Criminal Justice: A Broken System

In the criminal justice system, three groups have agency: the victim, the offender, and society at large. Our ability to balance these interests will determine the efficacy of our criminal justice system.

Getting it right relies on the probity and shared values of police, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officials as the offender migrates through the criminal justice system.

Today, our outcomes couldn’t be worse. We jail more people than any other world power, including Russia and China, at a cost this year of more than a trillion dollars. Our national five-year recidivism rate is 76%. Vermont’s prison population has doubled in twenty years even though we’re one of the safest states in the country. The battle cries that got us here are cultural – “lock ‘em up”, and political – “tough on crime”. Neither are sustainable or make us safer.

If our goals are only to protect society, punish the offender, and avenge the victim, we’ll keep failing miserably. The interests of surviving victims are critical but so are society’s interest in returning rehabilitated offenders safely to their families and communities.

I don’t believe offenders automatically forfeit all their rights. And I’m deeply troubled by the religious fundamentalists of all faiths who ignore the teachings of their deities about mercy and forgiveness. Our criminal justice system must do more than reflect the political and economic interests of those in power, it must also reflect our deeper human and spiritual values.

It’s counterproductive to lock away the young person who made an impulsive mistake, the migrant crossing our border fleeing violence, the drug-user addicted by his dentist or doctor, the working mother who can’t feed her children. If we focus on outcomes instead of vengeance or the myth of deterrence, we can create a more affordable and effective criminal justice system.

We all make mistakes for which we’ll be judged. But our lives should not be defined forever by our worst mistake. Everyone deserves a redemptive path, a way to apologize to our victim, pay a reasonable penalty, and make our way back home to those who love us. Thankfully, restorative justice, court diversion, and circles of support and accountability are all gaining traction. And, surely, we can do better than we have.

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A Different Catholic Church

I’ve been trying to picture the Catholic Church – the Mother Church if you will – as a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy, in which the first pope had been Christ’s friend and apostle, Mary Magdalene, instead of Peter, the wayward apostle who thrice denied him.

It’s commonly accepted among Biblical scholars that in Christianity’s earliest years, women were, in fact, spiritual leaders. But in his 23rd homily, Pope Gregory the Great portrayed Mary as a repentant harlot. He may have confused her with Mary of Bethany – or as many biblical scholars believe, may have intended to suppress women’s roles in the Church.

It’s also known that priests routinely married for the Church’s first thousand years, until the Second Lateran Council in 1139 forbade marriage in order to stop priests from leaving their worldly holdings to their sons instead of the Church.

Especially in medieval times, Church hierarchy typically interpreted Christ’s teachings in a way that ensured the subservience of religious and secular women. Not until 1962 did the Church fully recognize twelfth century writer, composer, and scientist Hildegard of Bingen, the same year that the Second Vatican Council removed the word “obey” from the marriage vows.

In 2012, the Vatican sent a papal delegation to America to rebuke American nuns for supporting a national health care system opposed by American bishops – and scold them for focusing too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

So today, with Catholic hierarchy embroiled in international child physical and sexual abuse scandals dating back centuries and leaving many Catholics in spiritual limbo, I wonder how different things might have been if women’s ministry in Catholic communities had been equal to that of men – many of whom either abused children or abetted the abusers.

If women had long ago been embraced not just as “altar servers” but as priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes, perhaps the faithful might have better heeded Christ’s call to alleviate suffering among the poor and oppressed, to care for children, minister to the sick, and fight for social and economic justice. And perhaps Vermont might not now be investigating a child physical and sexual abuse scandal of its own.

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Book Review: The Vermont Way by Gov. Jim Douglas

The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State By Jim Douglas (New Haven, Vt.:Common Ground Communications / A Bray Book, 2014, pp. 359, paper $35.00).

Former Governor Jim Douglas’s autobiography, The Vermont Way, details his thirty-eight-year political service to Vermonters. It is an intimate and personal narrative that captures his outgoing demeanor and tries to define his historical legacy.

Shortly after graduation from Middlebury College in 1972, Douglas was elected to the Vermont House. He went on to become majority leader and later joined Governor Richard Snelling’s senior staff. He then served twelve years as secretary of state. He followed that with an eight-year stint as state treasurer, culminating in his election in 2002 as governor, which office he held for four terms, earning more votes than any other politician in Vermont history.

