driving in the dark to back fields where a man named Loren had spotted the #wildhogs the other night. As we bounced along the dirt roads and open fields I stuck my head out the window. The trees blurred past, wind blew through my hair, and a few shooting stars passed overhead. I felt wild and free and young. We wouldn't find the hogs until the next morning. #stargazing #hoghunting #southgeorgia #pecanfarm #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The #hoghunt ended in a hollow of large boulders, yellow brown rocks excavated from the loamy soil of South Georgia. The dogs followed them right in. Cindy and I heard the hogs' loud squeals and stayed in the truck. Later, after the hunt, Rich said a gun would have been less gruesome. But he thought it had something to do with the safety of the dogs who are used to first chase the #hogs down, then corner them where they sieze the hog by the ear to control them until the hunter arrives with his knife. Brandon told us hog hunting has been going on for centuries. Nationwide, wild boars and feral pigs are a menace to farm crops and the timber industry. They are also a menace to the environment. Their rooting and wallowing causes runoffs and contributes to the pollution of drinking water. Because they breed amazingly quickly and have no natural predators a group of hogs can easily overrun a small #pecanfarm like the one we were visiting in no time at all. At the end of the hunt everyone's adrenaline was pumping. Who needs coffee when you a start a day like this? Brandon said, "Once you do it a few times you're addicted." In my case, and I think I can speak for Rich too, that wouldn't be true. But it was certainly eye opening and there has to be something to learn here about other ways of life. #lessonsfromtheroad #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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I will admit I expected to see a lot of Trump support in the form of bumper stickers and lawn signs and yes, it was there.

Stories From the Road: Florida Bound We passed this truck driving through Tallahassee traffic. Two women in a Nissan were driving behind the Frito Lay delivery truck with potato chips dancing on the side of the trailer. The redhead was gesticulating wildly. I could tell she was speaking loudly. Occasionally she'd place her left hand on her heart. The driver was an older gray haired woman. She just kept nodding while keeping her eyes on the heavily trafficked road. "What do you think she's talking about?" I asked. "A breakup? He broke my heart. I kicked him out of the house." "Maybe she's talking about Trump," Rich said and pointed to the message on the dirty back door. A van passed us on the right. Rich got ready to make his move and said, "Get your camera ready. You're gonna want to take a picture of this." It was a pro-Trump essay taped to the back of the van. Something about "Use the power of the Oval Office and send them all back across the border". My phone had slipped between the seat and the console. I missed the photo op. I was relieved to get out of the shopping mall, red light, traffic congested nightmare that is called Tallahassee but we were headed to the Panhandle, a place some call the Redneck Riveria. #staytuned #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #dividednation #theroadislife

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On previous visits to the South I had seen the Jesus is the Way and anti-abortion billboards. There were even more of them on this trip and I also came across signs in North Carolina regarding the transgender bathroom issue.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Blew right through the town of Boone's Mill, VA on our way to Shenandoah National Park. I could travel for months but I admit I am weary of the confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou. Our friends in Summerfield told us they struggle with living here in the south. The overbearing religion thing bothers them. "What church do you belong to?" Is a common getting to meet you question. They moved here because of a great job offer. They need to work three more years before Medicare kicks in. They admit they are counting the days. It's not that we don't all have the right to believe what we believe as far as religion goes. It's the in your face nature of it here in Bible Belt. My friend told me it makes him feel uncomfortable. Me too. #instagramwriters #instagramstories #roadtrip #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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It is as if people have been emboldened by the recent election. Their opinions and prejudices have been validated. Although most statehouses have now removed the Confederate flag there were plenty of them flying on front lawns, waving from the back of pickup trucks, and printed on T-shirts.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound Traffic dissipated when we reached the Panhandle. Anti- abortion billboards popped up. The land is flat. The sky is big. Until the trees close in and line the roadway. A rusted sign on a building that looks like it once housed a supermarket has a sign that offers Real God Real Church Real People. I wanted a picture but Rich wouldn't turn around. There are no shortage of churches here. Apostolic. Pentecostal. Baptist. Fundamental. Can I tell you all of this makes me feel very uncomfortable? Framed signs with white letters on black backgrounds advertise Trump: Make America Great Again. They appear to be permanent fixtures like storefront signs. Unlike the signs made of sturdy paper with wire sticks I put at the end of my driveway back in NH: Obama for President and Support the Troops. End the War. The bridge into Apalachicola reminds me of the drive to Key West. The town is funky #oldflorida. There are lots of dining options. I am keeping an #openmind here on the #redneckriveria #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #writersofinstagram #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinredneckcountry #theroadislife

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By the end of the trip I admit the Confederate flags, the pro-gun bumper stickers, the sexist T-shirts, the anti-abortion billboards, the Calgary crosses, and the holier than thou wore me out. The unrelenting presence of religious proselytizing was insulting and invasive. In a nation founded on the principles of religious freedom there is a certain part of the population that doesn’t understand or respect the fact that those words also mean some of us have the freedom to not believe. The political positions juxtaposed with so-called Christian values were jarring and hypocritical.

But, there are always two sides to a story.  Although I saw this in Apalachicola, a small, sweet town in the Florida Panhandle:

I also saw this next door:

And therein lies my confusion.

There was also another message along the waterfront in Apalachicola. I couldn’t find any information on who placed these words along the docks or what the words meant to the messenger. You wouldn’t think we would have to wonder about the definition of a word but yes, nowadays we do have to question not only the meaning of the word, but what it means to someone else. Even two simple words like wake and bake.

Stories From The Road: Florida Bound. Today started with a search for breakfast. We found a coffee shop but they weren't serving food until 11:00 am. I know how Southerns have a more laid back reputation than we Northeasterns, but seriously? I told the young man working the register that we were looking for a bakery I found online. "Wake and Bake? Have you heard of it?" "Yeah. The name was controversial. They're not here anymore." Oh my. I told him about @meandollies in Exeter NH where we lived for many years The t- shirts and the bumper stickers with their logo Wake and Bake. Now a lot of us know what that means – a wake and bake is an early morning high- but they're bakers who rise early and bake bread and muffins, and censorship of words? How is that okay? He nodded in agreement but said no more. We took our coffee to go and stumbled upon an antique car show but my eye was drawn to the waterfront where I saw a few signs wrapped around poles that I didn't notice last night. Signs with Words like Sympathize. Tolerance. Love Others. Peace. Who put these here I wondered. What is their definition of these words? Is it the same definition As mine? The same definition as the Oxford dictionary? Then I saw The Scream and thought yes, maybe it is. #roadtrip #instagramstories #writersofinstagram #freedomofsoeech #wordsandpictures #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #wordsarepowerful #wakeandbake #theroadislife

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In the small town of Colquitt, Georgia where the pecan farm was there were also murals.

And a theater where a biannual show takes place. It’s called Swamp Gravy and it is all about sharing our stories.