Douglas’s reminiscences, both about his leadership roles and his influence on the political ebbs and flows during his many years of service, make for an interesting personal retrospective.  The book’s title and cutline, taken together, define the inherent tension of his long career. Douglas works to convey what Vermonters already know and like about their former Governor—his dry wit, accessibility, and congenial personality, sharing anecdotal digressions that make clear his affection for Vermonters. At the core of his belief system is his certainty that spending time among Vermonters rather than their politicians enabled him to distill the wisdom and experience of his constituents and bring it to the decision-making process in Montpelier.  He also draws on Vermont’s Republican century prior to 1963 as the philosophical basis for his own legacy.  That long era of virtually one-party rule in Vermont was characterized by leaders who were often progressive with regard to the wellbeing of their neighbors and on environmental issues, while remaining conservative on fiscal issues—a balance that inspired Douglas.  He also references the example of his mentor, Governor Deane C. Davis: “He told Vermonters the truth” (p.13). 

Douglas’s own delivery of hard truths to Vermonters is a recurring theme in the book.  But “truth” is a slippery term, especially in the ideologically charged context of politics, and Douglas takes umbrage when others present facts to buttress political arguments which he disputes.  For example, during his tenure he often asserted as fact that Vermont is the most highly taxed state in the country and that this drives Vermonters and businesses out. Yet according to IRS and Tax Foundation data commissioned by Douglas’s and the legislature’s Blue Ribbon Tax Commission (on which I served with Kathy Hoyt and Bill Sayre), although Vermont does have a relatively high tax burden it ranks somewhere between ninth and thirteenth nationally, depending on the methodology applied. Moreover, the data showed that slightly more people are moving in than moving out, a fact Douglas himself now acknowledges in the book.

The book is compromised, however, by Douglas’s under-edited writing style. Even though this is a memoir, too many sentences begin with “I,” which leaves a reader wondering about Douglas’s concept of political leadership:  Does he see himself as the sole standard bearer for his version of Republicanism?  Did he have or rely on colleagues to help him shape and implement policies?  And too many sentences end with an “!”.  This breathless writing style is often at odds with Douglas’s more serious points. 

Moreover, the narrative is often diminished by Douglas’s defensive reactions to those disagreeing with him.  An example is his general antipathy for the press and media. “Seven Days isn’t really a newspaper,” he writes, “but I stopped reading one that is, The Addison County Independent” (p. 291).  Douglas lambastes the editorial page writer for calling into question his policies and motives. The Addison County Independent is published in Middlebury, Douglas’s hometown, and he later adds, “It’s a little awkward, to be sure, not to read the local paper” (p. 291). He goes on to attack The Rutland Herald / Barre Montpelier Times Argus: “The Mitchells [owner/publishers] have been community-minded and supportive but they give their editors free rein and the staff wrote a number of outrageous editorials in my later terms” (pp. 292-293). “Free rein?” Douglas seems to believe that publishers should dictate their editorial writers’ opinions. He cites an editorial in which the writer suggests that the governor’s opposition to gay marriage was “driven by politics” and that his reasoning was “bogus,” “sad and perplexing,” and “contradictory.” (p. 293).  In this case, the writer of the “outrageous editorials” won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing on the evolution of gay marriage, which Douglas opposes. Not only does Douglas misunderstand editorial firewalls, he asserts, “I guess their view is that, if you disagree with someone, the best approach is to demean his or her arguments rather than rebut them civilly.” He adds, “Gee, how many insults can fit into a single editorial?” and “Wow! Time to take a deep breath!” (p. 291) Sadly, such personal reactions to press criticism substitute for a considered recollection of the evolving political debate and betray a misunderstanding of journalism’s role in a democracy.

Occasionally, a darker side of Douglas emerges, obscuring the otherwise warm and genial style. His retelling of his defeat on gay marriage and the legislative override of his veto, focuses on his animus toward proponents. “He [his successor, Governor Peter Shumlin] later reciprocated by appointing one of the leading lobbyists of the movement to the Supreme Court” (p. 166). Beth Robinson was indeed appointed to the Court, but the implication is that this “lobbyist’s” appointment was political payback, when, in fact, Robinson is an experienced and highly respected attorney who clerked on the Washington D.C. Circuit, often considered a step away from the Supreme Court of the United States. To refer to her as a “lobbyist” and her appointment to the Vermont Supreme Court as a political reward disregards her unimpeachable qualifications.

Douglas is also crisp in his disdain for special interest groups, writing that environmental organizations “often had no connection to a proposal except that they opposed it, they had money, and they liked to cause mischief.” This generalization conveys his frustration, but hardly does justice to the motives at work.  He goes on to say that, “there are outfits like the Conservation Law Foundation, a special interest law firm, whose initials might just as easily stand for, Control Land Forever. Along with their confederates at the Vermont Law School, they have impeded just about every development in the state in the last few years. They try to stop everything” (p. 213). In Douglas’s view there seems to be little room for the interplay of opposing ideas and civil discourse characteristic of democracy. 

Governor Douglas’s autobiography is a comfortable read when it is about himself, his family, his Vermont neighbors, and his almost four decades of political activity. It is the subjective retrospective of a man who sincerely loves his constituents and, in turn, desires their affection. The partisan rhetoric, however, undermines the book’s value as an historical record of his extensive service to Vermonters.                                                                                                                      

Bill Schubart

Bill Schubart is a retired businessman, public radio commentator, and a fiction writer.

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Book Review: Horse-Drawn Yogurt by Peter Gould

Horse-Drawn Yogurt: Stories from Total Loss Farm

By Peter Gould (Brattleboro: Green Writers Press, 2017 pp. 217, paper $19.95)

I had no idea what to expect when I began reading Horse-Drawn Yogurt. My expectation of libertine tales of life on a hippie commune in Vermont in the Sixties and Seventies soon gave way to the realization that I was in the hands of a master storyteller – one who knows the point of story is not always the story itself but the deeper truths that narrative conveys about who we are and why we persist amidst life’s chaos and confusion… how we hopefully migrate from naïve and youthful immortals through the realities life imposes to the hard-won wisdom and humility of age.

Gould’s tales, while visceral and entertaining, are never content to be just stories. Sometimes they express a personal epiphany, ask the unanswerable question, or portray a time in which the post-war, middle-American dream began to unravel, as young people began asking their parents and teachers questions they could neither answer nor understand. The prospect of consumer comforts, golf club membership, a new car every other year, and a lifelong job is losing its appeal to this generation, as they’re being drafted into a war that lacks any moral purpose. They see the assassinations of civil rights leaders of all colors on snowy black and white TV sets, as well as other young people sharing their doubts about the country’s direction being fired on by National Guardsmen. Gould captures this fraught time in America with the clarity of a starlit summer night in Packer Corners.

Woven through the tales is Vermont’s live-and-let-live reception of new arrivals of all sorts, the bemused welcome Vermonters generally exhibit towards the counter-culture communards buying up lost hill farms that dotted the rural landscape. Gould weaves indigenous Vermonters into his tales with respect and gratitude for their oversight, help during natural catastrophes, and their willingness to offer advice, share a warm fire or a place at the table.

The quotidian chores of splitting and stacking wood, weeding a garden, tapping maple trees and boiling sap, pressing cider, gathering eggs, baking pies with fruit raised on the commune, all become metaphors for larger truths that gyre over the narrative like red-tailed hawks. Gould suspends us between the seasonal chores of communal life, the complexities of living together in anarchic penury, rampant hormones, and the larger truths to be distilled from that experience.

He largely meets the challenge of chaptering his short stories of a different time into a virtual novella, both capturing the details of communal life and work with an impressionist’s eye and an ear for the timbre of life in the ‘60s and ‘70s in Vermont.

Horse-Drawn Yogurt is a vital and personal telling of a period in Vermont and the country at large that rises to the literary level of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion or Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America. Few descriptions of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s transcend the monochrome lenses of political, sociological, or ecological narrative and capture the Cineramic zeitgeist of this time in America.

Writing of the Chilean singer, poet, activist, and martyr, Victor Jara, Gould (himself a stutterer) asks:

As a stutterer, to be impelled to speak perfectly by the terrible fluency of truth: the truth of why you were born joined to the truth of what you know, what you have to tell? When you see that or hear that in people, you recognize it and it nearly stops your heart; you wonder: will that ever happen to you? How would it feel?” (p.153)

Gould answers his own question in Horse-Drawn Yogurt.

                                                                                                Bill Schubart

Bill Schubart is an author of seven works of fiction and currently chairs the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives, works and write in Hinesburg, VT.

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A Tree Falls in our Woods

I love working in the woods and I’ve come to know all the great trees on our land. They’re like friends – the surviving American elm that looks like a frozen geyser as it towers above the other trees, the dying butternuts in disarray, the wolf pines, the sturdy black cherries, and, of course, the centenarian sugar maples.

So when I’m cutting downed wood or clearing old paths and cross-country trails and come upon one of my giants lying on the ground, the loss is deep and personal. And when I heard Con Hogan had left us, I knew one of the giants in Vermont’s landscape had fallen.