Notes From The Road: The Reverse Commute Colquitt, GA is our destination for the next few days. The clock in town says it is the first #muralcity . I had never heard of a mural city and now I've visited three in one day. It is also the home of a community theater that hosts Swamp Gravy twice a year, in March and October. A folk life play billed as "you tell your story I'll tell mine" which is a little like I'm doing here with these #instagramstories Ron told us his uncle was in the play one year and told the story of the first time he stepped into a store that had air conditioning and how amazing that was. The stories they share each season are about life and death, family and community. I wish we were here in March to see it because these are stories I like to write. #lifeisallthis #instagramwriters #instagramstories #wordsandpictures #roadtrip #goodfriends #swampgravy #muralcity #theroadislife

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That got me thinking about the arts and how important they are for our culture, our shared history, and reaching across the divide.

We all have stories. One of the things I did learn was that when I can connect with people one on one and we share our stories, we discover we have more in common than we thought. We share the same concerns and worries, and if we don’t, by sharing our stories we experience empathy for someone else’s struggle.

The divide exists between us when we think all Southerners wear T-shirts proclaiming “Body Tattooing by Smith and Wesson”. I actually met and spoke to the man who was wearing that T-shirt. He pulled up to a gas station on his motorcycle. He is a neighbor of our friends at the pecan farm and had helped them out numerous times. They don’t like the T-shirt either but this man was a good neighbor and he was the guy who was trying to get us oysters for dinner one night. He stopped at the gas station to update us on his progress.

My most troubling and upsetting moments along the road trip were when I saw people as the bumper stickers on their rear fenders, the T-shirts they wore, or the signs they planted on their front lawns. Not to diminish the troubling aspect of all this. Although I said I wasn’t visiting a foreign country there were many times I felt lost in a foreign land. I do realize there are a certain group of people who will never open their minds. It is when I get the chance to meet and talk to people that I find the majority of Americans are kind, honest, and willing to listen.

Still, the confusion remains.

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Ron is up before everyone else each morning, mowing between the rows of #pecantrees and checking the irrigation lines for damage from the pesky wild pigs. A #pecanfarm is endless work. We took a trip to Albany, GA hauling a Kabota tracker behind us through miles of tall pines and flat farmland. The blue sky goes on forever. Albany is like Torrington, the town we shopped in when we managed the inn in CT, but the sun is brighter and more intense, washing out colors. Back in Fernandina Beach the town hall had a bell in the tower that was made in Troy, NY. where I took the first photo of the #roadtrip. We left Vermont going west toward Albany, NY. All across America things are the same but so very different. After we drop off the tractor we stop at an upholstery shop that a friendly elderly Black man owns. A younger man is his apprentice. I poke around the old chairs, sofas, and bolts of fabric. There is stuff everywhere. It reminds me of my uncle, my godfather, who was also an upholster. When I started my bookkeeping business years ago he was one of my first clients. His shop was in a large old warehouse in Providence just as cluttered and fascinating as the shop I am standing in today in rural Georgia. #memorytriggers ##thesamebutdifferent #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #theroadislife

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Do the similarities in the above Instagram post make sense or am I seeing what I want to see?

Do my questions have answers? Can our problems be solved?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute Back in Colquitt running farm errands and shopping in great little stores with clothes, gizmos people don't need but want, flowers, and what-all. Ran into a guy who is a friend of our friends and we hope he shows up with oysters tonight. Met another farmer who told us about a man who works for him and recently lost his son. The son won some money at a card game and after he left the bar another man shot him to death. The man who told us this story said this Dad conveyed the story to him in a matter of fact sort of way. I will never understand America's attitude toward life, death, and guns. Never. Because I believe it shouldn't be this way. #tatteredflagseries #dividednation #gunsense #roadtrip #instagramstories #instagramwriters #wordsandpictures #abluestateliberalinthedeepsouth #theroadislife

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Many of the larger cities we visited, like Athens and Roanoke, were hip, more racially diverse, progressive, intellectually involved, and had a lot more music, theater, and arts to choose from. So what happens after Trump cuts funds for the National Endowment for the Arts?

Stories From The Road: The Reverse Commute The GPS on my phone was acting up. Siri told me she couldn't find Shenandoah National Park. I think she's tired of the road. Route 220 North dumped us in the center of downtown Roanoke. It looked like Boston's Quincy Market. We pulled over when we saw a coffee shop. A young black man was passed out in a doorway. Another man with dreadlocks passed by with his friend whose hair was knotted, his beard long, like one of those mountain men who come out of the Vermont woods about this time of year. That story is on the blog. Link in my profile and search Shameless in Brattleboro. The dreadlocked man tried to wake the young man on the pavement. "You okay, man? Wake up! Come on." He looked at me. I shook my head. He walked to the corner and checked the street signs at the intersection then called 911. In the coffee shop they played Mumford and Sons. Families shared Sunday breakfast and hipsters read the paper or communed with their phones. I got out my laptop and figured out our next route. I am not tired of the road yet. When we returned to the car the young man in the doorway was gone. #roadtrip #wordsandpictures #instagramstories #instagramwriters #homelessinamerica #americancities #twoamericas #cocacola #theroadislife

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Northeast rural towns voted for Trump, too. I even saw Trump signs in Vermont – down the road from my house – and many people refer to this liberal state as the Republic of Vermont. So does the problem start in rural America?

We are better when we talk to each other and share our stories. Since the eighties politicians have divided and conquered the American voter. Talk radio hosts scream and lie. Fake News is everywhere on the Internet. Instead of addressing real issues like education, the environment, income inequality, retirement, and so many concerns we have in common, the media and politicians distract us with social issues that divide us.

Is it our nation’s neglect of rural places and the forgotten people who live and struggle in these places that is the problem? How is it in an era when we can work anywhere with a laptop and a wifi connection that we fail to come up with solutions to this problem?

Every city we passed through we sat in traffic. Outside of Savannah it was bumper to bumper for over an hour. Aren’t there entrepreneurs who would love to live in bucolic places with the outdoors close by? Places with hiking, white water rafting, a couple of nice restaurants, and old mills that could be renovated into trendy lofts for less rent than the big cities?

Is there a way to bring diversity to these towns? How about instead of building a wall we spend money to revive the arts in rural places? Some towns like Colquitt are actually doing this on their own.

This is what I saw and remembered from my road trip. This is my confusion. As the photographer Elliott Erwitt once said, “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”

***Please share your questions in the comments. And if you can think of any solutions, please share those too.***

If you’d like to see more words and pictures from the road trip you can visit my Instagram account.

COMING SOON: How a not very well-off older couple with very little retirement funds took a road trip for two and a half weeks.

**STAY TUNED!** for #howwedidit

Suffragettes and Day Dream Believers: A Footnote to the Innkeeper’s Journal

A year ago Rich and I were in the waning weeks of our days as innkeepers. The shit had hit the fan and we were finding it increasingly difficult to work there. We hadn’t realized our days were numbered in single digits but we knew the Inn was for sale and our situation was precarious. Promises had been broken and our future was uncertain but we had bought a house in Vermont so at least we had a home if it all abruptly came to an end. Which it did.

It was a slow time of year. Most week days we had the big old mansion to ourselves. Until Adrienne arrived. She was a rare book collector and archivist. Her online reservation included notes with special requests. She had food allergies and was also allergic to mold.