We’re told such losses are simply “nature’s way,” but that does little to assuage our grief. And so we rely on our memory of his stature, the shade and shelter he provided for so many, the nourishment and care he offered, not to the beasts of the wild, but to our children, neighbors, those whom our economy left behind, and the offenders among us. Con cared deeply for us all.

His colleagues and coworkers will better detail the myriad ways in which Con made Vermont a better place. We served on several boards together, but more importantly I saw Con as a friend, mentor, confidant and one to whom I could go with my confusion and despair – the very same confusion and despair that still draw me into the woods.

Con once asked me to invite some CEOs from the VT Business Roundtable to join him and some inmates for a meal in the South Burlington Correctional Facility. We sat interspersed with offenders and carried on conversations as best we could over stainless steel plates of prison fare. A few weeks later, he asked me to invite them again to my office where he asked us to contribute some funds so he could assemble a woodworking shop for an offender coming out of prison after forty-five years. The old man was reluctant to leave behind the woodworking tools he’d access to in prison for making his elegant birdhouses.A giant among us has fallen and, as I head into the cool, dark woods, I know my sadness will in time turn to gratitude as I remember all that Con has given us.

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Aretha Brings It All Home

As a student fascinated with recording technology, I had the privilege of interviewing for a job at Columbia Records when I was in my mid-twenties. I was first asked a lot of questions about production and then asked to critique a recent Columbia release from a technical and creative standpoint. The album was Aretha’s last album for Columbia.

I praised the recording quality and expressed amazement at her vocal capacity but lacked the wisdom to remain silent about how soupy the string and horn arrangements were that somehow whitened her beautiful black voice. I didn’t get a callback.

Meanwhile two Turkish businessmen, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun had started a “roots music” label called Atlantic Records. In 1967, they persuaded Aretha to join their label and her first album “I Never Loved a Man the Way I love You” struck gold. The sound was completely different.

Unlike Columbia, they let Aretha be herself and Rhythm and Blues was the winner – no Mitch Miller-arrangements just Aretha’s own rich voice and sound, not someone else’s. Luckily the lion’s share of Aretha’s recorded output appeared on the Atlantic label. The striking contrast exemplified how easily an A&R – artists and repertoire – producer could distort the natural talent of a singer or group.

Five years later when my brother Mike Couture and I started Philo Records, we simply eliminated the A&R role and gave artists complete control over their choice of material and studio side-personnel. Word of this spread in the music community and we were inundated with artists seeking the opportunity to develop their music as they conceived it.

Philo Records was a critical success, if not a financial one, going on to produce some hundred and forty albums in its decade-long history, many of which are still available today.

My own first solo recording endeavor was at UVM, recording a young and very popular group called Talbot’s Bus. It featured the phenomenal singer Betty Smith, now better known for her long association with this broadcast service, and her brilliant guitarist-husband Tony Mastaler, along with cellist Brian Lloyd, and bassist, Billy Parker.

Funny how music brings it all back around.

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The Arts: Soul Food

Efforts to defund the National Endowment of the Arts are a quadrennial budget issue here at home. And in many countries, artists, like journalists, are censored, jailed, or even assassinated.

Dictators, nativists, and fundamentalists of all stripes are suspicious of art. And for good reason – because art calls on our better angels, challenges orthodoxy, asks impolitic questions, and may even subvert established class order. The enduring enemy of art is fear.

Countless works of great art have rocked the world, like the songs of Woody Guthrie and The Freedom Singers, or Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit. Alvin Ailey Dance Company, To Kill a Mockingbird, and George Orwell’s 1984 all changed how we think.

Many momentous shifts in our world order have been nurtured by artists, infusing the chaos of social or economic disruption with vision and beauty. Witness the Assyrian/Babylonian Empire, Athens, China’s Han Dynasty, and the Renaissance. For millennia, artists have prowled the borderlands between decline and reinvention.

Disruption today is manifest in our being the richest country on earth as we tolerate a stunning acceleration of extreme poverty, according to the U.N. But the strongest cohesive element among resources vital to the survival of our communities – like shelter, food, education, employment, and health care – may be art.

And while those with great wealth continue to build memorials to themselves in the acknowledged bastions of our greatest art: museums, opera, ballet, and concert halls, we must fight the philanthropic and political drift away from the accessible arts. We must remember that, for many, art is a social and spiritual safety net, where country music, jazz, folk dance, murals, memoir, poetry slams, and delta blues – all have their own place in the realm of great art.

But art and entertainment are wholly different entities and should not be used, as they so often are, in a parallel phrase. Entertainments amuse us and pass time while art is soul food and we must all make the case for its continued support by our elected officials, the wealthy among us, and the generations that will succeed us.

Anyone who doubts this should watch the Beethoven’s 4th Movement (The Ode to Joy) flashmob or the flashmob in a Madrid unemployment office when musicians begin playing “Here Comes the Sun”.And try to maintain a dry eye.

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Clean Water

My favorite way to recover after a hot afternoon’s hard work has always been to chug down a quart of ice cold water from a Mason jar and then jump into a clear mountain brook or a neighbor’s pond.

It refreshes me both inside and out and reminds me that water is a healer – as well as one of our most fragile natural resources.

In the ‘50s, my family had a camp on Lake Willoughby and every spring we’d run one end of a pipe into the lake to feed the camp’s drinking supply. As kids, we drank from mountain streams when hunting and fishing. And we swam in Lake Elmore, even though it was effectively the local septic system.

Usually, there wasn’t any visible evidence of that.

Seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is water, but only 2.5% of that is fresh water and only one percent is accessible to human, animal, and plant life. All earth’s species depend on access to potable water. And yet throughout history we’ve acted as if the water on which we depend is pollution proof.

In 1969, when the Cuyahoga River caught fire, public outrage did as well over the dumping of industrial chemicals and raw sewage into a principal Lake Erie feeder.

Better living through chemistry was a popular slogan in my childhood. And that sunny promise – along with “black water” from coal mining – still poisons many aquifers and farmlands. Chemicals used to extract natural gas in fracking operations and pesticides applied in support of mono-cropping are now present in our land, our breast milk, our bloodstreams and have lowered the average male sperm count.

For a species entirely dependent on potable water, we’ve shown precious little regard for protecting it. Both here and elsewhere, the dilemma is always how to balance the interests of business and agriculture with the basic need for water that’s safe for personal use.

Now the two are intersecting in our recreational water resources – witness the toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi and their combined impact on tourism revenue.

Hopefully, our new-found sense of responsibility isn’t too little too late – and that measures to protect these resources aren’t discriminatory. Because the wealthy can afford to pay for clean water to drink or play in – while the world’s poor can’t.

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From: The Chinese Kitten by Edna A. Brown 1922

AT THE BEACH


The house where the Merrills lived in Westmore was a brown cottage, but
it seemed large and like a palace when the children saw the shack at the
beach. Still, they liked the shack very much.

The front room had a couch and chairs, and a square table which could be
used for eating. There was one wee bedroom and the smallest kitchen ever
seen. That kitchen was hardly so large as a good-sized cupboard. Mrs.
Merrill could stand in its centre and reach everything on all four walls.
It contained a little sink and an oil stove and some dishes, not a great
many dishes, but that made fewer to wash.

The shack stood on a hard sandy ridge, not near any other house. Behind,
the sand sloped to a road where automobiles were always passing. In
front there was sand that slid around under foot, and then a broad hard
beach and the wonderful ocean. When the children came on that sunny
Saturday, for it was sunny in spite of all their watching the sky, the
sea was a deep blue, with white fringes on the shore, where the waves ran
up and then slid back again. The sand looked grayish-green, but when the
water touched it, it turned shiny.

Dora could not take her eyes off the ocean. She forgot that she had
wished to see Uncle Dan and Jack Simmons put up the tent. They pitched it
near the shack, on the south side, and drove the poles and the pegs in
just as hard as they could hammer them, so that the wind would not loosen
the ropes.

When the tent was up, Dora and Lucy went inside. They pulled up all the
beach peas growing in the enclosed space, so there was only a floor of
warm dry sand, soft and fine. Mrs. Merrill had brought on the truck some
rag rugs. These were spread on the clean sand and the legs of the cots
put on the rugs. If this were not done, a cot might tumble down when
somebody was asleep on it.

Between the tent poles Uncle Dan stretched a rope. This was for Olive and
the little girls to hang their clothes over. There was not much room left
when the three cots had been set up and a chair brought from the house to
hold a wash-bowl and pitcher, but Lucy and Dora thought it was beautiful.

“We will keep our suit-cases under the beds,” said Olive. “And we must be
careful not to lose little things in this sand.”

It took only a few minutes to get settled in the tent. Lucy and Dora put
on some old rompers they had brought for bathing dresses. Olive put on
her pretty blue suit and tied a blue handkerchief around her hair. Dora
thought she looked extremely nice. She decided that when she was twenty,
like Olive, she would have a blue jersey bathing suit. But meantime she
liked her rompers very well.