We had dealt with these situations before and she was our only guest for three nights so we were sure we could accommodate her. Adrienne and I hit it off the minute she arrived. She was friendly and quirky and I sensed she was a kindred spirit.

Traveling on a budget, she had booked one of the smaller, less expensive rooms. She also brought her own linens. Forewarned of her allergy problems, I had done a deep cleaning of her room but the minute we stepped through the door she detected mold.

“Listen, you’re the only one here. I can upgrade you for no charge. Let’s take a tour.”

I showed her the other rooms and she settled on one of my favorites. The room Rich and I stayed in when we first arrived because the innkeepers quarters were a mess. We were responsible for cleaning all the dog and cat hair. We even shampooed the rugs – twice because Rich is allergic to cats and dogs. That should have been a warning sign but we were seeking this adventure and we ignored the signs.

The room had a king size bed and Adrienne had brought her own Queen size sheets but she said she could make it work. She asked me not to fluff the room. She was also allergic to scents and brought her own toiletries and cleaning wipes.

The following morning I prepared a giant bowl of fruit for Adrienne’s breakfast and boiled water for tea. She didn’t drink coffee. When I went to the dining room she was sitting on one of the sofas by the large fireplace, a stack of folded sheets and a blanket by her side. Sometime in the middle of the night she had relocated to the living room. Something in her upgraded room was bothering her allergies.

I apologized and asked what I could do. She said not to worry. She told me she was used to these inconveniences and found the sofa supremely comfortable. She was very excited about her day. Bob Seymour, a rare book dealer from the Colebrook Book Barn was picking her up at eight. They were going to investigate a collection of letters and papers that had been found in a box in a Connecticut home. They appeared to be connected to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffrage movement.

“What a fascinating line of work,” I said. It seemed like a perfect combination of my passions-books and history. “How did you get a job like this?” I asked.

She told me it had always been her passion but somehow or other, as we all know happens, there were bills to pay and better money doing work we don’t have a passion for. Reality and everyday life tripping us up. So Adrienne found herself working for a large government agency in Arlington, VA doing statistical analysis or something like that. I can’t remember. It was her dream job that fascinated me.

Years later she was suddenly hospitalized for a severe allergic reaction that involved a long complicated recovery. While she was in the hospital for several months, her husband retrofitted their home. She never returned to her desk job. She began to work at a job she had always been passionate about – archiving rare historical books and papers.

Adrienne and I spent three mornings together over coffee and tea discussing chasing a dream, following your passion, and the suffrage movement. Adrienne became increasingly excited during her time with us in Norfolk. She had a premonition she was in possession of something important but she told me she couldn’t tell me much about it.

At the time of Adrienne’s visit I was writing a series of blogs about Daydream Believers. It was named after the Monkees’ song. I was interviewing people who had left their day jobs to chase a dream of what they thought work would look like when they were young and optimistic.

Adrienne told me I could write about her but I couldn’t mention the suffragette papers. I never pursued it because from her enthusiasm and energy I knew the suffrage work was a huge part of her story.

A little over a year later, here in my house in Vermont sitting by the wood stove on a cold Wednesday morning, I opened my lap top and logged onto the New York Times as I do every day. I noticed an article half way down the page titled A Trove on the Women’s Suffrage Struggle, Found in an Old Box. I instinctively thought this could have something to do with the woman I met at the inn.

The box contained a collection of letters from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, the half sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella lived with her husband and three children at Nook Farm, a literary colony in Hartford, Connecticut, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.

Shortly after Adrienne visited the inn I hosted a girls weekend. My friends and I visited Mark Twain’s house. At that time I had never heard of Isabella Beecher Hooker. Our tour guide did mention Nook Farm.

Many years after Isabella passed away, her suffragette papers ended up in Bloomfield, CT at the home of Elizabeth and George Merrow. Mr. Merrow’s grandfather had bought the former Hooker house in Hartford. Bob Seymour, Adrienne’s friend and colleague from Colebrook, recognized the signature of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and sent the letter to Adrienne. When I met Bob and Adrienne in Norfolk they were just beginning their research into this valuable cache of historical papers.

I had to smile when I read this:

“But as she (Adrienne) started sorting through the material, dusting away ample mouse droppings, she was stunned to realize it was a rich archive of suffrage material.” ~ NY Times

I remembered her returning to the inn in the evenings and telling me about the dusty old pages ands the mouse droppings she had encountered during her work day. I had asked how this effected her allergies. That’s when she showed me the mask she wore when doing research. She was fearless and passionate about her work. An inconvenient medical problem wasn’t going to stop her from pursuing her dreams.

The Times quotes her as saying: “It really shows you what these women went through,” Ms. Kitts said. “They really busted their butts for us.”

Yes, that was the Adrienne I met. The woman who slept on a couch in a big empty mansion, wore a specially fitted mask to get her work done, and braved mold and other allergens in pursuit of a dream.

And now here she was, a headline in the New York Times:

“It’s a stunning collection,” said Ann D. Gordon, a retired professor at Rutgers University and the editor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. “That it’s being delivered all in one piece, with such a clear provenance, is remarkable.”

I believe there is a message here for all of us. For me, it is to keep pursuing my dream of writing.

And for all of us struggling in the days of Trump the message is: Our small everyday efforts at protest will bring about results. As the New York Times reports:

“The material, mainly dating from 1869 to 1880, may not upend current scholarship, but Ms. Gordon said it sheds light on a contentious period within the suffrage movement, while underscoring the degree to which the movement was driven by complex networks of on-the-ground activists.”

Mrs. Gordon adds this optimistic thought:

“We don’t pay enough attention to what a local movement this was. We’ve warped the story by only knowing the names of the national leaders.”

And as Adrienne reminds us, we are busting our butts for our children, our democracy, and the planet’s future to name just a few of the struggles that are the story of our time in history. Although we may not be the national leaders whose names will be mentioned in the historical books written about the Trump presidency, this movement is being activated by those of us on the ground.

I sent Adrienne an email and told her I had seen the piece in the New York Times. She got back to me two days later and apologized. She had been on a road trip with spotty cell coverage. I can only hope she has found more boxes filled with pieces of history that will enlighten these difficult times we live in.

Adrienne’s email closed with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh:

“It is with the reading of books the same as looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, and with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”

There is hope my friends. Keep fighting for what is right and keep chasing your dreams.
If you’d like to read more about the suffragette papers the New York Times article is here.

I will close my blog with a quote from another brave woman who history will admire.

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” ~ Michelle Obama

Pulling at My Heartstrings: Stories From Higley Hill

We made it to Hoosick Falls minutes before they closed the road for the parade.

Here in #ruralamerica Bernie was parked next to Trump/Pence. If this doesn’t explain #election2016🇺🇸 I don’t know what does. In my heart of hearts I still believe this was the election we should have had. #ifonly

Bernie parked next to Trump

It was cold crossing the bridge over the Hoosick River. We bent into the wind. The river was rougher than the last time we were here. A whirlpool of turbulent water spun beneath us. My cheeks were stinging.