Such a wonderful beach that was! There were not many shells to pick up,
but a great many interesting pebbles. Almost immediately the children
found a strange creature, shaped like a horse’s hoof, but transparent and
with a long, sharp tail. It seemed quite dead and Dora was glad that it
was. She really would not like to meet it strolling down the beach. Olive
laughed and said that it was a horseshoe crab and would not do her any
harm.

Quite soon, Father and Mother Merrill and Uncle Dan came out, dressed
to go into the sea. Lucy and Dora waded in to their waists, squealing
because the water was so cold. But in just a few minutes it did not seem
cold at all, and they wanted to stay in all day.

Mother would not let them. Much sooner than they wished, she told them to
go out and dress.

“It won’t do to stay too long the first time,” she said. “Put on your old
ginghams and you may go barefooted and wade all you like, but you have
been in the water long enough for to-day.”

It seemed hard to come out when Uncle Dan and Olive were still jumping
waves and even diving through them, but it would be fun to go without
shoes or stockings and to run into the edge of the water whenever they
wished. Besides, Mother herself came out when they did.

Lucy and Dora dressed quickly. They hung their wet clothes on a line
which Mother stretched from the corner of the shack to the rear tent
pole. Something was cooking on the oil stove which smelled very good.

“When will dinner be ready?” asked Lucy. “I am as hungry as can be.”

“It will be ready before the others are dressed,” said her mother. “I
wish they would come out.”

Strange to say, Uncle Dan was willing to leave the ocean before Olive.
Father Merrill grew cold and waded ashore, but Olive did not look cold
at all. It was Uncle Dan who seemed shivery and whose lips turned blue.
Olive ran into the tent and presently threw out her suit. Dora hung it on
the line, after brushing off what sand she could manage.

What a funny dinner that was! Nobody had more than one spoon, and some of
the spoons were not a size any one would choose to eat with. There were
just forks enough to go around and Lucy and Dora had to share a knife.
But this was only the more sport.

Olive’s hair was wet and tied with a ribbon, so she looked like a little
girl with it hanging down her back. There were not chairs for everybody,
and Uncle Dan sat on an old crate which kept cracking and acting as
though it were going to break and let him down on the floor. But Dan
didn’t care if it did.

“Alice Palmer lives in a house somewhere at this beach,” said Lucy
contentedly. “It is much more fun to camp.”

After dinner Mrs. Merrill told them all to go down on the beach and she
would wash the dishes.

“We will do nothing of the kind,” said Olive. “You got dinner alone and
I shall wash the dishes myself and the children will wipe them. You will
not be allowed in the kitchen, Molly Merrill, and indeed, there is not
room for anybody but Lucy and Dora and me.”

“Well!” said Mrs. Merrill, and she put on her hat and went down to the
edge of the water with Father Merrill.

There was no can for the garbage, so Olive gave the dish to Uncle Dan and
told him to take it down the beach away from all the houses and dig a
hole and bury it.

“What for?” asked Dan. “Why not throw it out for the gulls to eat?”

Olive said he was not to do this. The gulls might not eat it immediately
and the flies would collect and it would be unpleasant for people who
were passing. It must be buried, and quite deep at that.

Lucy and Dora were amused to see Uncle Dan go off to bury the garbage
just as Olive said. But she looked so pretty with her wavy hair tied back
with the blue ribbon that it was no wonder Uncle Dan did what he was
told.

For dinner, they had used every dish in the shack, except one big and
very black kettle, but even then it did not take long to wash them.
Just for fun, Lucy and Dora counted as they wiped. There were precisely
forty-three dishes, and that included all the spoons and knives and forks.

“Now,” said Olive as they finished, “don’t you think it would be nice to
have sandwiches for supper and eat them on the beach?”

Lucy and Dora both thought it would be an excellent plan.

“Then let’s go and ask your mother,” said Olive. “Because if she is
willing, we will make the sandwiches right now, and then we shall not
have anything to do for supper except eat it.”

Olive and the little girls ran a race to see which would first reach
Mrs. Merrill. Lucy won, because her legs were longer than Dora’s and,
anyway, Dora wasn’t trying very hard to beat Olive.

Mrs. Merrill approved of the sandwiches. She said that Olive might plan
supper exactly as she liked. So they ran back to the shack.