Hoosick River

The Hoosick River – Hoosick Falls, NY

Families carried coolers and small children wrapped in blankets. Most everyone was wearing green – hats, leprechaun vests, Mardi Gras beads.

We crossed to the sunny side of the street and found a spot out of the wind. Kevin, the member of the village board who had invited me to the parade, was busy at the church lining up the floats.

The parade began with six veterans carrying flags. They represented WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a memorial in the center of town on Main Street. For a small town the names on the wall are impressive. Hoosick Falls has sent many of its sons and daughters to fight America’s wars.

Parade begins

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Hoosick Falls, NY

Everyone in the parade threw candy. Bubblegum, lollipops, and chocolate came flying off of floats or out of deep pockets. Two little boys next to us scurried off the sidewalk to grab as much as they could.

“Where are you two putting all that loot?” Rich asked.

“Right here,” their Dad said from behind us. He was leaning against the wall of an historic building and was wearing a hunting jacket with numerous deep pockets.

It was when the Section 2 Class Champion Wrestling Team rolled by that I started to feel the tug of my heartstrings. The wistful reminder of parades I’ve attended or marched in.
Growing up in Warwick, RI in the Gaspee Plateau neighborhood where a band of patriots sank the British ship the Gaspee in 1772, each year I looked forward to the annual parade.

Hoosick Wrestling

Years later my brother-in-law and nephews marched with the Pawtuxet Rangers fife and drum corp. They spent the weekend sleeping at an authentic revolutionary encampment in the village park along the Narraganett Bay. I brought my kids back to my hometown for several Gaspee Day parades and like the little boys standing next to us my daughters filled their pockets with candy.

Kevin from the Village Board told me times were difficult here in Hoosick Falls since the discovery of PFOA in the water. Understandably so. Health, home values, and the local economy would be a few of the concerns for anyone living in small town America.

We walked along the parade route toward Immaculate Conception Church where Kevin told me I could find him. A young girl watched the parade from the warmth of her living room. She waved. I lifted my phone and gestured that I’d like to take her picture. She nodded and gave me a smile.

Girl in the Window-Hoosick Falls

Brian was the first resident in Hoosick Falls to reach out to me. He works for the school district and is joining the village board this spring. He told me he grew up here and moved away for a long time, but came back.

“I have a lot of pride in Hoosick Falls, ” he said. “If I don’t say so myself, our school district is excellent. We have a beautiful Greenway along the river and the water is safe to drink now – actually, despite the well field being polluted, the filtration system is providing residents with excellent water now. We will have a new water source at some point too.”

The last time I was in Hoosick Falls it was a quiet, sleepy day. Brian encouraged me to come back to see the great things going on in town.

“You may be quite impressed by the spirit of the people here!”

And he was right. I was.

Kevin invited us to the parade after party held in the basement of the Immaculate Conception Church.

Dancing Girl

Despite the bitter cold, the town braved the weather and now they were celebrating with hot chocolate and Guiness in tall black cans. For two dollars Rich and I had a hot dog, chips, and pickles.

We found a spot by the side of the dance floor. The band included fiddles, banjos and a washboard. I was captivated by two little girls who reminded me of my own daughters.
One girl was wearing what looked like a hand knit sweater and green pants. She was ready to party and while waiting for the music to begin she twirled around a pole.