By this time Uncle Dan had buried the garbage and he helped make the
sandwiches. Some were filled with peanut butter and some with orange
marmalade. Olive also boiled six eggs, one for each. She wrapped the
sandwiches in waxed paper, and put them in a basket covered with a damp
cloth. She put in the eggs and the salt and the pepper, and a loaf of
cake and a knife to cut it with. She put in some peaches and some paper
napkins.

“Our supper is ready,” she announced. “All we have to do is to come for
the basket when we want to eat.”

Uncle Dan wanted to walk up the beach to see the life-saving station.
Olive’s hair was dry now, so she twisted it up and pinned on a pretty hat
made of blue silk ribbon. They invited the little girls to go, but both
preferred to play in the sand.

Lucy took a big spoon from the kitchen to dig a well, but Dora planned to
collect shiny white and gray-green pebbles and make a house for herself.
This she did by outlining the walls with pebbles and leaving spaces for
doors and windows. The beach was so wide that there was room for a large
house. Quite soon Lucy came and began to make herself a house next door
to Dora’s.

To build the house took a long time, but just as it was finished, Dora
had a visitor. The tide was coming, and the first she knew, old Father
Ocean ran right in through her front door without even so much as
knocking! He did not stay, but ran promptly out again, leaving wet marks
all over the front hall of Dora’s new house.

Dora did not say anything then, but the next time a big wave rushed up,
the water came into her parlor and curled about her bare toes.

“I shall have to move,” she said to Lucy.

“Or go away until to-morrow,” suggested Lucy. “Look! How low the sun is.”

Where _had_ that afternoon gone? It did not seem as though they had been
playing more than a few minutes. But the sea was growing gray instead
of blue, and the sun struck long level lines through the air. Up by the
shack Father and Mother were enjoying themselves; Mother sitting quite
idle, just looking at the water; Father lying on his back in the sand.
Away down the beach Olive and Uncle Dan were coming. It must be time for
that picnic supper.
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Hank Lambert Memoir: Horses Don’t Pull

Horses Don’t Pull

Farm accidents happen all the time. There are so many things to trip over and fall down from in the barn, in the woods, in the hay fields. Cement floors get slick with cow shit. It’s too bad, cuz when a farmer gets laid up the farm can go downhill real fast. The family suffers, too. If you get hurt bad enough you can’t provide.

  • Paraphrased from a conversation with brother, Ray

As I knelt at Grandpa’s casket in the living room of his village home, I wept for the loss of this good and gentle man. His slight frame against the white lining belied a formerly tough and sinewy body. I gazed through tears at the swollen cheek where the cancer had set in two years earlier. Likely smoke from the pipe stem the doctors said. Grandpa savored the comfort of the smoky aroma at quiet times after supper in the quiet of the evening. The straight stem pipe rested in his side pocket through the day when it wasn’t clenched unlit by his dentured molars. At rest he would take a leather pouch from his pocket, tamp a bowlful of Prince Albert with his thumb, lift his leg and sweep a sulfur match under his britches and light up. At home in his rocker he would strike the match under the wooden arm rest. The malignancy had migrated to his brain, slowly limiting memory, conversation and function. I searched Grandpa’s neck for signs of the injury ten years earlier that had prompted him and Grandma to move from his beloved 100-acre farm to the village.

The leather wrist support had been removed for Grandpa’s laying out. It had provided some comfort to his shattered wrist since the fall. A metal hook embedded at its heal imparted a modest ability to lift. I wondered where Grandma had put it. It would be a reminder of my responsibility for the tragedy. I think she pitched it in the trash right after he came home from the hospital for the last time.

He was a man of quiet precision who enjoyed every aspect of farming the land, working his horses and cattle, growing, nurturing and harvesting the crops. The rhythm of the seasons carried him. His affection for the land and its creatures was as a lover enthralled by the glimpses of his partner, the beloved’s familiar smells and touches.

He was not formally educated and could minimally read and write. It was delightful talking with him. The plural of man was mens. Stones were stuns. He called butternuts buttnuts. Corn stalks mounted to dry in piles were stooks. He was wise and had a high IQ in matters of the land, animals and life.

Grandpa was skillful with a scythe. He sharpened the blade on a whetstone wheel that he pedaled with his right foot and carried a smaller one in his back pocket. His arms and upper body swayed gracefully as the sharp blade cut swaths of hay or millet. He would stop every five minutes or so to wipe his brow and sharpen the blade. Watching him swing the scythe with sure, perfectly timed sweeps of the curved instrument was to see an artist, a dancer, adept at his craft.