The younger girl was shy. She wore a green dress and pink boots. She tapped her foot and watched the girl in the sweater. The music began and a group of older girls dressed in costume began to step dance.
~~~
I’ve been feeling low and overwhelmed in these difficult days since January 20th. We thought about not coming. When we left the house it was five degrees on Higley Hill.
But we put on our long johns, grabbed our hats and mittens, and bundled up.

If you are also feeling discouraged and frightened I highly suggest getting in the car and going for a drive to look for America. If you think we can survive without an EPA visit one of the 94 towns in 27 states that were effected by #PFOA in their water. There could be more. The numbers I found were from August 20, 2015 at http://www.ewg.org.

As Arlene Blum, the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute told the NY Times. “I think when people look they’re going to find it.” Bennington, VT found it after this list was posted.

These towns are our towns. They need our support. We need to stand together, speak up, and most importantly get to know each other. If we knew each other better we might not be where we are today.

And by all means, if you’re traveling through upstate New York stop in Hoosick Falls. They have a fantastic local brew pub, Brown’s Brewing Company. Grandma Moses once lived and painted in this area. You can learn more at the Hoosick Township Historical Society or visit the Bennington Museum just over the Vermont border. There is also the the Hoosick Barn Quilt Trail, a community-wide celebration of art, music, and rural culture in Hoosick. As you drive around the area look for 31 quilt patterns hung on barns and buildings throughout the town.

Hoosick Falls Quilt Trail

Along the Hoosick Falls Barn Quilt Trail

 

*** I am now sharing Stories From Higley Hill on my Instagram account. The link is along the left with all the other widgets that bring you to places you can find me. I am having fun with the idea of words and pictures. From time to time I will share them here, too. Check it out and join me if you’re on Instagram, too. Let me know you found my blog and I’ll follow you back.***

 

 

 

 

Shameless in Brattleboro: Stories From Higley Hill

Now that we are back on the grid, most evenings my husband and I watch series TV together. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are in the rotation right now. We have also been shamelessly wasting our viewing time watching Shameless, a series starring William H. Macy.

In case you’re not familiar with the show, Macy plays Frank Gallagher, the alcoholic father of six kids. He is almost always drunk and passed out on the floor. Fiona, his oldest daughter, takes care of the kids while her father is out drinking and working schemes to collect disability or someone else’s social security check.

The kids are adept at making ends meet; stealing food from the back of a delivery truck, pinching pennies from Unicef collections, and various other scams. In the first few episodes I liked the kids’ grit and solidarity as a family but by the end of the second season enough was enough.

The show moves at a frenetic pace. Everyone’s always rushing around. In most episodes Fiona is running through the house in her bra pulling a T-shirt on or off.

In my mind, Shameless reinforces the stereotypical crap politicians use when they try to gut services for the poor. It’s Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen driving the pink cadillac, reinforcing the belief that everyone on welfare is gaming the system.

Remember during the Great Recession when Obama extended unemployment benefits and the Republicans fought it? They argued most of the unemployed didn’t want to go back to work because they made more money collecting.

As a bookkeeper, I have filled out state unemployment forms for over thirty years. Unemployment is insurance. Your employer pays into the program every quarter. This money is a trust, an insurance plan paid for by employers. Not you. Not the government. No one makes more money collecting unemployment and because this is America, when you lose your job you lose your health insurance.

Fact: Most people would rather sleep in a comfortable bed than under a bridge where Frank Gallagher was found in one episode.

p12958573_b_v8_aa

The other night, Rich and I found ourselves Shameless in Brattleboro.

Before it unfolded, we stopped at a shopping plaza where Rich went into a barber shop to get a haircut and I perused the aisles of Rite-Aid.

Rich doesn’t have a regular barber and will bravely stop in any old place, so of course he has a lot of barber shop stories. He found his favorite barber in Queens. We were flying to St. Kitts for our 20th wedding anniversary and our flight was canceled due a snowstorm so we hung around Queens for an afternoon. Rich decided he was overdue for a haircut. The barber was a professional soccer player from Jordan and offered the full service, which included hot towels and a shave. He also watched international soccer on cable TV. Rich says it’s the best haircut he ever got.

After the Brattleboro haircut, Rich of course had new barber shop stories to share. This time he and the barber discussed hometowns and they somehow connected the dots that make up the surprisingly small world we live in.

Rich’s lifelong friend who also lives on Higley Hill had a college roommate who grew up in the same town as the barber, so Rich asked, “Do you know Danny Kippit?”

The barber did. They were both on the football team in high school. Danny once sold Rich and his friend a one-ton truck with a camper attached. It was the truck they moved to Colorado in when they were nineteen. They rebuilt it, painted it forest green, and replaced the front seat with a crushed red velour bench seat from a Lincoln Continental. It blew the engine in Denver, then the rear end went and the truck was dead in the water.

The barber told Rich one of the busiest times of year is when the mountain men come out of hibernation.

“Come March, the boys start coming out of the woods,” the barber said. “They’ve got the full beard and long hair. They need the full service. It gets pretty crazy in here.”

After the haircut, I told Rich about a motel across the street from the Rite-Aid. They were getting rid of some nice looking night tables and had placed them on the sidewalk along the road. We drove over to check them out.

When we pulled into the parking lot, a man had two of the six tables already loaded onto the bed of his truck. He was on his cell phone, probably asking his wife how many more she wanted. We decided they might be too low so we passed on them and headed home.

I guess you could say our Shameless show started with the dump picking in the motel parking lot but it really took off when we stopped at the state liquor store.

There was only one cashier working that night. When we walked in the store she was dealing with a difficult transaction. Something to do with a debit malfunction out at the gas pumps. A woman was charged for diesel. She had purchased unleaded. The cashier told the customer it happens sometimes. She was unfamiliar with processing a credit. The line running parallel to the counter started to grow.

We joined the back of the line which was now up against the entrance door. The man at the front of the line noticed and moved his carriage so he was facing the counter. Everyone followed suit and formed a perpendicular line along the whiskey aisle.

“We should form a conga line and you guys follow me up and down the aisles of the store while we wait,” the man at the front said. A few people started to cha-cha.

The cashier finally figured out the credit transaction. It was now the man at the front of the line’s turn. His carriage was filled with individual granola bars, snickers, and bags of Fritos and Bugles. He also had bottles of vodka, gin, and single bottles of local IPA beers and soda.

“Sorry,” he said, turning to the rest of us and smiling sheepishly.

Rich said, “This is the seven items or less line.”

Everyone was joking around, waiting to purchase bottles of booze and six packs of beer. People talked about the weather and the ski traffic over school vacation week. I put our six-pack of Guinness Blonde on the floor by my feet. Rich was holding bottles of Jameson and Svedka vodka. When you live in Vermont, it’s not just the mountain men who come out of the woods and attend to overdue business. Shopping is always an expedition.

When the man’s basketful of individually scanned items was finally rung up, he wheeled away from the counter and then turned and said, “Oh, wait a minute. I need a money order.”

Everyone groaned. Behind us, a mountain man with a beard down to his chest and a pint of White Lightening in his hand said, “Hey, I was clean-shaven when I came in here.”

“Hold your horses. This is your second time in here today,” the cashier hollered back.

“Kidding,” the front of the line man said. “I’m just kidding.” He turned around and rolled his carriage out to the parking lot.

The bearded man shouted to the cashier, “Hey, did you get those X-tra large condoms I ordered? The nice sheepskin ones?”

“Behave yourself,” she said.

“How about porn magazines? Did you get any new ones?” he asked.

“Yeah. We got the gay ones, too,” the cashier snapped back.

Back in the car we laughed about how we had stepped into our own episode of Shameless.

I’m not going to speculate on whether some of the people in the store were alcoholics scamming the system although a few reminded me of shameless Frank Gallagher. When I look at the world around me I look from a place of hope. We were a group of people waiting in a long line on a Friday night. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was patient. Some even had a raucous sense of humor.

There’s a line from Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter that might apply here:

“Nowadays, I’m willing to say yes to as much as I can: yes to my town, my neighborhood, my neighbor, yes to his car, her lawn and hedge and rain gutters. Let things be the best they can be. Give us all a good night’s sleep until it’s over.”

Yes, until it’s over. Many Americans aren’t sleeping well these days. Five weeks into the Trump presidency the entire world is reeling.

Sometimes all it takes to keep an open mind is to walk out your front door and bear witness. It really is a small world. You may meet a Middle Eastern immigrant soccer player turned barber who gives you the best haircut of your life. A few friendly people in a liquor store may provide a much needed laugh. It doesn’t take much to get out and experience the world with your own eyes.

As we drove up the dark mountain I told Rich, “We are not watching that shameless show tonight.”

Instead we watched Mad Men. It was the episode after President Kennedy was assassinated. Newly divorced Don Draper was on a date with a young woman. Three civil rights workers had recently been killed in Mississippi. The young woman told Don she was breaking her rule of not dating divorced men because a mutual friend has made Don her project.

Don looks bemused and says, “There are so many real problems in the world right now.”

Yes there are, and the world spins madly on.

Weary To My Bones: Stories From Higley Hill

It was a blue sky Saturday. Large dagger-like icicles dripped from the roof. I had an errand to run in Bennington. Rich said he would join me and after the errand we could drive across the New York border.

“It will be like when we use to escape the Inn,” he said. “Just hop in the car and head out for some random exploring.”

I checked the map. My finger followed a loop taking Route 9 out of Bennington that turns in to Route 7 at the New York border, hook a right in Hoosick and take Route 22 to Hoosick Falls.

“It’s probably one of those old mill towns powered by the falls. We could walk around, check out some cool old architecture, maybe find a coffee shop or a brew pub.”

“Let’s go,” Rich said.

hoosick-river

Hoosick River, New York

We drove through downtown Wilmington where cars with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut plates waited at the red light in the center of town on President’s Day weekend at the start of a school vacation week. The height of the ski and snowmobile season. Old Man Winter has been generous this year, conditions are good and local business is doing well.

Route 9 climbs up and over the Green Mountains then descends into Bennington where I quickly ran into CVS to pick up a prescription then we were back on the road. The Bennington Battle Monument loomed in the distance, a 306 foot stone phallic symbol commemorating a revolutionary war battle.

90px-bennington_battle_memorial

Bennington Battle Monument

In 1777, the Continental Army once stored weapons and food where the monument now stands. The British, camped out in Upstate New York, were planning a raid on the provisions. John Stark and 1400 other men from New Hampshire were called on to help the Green Mountain Boys defend the provisions.

Back in 1752, Stark had distinguished himself when he was out hunting and fishing along the Baker River in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was captured by Abenaki Indians. They took him  to Canada where he was forced to run a gauntlet of warriors wielding sticks. He grabbed one of the sticks and began to defend himself. The Abernaki chief was so impressed he adopted Stark and John spent the winter with the tribe. In the spring of 1753, a government agent was sent to rescue him. He paid $103 in ransom for Stark’s release.

Six years later, in 1759 during the French and Indian war, Stark was ordered to travel from Lake George to an Abenaki village deep in Quebec. He refused to participate in the raid out of respect for the tribe that had adopted him and instead, he returned home to his wife Molly.

hoosick-river-2

Hoosick Falls, New York

We drove past collapsing barns, fields dotted with rusted farm equipment, and empty silos. I thought about the Patriots who once lived here, farmed these fields, settled the towns, and fought for freedom. Rich and I discussed the President’s Day holiday, how it was once Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday but then became one holiday celebrating the American Presidency on a three day weekend.

Our friend, Peter, was visiting with us for the weekend. He and his daughter were back at Mount Snow skiing for the day. The night they arrived he reminisced about the cherry pie his mom always made. We talked about George Washington and the pie and “I cannot tell a lie.”

“Now it’s alternative facts,” I said. With nothing else to say, we all nodded sadly.

We passed through Hoosick quickly. It was like a lot of the New England-Upstate New York towns we’ve traveled through since returning from Florida. Empty mills, peeling paint houses, old cars abandoned in the backyard, sagging front porches. Forgotten chapters from the story of Election 2016 that many politicians skipped over. But I saw it. I was writing it all down.

abandoned-hoosick

Hoosick Falls, NY

Before we left the house I quickly Googled Hoosick Falls and saw mention of a brew pub. I also quickly glanced at a link to a New York Times article about contaminated water but once Rich decides he’s ready to go somewhere, he’s ready to go.

“If we find this brew pub, we need to ask if they use local water to make the beer,” I told him.

pub-for-sale-hoosick

Pub for Sale in Hoosick Falls, NY

We never did find the brew pub or any dining and drinking establishment that was open for business. I’ve seen some sad cities in my time. Woonsocket, Hinsdale, Torrington, Waterbury, the list goes on. Many are off Route 91, aka the Heroin Highway. Places where you can find the answer to the question, How did Trump win the election? The intrigue wasn’t only coming out of Russia. It was all here, right next door, just a short drive from the bright lights of the cities and the driveways of suburbia.

Hoosick Falls is one of the saddest places I’ve visited. Most of the buildings were empty. The streets were empty too. A family of four walked a snow covered trail along the Hoosick River where we parked our car. A woman with weights in her hands walked briskly across the bridge. Other than that no one was around on this blue sky day.

We walked a few blocks. I snapped some photos. Rich wanted to go in a barber shop but the guy was closing for the day.

thorpes-hoosick

Thorpe’s Hoosick Falls, NY

Grandma Moses is buried somewhere near here. Her paintings depict the landscape in and around Hoosick Falls in a different time. A different America.

We took a different road back to West Bennington. Before crossing the border into Vermont, we passed the Battle of Bennington battlefield, now a state park  in Walloomsac, New York. The British soldiers never made it across the border to Vermont. On August 16, 1777 they were decisively defeated by George Washington and his troops, joined by the Green Mountain Boys, and John Stark and his men from New Hampshire.

pharmacy-hoosick

Pharmacy Hoosick Falls, NY

It was a quiet drive home. Our adventure didn’t turn out as expected. Back at the house, I Googled Hoosick Falls again. I was curious about what happened to this ghost town. I discovered a man named Michael Hickey contacted the state requesting a drinking water test after his Dad died of kidney cancer in 2014. The Saint Gobain Performance Plastics plant has now been declared a super fund site and the residents of Hoosick Falls have been told the water is contaminated with the toxic chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is used in making teflon and household cleaning products. The chemical has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer as well as other health issues. Erin Brockovich has visited the Hoosick Falls.

According to CNN, late last year, more than a year after the first samples showed higher-than-advised levels of PFOA, the EPA issued an advisory recommending village residents avoid cooking with and drinking the water.

tattered-flag-hoosick

Tattered Flag Hoosick Falls, NY

I knew Trump had done well in Upstate New York and I’d seen the lawn signs myself when we worked at the inn and took day trips through Duchess County to places like Hudson, Millerton, and Rhinebeck. Google only gave me election results by county. In Rensselaer County, the district Hoosick Falls votes in, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 60.255% to 39.75%.

As always, the story of this election was right there, laid out before us in a landscape of forgotten places, struggling middle class Americans, toxic drinking water, ineffective politicians, and insufficient news voters could use. Most people weren’t paying attention and neither was the media.

I was. I’ve been writing about it since the day I started writing five years ago. Not that it makes me smarter than anyone. I’ve often been mistaken and I’m very confused these days. I don’t even know where this blog is going.

typewriter-in-hoosick

Storefront in Hoosick Falls, NY

I fear it’s all going to get worse. Scott Pruitt runs the EPA, Betsy DeVos is in charge of public education, and Trump replayed the election results in one of the scariest, craziest press conferences I’ve ever watched.

The history of America is always around us. The historic houses, the museums, the battlefields, the old graveyards. The lies to Native Americans at Standing Rock. The misinformation, the rewriting of history.  Does anyone pay attention? Trump never mentions history. I’m quite sure he’s never heard of the Battle of Bennington. He and his administration recently spoke of Frederick Douglas as if he were still alive.

I’m weary. I don’t know what to do. It often feels like a losing battle. Although others make excuses and disregard their own culpability, I am well aware of what went wrong. I’ve been watching this unfold since Ronald Reagan. As Jack Kemp once said,“{Murdoch) used the editorial page, the front page and every other page of The New York Post to elect Ronald Reagan president” and that led to smooth sailing on his effort to build Fox. I don’t think I need to tell where that took the “news”.

I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time and my optimism is growing dim. It’s not what it used to be.

stick-with-love-hoosick

Message of Hope in Hoosick Falls, NY

John Stark was married to Molly. They had eleven children. Molly never lived in Vermont but she is immortalized here in the town I now live in. There is the Molly Stark hiking trail on Hogback Mountain and a statue of her in the center of town. The scenic byway we take from Brattleboro to Bennington is called the Molly Stark Trail.

Molly ran a hospital in her home in Manchester, New Hampshire and cared for her husband John’s troops during a smallpox epidemic. She is most famous for her husband’s battle cry on the night he fought the Battle of Bennington. “There are your enemies, the Red Coats and the Tories. They are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”

Small things leading to big things. A man fighting for freedom and liberty. His wife supporting the effort while raising eleven children. Do small things add up? Is that how history is made?

Keep making those phone calls, my friends.

Keep sharing real news.

Talk to people who don’t agree with you. Educate them.

Show up at your town meetings. Don’t let your representatives hide. Remember they work for us. Our taxes pay their salaries, their pensions, and their awesome health insurance.

There are two marches coming up in April. The March for Science could be as large as the Women’s March, possibly even larger. The links are below. It should’t be hard to find one near where you live. Hang in there. Remember, we’re all in this together. You are not alone.

March For Science, Earth Day, April 22 

Tax Day Marches April 15

And there’s always music:

This Story Has No End: Stories From the Women’s March

 

marching-to-capital

Women’s March January 21, 2017 Washington DC

January 22-23, 2017. The Journey Home

We slept late, tired legs and feet, aching knees, and slightly more optimistic hearts. My oldest daughter’s 25th birthday was on Friday,  Inauguration Day, not a great day to reach the milestone of a quarter century. I hadn’t sent birthday presents yet. It’s hard to shop in Vermont, there are no big box stores or popular chains nearby, and I love that about Vermont, but here in the DC neighborhood of Friendship Heights it is a short walk to a world of shopping. I bought a soft leather wallet and incredibly soft knee socks at DSW, a long sleeved blue RBX activewear shirt at Marshall’s, and blue crystal drop earrings at World Market. I also found  lavender for my younger daughter who has been wanting to use it in her creme brûlée recipe. The cashiers at this very hip store I had never been to before had attended the march too. Everyone was fired up and  still rushing with adrenaline.

One of the cashier said, “We can’t stop here. We have to keep fighting but what do we do? I’ve heard there are already plans for another march in April.”

I swiped my debit card and said, “Well, I’ve been to DC a lot but I’ve never seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Until then I think we need to keep calling our representatives.”

Ann had an early work day on Monday. My flight wasn’t leaving until 10:40 pm but I told her she could bring me to the airport early. I could watch the Patriots football game. She got me there by the end of the first quarter and I found a seat at the bar right across from my gate. Women still wearing pink hats roamed the airport and the Patriots had a ten point lead. I ordered an Obrycki’s Amber Ale. I know my way around here, I’ve been to this bar before.

An older couple to my left were engrossed in their own conversation and weren’t interested in the game. They didn’t like the Patriots they told me. They hate Tom Brady.

The menu was limited but the crab salsa and nacho chips looked good. The bartender told me he was out of food. I ordered another beer and posted pictures on Instagram until two brothers arrived. They sat one seat down from me then George arrived and took that empty seat. All three of them didn’t like the Patriots  and a lively discussion about Deflategate ensued. I told them they were all just jealous.

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At Obryicki’s Bar, BWI Airport

The brothers had brought their Dad on a fishing trip to Costa Rica for his 80th birthday and were now headed home. One brother lived in rural Pennsylvania and the other Connecticut. They met here in Baltimore where their Dad lives. George lives in rural Maryland and was on his way to Wisconsin to sell some sort of heating pipes. He owns his own business. They of course asked where I was headed and what I was doing in Baltimore. When I told them I was in DC for the women’s march they laughed and smiled like it was something silly or futile.

I told them it was amazing then laughed and said,  “I guess we don’t agree on football or politics.” I changed the subject to the weather. All of our flights had been delayed and whenever in doubt, discuss the weather.

Then they surprised me. Connecticut said “I voted for Bernie, but I couldn’t vote for her.”

“Me too, couldn’t do it,” his brother from Pennsylvania said.

We all looked at George from Maryland. He looked up from his beer and said, “Me, too. I voted for Bernie but I couldn’t trust her.”

heard this time and time again over the course of the election. My heart still aches when I think about Bernie and What If.

I sighed. I could have replied, “And you trust Trump?”

But did I really want to go there at a bar in the middle of the Southwest terminal? We started to talk about the things we did agree on: the economy, the middle class, Wall Street greed, the cost of college.

“Trump has appointed three guys from Goldman Sachs,” I reminded them.

They had all the talking points. I knew where they got their news although George swore he watched MSNBC. They all believed Trump wouldn’t really disrupt things like healthcare. They said gay marriage and abortion weren’t big concerns of theirs and they weren’t worried about Trump disrupting any of that. I asked them about Paul Ryan and the vote to repeal the ACA. They all agreed Trump won’t let that happen without a replacement.

The Patriots scored another touchdown. The brothers left to board their respective flights. George wanted to talk more politics. We both ordered another beer. He seemed to feel the need to defend himself. He thought there were too many taxes on a small business owner like himself and the government wasted a lot of his hard earned money. He wanted me to understand his point of view and he reminded me of the builder I worked for in Pompano Beach. A nice guy. George was worried about the Putin situation. I sensed he had a few doubts about his voting decision.

“So what do you think you accomplished?” he asked.

I told him it wouldn’t end with the march. We were fired up to go home and get active. There would be more protests and marches. We would call our representatives. I would be writing about it. I told him I understood his dislike of Hillary and I too was tired of politics as usual. The money, the lobbying. I told him I also understood the frustration. My husband paints houses for a living and we struggle to pay the bills.

Boarding for his flight had begun. The bar was closing. We wished each other safe travels and I found a wall outlet to plug my phone into.

Two young girls were using the same outlet. They were sitting on the floor holding hands, one girl with a crewcut and the other with long blond hair. They had marched in Austin, Texas where they met and used to live and were now on their way home to Providence. I told them I was staying with my daughter but now that we weren’t arriving until 12:50 I was thinking of calling Uber.

I was having trouble loading the app. The blond helped me but in the end I didn’t have enough available data for it to load.

The other girl said, “Just call your daughter. Even if it was three in the morning, I’d still pick up my mom.”

She was right, of course. My daughter told me she’d come get me.

On the plane I took the aisle seat next to two other young girls still wearing their pink hats. Across from me were two women around my age who had also marched. We discussed what was next and a mother and daughter behind me also joined the conversation.

The daughter said, “You’re so lucky Bernie is your senator.”

Leaning into the aisle, I craned my neck to see her behind me. “I wish we were all so lucky,” I said.

She and her mother made sad faces. We all exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch regarding upcoming protest events in New England.

My daughter was waiting right outside the door and we got back to her apartment at 1:15 but I couldn’t fall asleep. Exhausted but still excited about the weekend I went online and read all the stories and commentary. At peaceful marches all over the world, no one was arrested. No riots broke out. I fell asleep at three a.m.

On Monday January 23, 2000 women who were traveling home from the Women’s March on Washington showed up at their state capital in Salt Lake City, Utah with their signs from DC. It was the day the state legislature opened and they wanted their voices to be heard. They led the charge to keep on fighting.

The marches are just the beginning of this story. I don’t know where and when this story ends. Like some of the signs at the march said, “I Can’t Believe We’re Still Protesting This Shit.” There’s a lot of work to be done. We need to fight for what we believe in and stop this President from tearing down everything we’ve built up over the years.

But we also need to change the way we do politics in America. I sensed it in the conversation at the BWI bar while watching a football game with three decent guys who voted reluctantly and now shared some regret but are still hoping things will be okay. I don’t feel that hope, I don’t feel like it’s going to be okay but I did tell George before he left that I was going to be fighting every day to make sure both parties were listening.

As Gloria Steinem said on Saturday, “The constitution doesn’t begin with I the President. It begins with We the People.”

Once again I slept late. I left Providence at ten. A nor’easter was approaching and I needed to beat the storm to Vermont. By late afternoon the weatherman was forecasting twenty-four hours of snow and ice. Crossing the border into the Green Mountain state I felt like I had left the rest of the mad world behind me.

George asked me about Vermont. “There’s a lot of poverty there, right?”

Yes there is poverty, quite a bit of it. I tried to explain the state of mind that is Vermont but it’s not easy. It’s a unique place. An American place. Different yet still the same. We’re all in this together.

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Brattleboro VT’s inimitable grunge style

***Join the conversation. If you attended a march share your stories in the comments section below.***

Keep speaking up. Here is one suggestion for something to keep this train moving: 

https://www.womensmarch.com/100/

 

We Are America: Stories From the Women’s March on Washington

Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it” ~ Mark Twain

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We The People

January 21, 2017. We started the day with bagels and coffee and a stop at CVS for poster board and magic markers. The shelves were almost empty. It was another sign the media was underestimating this march. All that was left was a package of ten small multi-colored poster boards and medium size red and black Sharpie pens. Our signs were pretty weak compared to the other signs we would see throughout the day. We decided at our next protest we will plan ahead and make better signs.

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My very lame sign This is What Democracy Look Like

At the Metro the lines to purchase tickets were long. Yesterday I took the subway from Union Station to Tenleytown but only filled my card with enough money for the trip. Again, I should have planned ahead. I sent my cousin Ann to the head of the line to help all the out of town visitors purchase their tickets and our line began to move pretty quickly.

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Me and Claire

I managed to get an empty seat on the very crowded subway car and sat next to Claire, a college student who drove from Ohio and picked up a friend along the route then continued on through the night. She was holding a sign that read Pussy Grab Back in reference to Trump’s lewd remarks to Billy Bush that were caught on tape. A group of ladies standing by the doors started singing This Land is Your Land and moved on to This Little Light of Mine. Everyone joined in and there was a magical, holy feeling that we were setting off to make history.

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Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. ~ Robert Kennedy

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Real Men Get Consent

Note to Trump and disbelievers of real news: I was on the planes, trains, subways and streets of DC on inauguration day and the day of the march. Traveling on the subway I sensed more than ever that this was going to be bigger than anyone imagined. Yesterday most of my fellow travelers were coming to D.C. for today’s march. As I made my way to my cousin Ann’s house the subways and streets weren’t nearly as crowded as they were today. I saw it with my own eyes. Donald Trump can whine like a small pouty child about attendance at his inaugural all he wants but eyes don’t lie. This is not an alternate fact.

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We weaved our way through the throngs of people trying to make their way to Independence Avenue where the parade was scheduled to commence. Like riding a rip tide, people forged paths in different directions. Everyone was shouting and waving signs. A roar of voices raised in protest would roll along the streets like an ocean wave growing in size as it crashes toward the shore. People chanted. This is What Democracy Looks Like.

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When we could finally go no further and were packed in like sardines, we could hear the speeches from large speakers lining Independence Avenue. Alicia Keys rallied the crowd and the speeches kept coming. And coming. Three hours later the marchers started to get restless and shouted “Let’s March, Let’s March”. Still carrying my package of posters and magic markers, I made signs and passed them around. We held them high and joined the chant, “Let’s March”.

Note to Democratic Party: Michael Moore’s battle cry “We need to take over the Democratic Party” spoke directly to me. It was exactly how I felt during the long primary battle and the summer of my discontent while Hillary hobnobbed in the Hamptons raising millions of dollars. I found myself asking, How did the Democratic party fail to capture the energy here on the streets of DC and in the marches across the country and around the world? My knees and lower back started to ache and we all needed to find the port-a-pottys. But the speeches kept coming and it seemed like a metaphor for the Democratic party of which I have been a member all my life. In recent days I will admit I often feel like a woman lost at sea. A woman without a party.

I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. ~ Thomas Jefferson

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And yes there were celebrities and I did get to hear Madonna sing live while watching her on a Jumbotron we finally made our way to.

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Madonna

Note to Madonna: I did not appreciate you saying “Fuck you, Donald Trump” or telling us you fantasized about blowing up the White House. Not that I don’t dislike Trump as much as you do but I agree with Michelle Obama that when they go low, we go high. And more importantly, I knew Fox and other right wing news organizations would lead with your words and ignore the hundreds of thousands of us who made sacrifices to travel across the nation and march for the values we believe in. You won’t be losing your health insurance, Madonna. Your life won’t be on the line or disrupted nearly as much as many of us marching. This day was much more about us than you and you detract from the coverage of the real news when you draw attention to yourself like that.

And sure enough, there was Donald Trump’s tweet this morning.

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Grow Up Trump! Shut Your Twitter!

But despite the celebrities and the tweet, that was not what this march was about. What it was about was the millions of women, men and children who traveled from across the entire nation to make it clear to our new president-elect how we see America and what our values are. The women who slept overnight on rally buses, took a day out of work, found babysitters for the kids and wished them a good day at school from the airports and train stations, or drove through the night so their voices could be heard.

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. ~ Thomas Jefferson

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Good Luck Telling My Wife What To Do

Throughout the day there was a camaraderie and sisterhood in participating in something bigger than ourselves. We had created a movement that could change the world.

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I marveled at the older women in wheelchairs who were brave enough to get lost in the crowds.

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Jewish Women Will Never Stop Fighting for Human Rights

Marchers were everywhere. Walking down Independence we could look across the side roads to fellow marchers on a parallel street that wasn’t originally part of the route. We fell in with a group of doctors who chanted “We won’t go away. Donald Trump. Welcome to your first day.”

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I never found my friend on the rally bus or the group of friends from New Hampshire I had planned to meet up with. Our cell phones didn’t always work and even though I had my travel charger, after all the photos and videos our phones eventually died. We had been standing and marching for eight hours. We walked to Union Station where last I heard my friends were having a drink somewhere. We never found them or the bar but we managed to get on the first train that came by and once again, packed like sardines, we made our way back to Tenleytown station.

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Everyone was running on adrenaline and sharing stories. One woman mentioned to her seat mate how some Trump voters don’t know the Affordable Care Act IS Obamacare. I turned around and said, “That’s true.” I told them the story about the Vermont healthcare woman I dealt with just a few days ago. We were on the phone for an hour and she was extremely patient and helpful. She told me this week alone she spoke to twelve people who have affordable healthcare and they said they were glad to see Obamacare was going to be repealed. “What you have is Obamacare. Obamacare is the Affordable Care Act,” she told them in disbelief. “Lordy, lordy,” she told me. “Those people aren’t going to be very happy in the days to come. They are in for one huge awakening.” Yes indeed.

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Back at the house, I had a few hours to rest my weary legs on the couch while drinking wine and watching the news of history being made by women all across the world before we went out to see the 15th Street Band playing at an Irish bar in Bethesda. A young girl in a pink hat was standing next to our table. Her name was Isa and she’d been up since four a.m. organizing a Planned Parenthood relay then marching with 500,000 of us on the streets of the nation’s capital.

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This is what democracy looks like. Yesterday I was proud to be a part of this human race.

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Diane and Ann, my Sisters in Arms

***This was the inauguration of the protest movement. JOIN ME. If you attended a march send me your stories and I will share them here. #bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever.***