I walked behind Grandpa one fall day as he managed to steady the plow behind his team. The single furrowed plow turned the sod in a lengthening wave of fresh dirt. When he stopped the team with a whoa, I asked why are you stopping, Grandpa? He wiped his brow with the red handkerchief always visible from his back pocket and said, Don’t ‘buse your horses by overworking ‘em. They need their rest. You gotta’ be good to ‘em and they’ll be good to you.

Somewhere I read that horses move like they always hear music. One spring day Grandpa let Dick and Dan out of barn for the first time in many weeks. The winter had kept them enclosed in their stalls. Daddy, Grandpa and I delighted as the oversized animals whinnied and frolicked on the spring pasture grass like kids, rolling on their backs, their legs flailing the air. I was spellbound watching these almost children playing in complete abandonment to fresh air and the coolness of the ground. The warm sun beamed no more brightly than Dick and Dan did to each other.

It was haying time in the midst of summer. Best to get it now before it gets wet again, Grandpa said. The morning sun had dried it well and the smell of returning rain was in the air. I had ridden my bicycle on this breezy, sunlit day, two miles from the village to Granda’s farm to help with farm chores. He had finished the morning milking hours earlier and the cows were grazing in the meadow. I arrived at lunchtime, as Grandpa was finishing potatoes, Murphys he called them, a few strips of thick bacon, dark toast with butter, a cup of tea. Lunch finished, he donned his crumpled felt hat and asked me Are you ready to fetch some hay? I nodded eagerly. What could be better than to be alone with Grandpa in the fields, working with Dick and Dan, his great white Percherons.

He knew his twenty Jersey milkers by name, brushed them down day and night, the coarse curry comb pulling dust and debris from their hairy hides. Contented cows make the best milk he said. He was not less kind to Dick and Dan. He approached their stalls from the rear, announcing his presence with soft, reassuring words. Whoa, easy now rubbing their flanks as he placed a 6-inch wood stepping stool he had built by Dick’s’s side. He lifted the weighty black leather harnesses from the hooks on the wall and manipulated them just so onto his shoulders. Stepping on the bench, he flung the heavy bundle of straps over Dick’s back first, then onto Dan’s. He placed the horse collars about their great necks. He hitched and drew the straps around their bellies.

Turning to me he asked, Did you know horses are artists?

I know Grandpa, I said, because they can draw. We laughed at the worn joke we had shared many times. Grandpa was the first to mention it this time, a set up for what followed.

But did you know horses don’t pull? I thought for a minute. That’s a riddle, right Grandpa? This was a new one.

Think about it, Grandpa replied. You’ll see if you look hard enough, he said with a wink.

He backed Dick out of the stall and led him outside. Dick followed. Grandpa hitched the team to the hay wagon, a flat bed with tall wooden racks on the front and back. We climbed onto the wagon and Grandpa said gidyup. With a slight brush of the reins on their backs, the great whites dutifully moved forward on their way to the hayfield on the gentle slope beyond the house.

The field was a grid of turned Timothy lying in rows waiting to be picked up and stored in the barn. In route, a gust of wind lifted Grandpa’s hat off his head and it caught perfectly on the hames of the collar. He laughed hee, hee, hee, eyes asquint. I couldn’t do that again in a hundred tries he declared. He stopped the horses as I hopped off the wagon. Using a harness strap for leverage, I reached just high enough to retrieve the crumpled felt fedora and handed it to Grandpa. Much obliged he said. As I remounted the wagon he was still chuckling. Don’t that beat all?

Grandpa brought the team to the hay loader, commanded ‘back’ and Dick and Dan backed the wagon to the loader, so the hitches were nearly touching. I always delighted in watching Grandpa work his horses that he loved so much. A chk, chk was ‘go ahead;’ ‘gee’ was turn right, ‘haw’ meant left and ‘back’ for backing. The team responded more precisely than a well-trained cow dog. I hopped off the wagon and dropped the metal pin that hitched the hay loader to the rear of the wagon.

My job was to drive the horses and wagon over the windrowed hay. The rotation of the two large wheels on the loader engaged the gears bringing 6” oscillating tines over the rows of hay. The tines repeated their clawing motions elevating the loose hay to the top of the tin floored mount of the hay loader, dropping hay onto the rear of the wagon. Make sure to keep them in check grandpa told me. You’ve got to pull back on the reins, so they don’t take the lead. You gotta be in charge and hold them back. If they go too fast I won’t be able to keep up with all the hay coming in.

With a chk! chk! I started the team over the windrows. Hay fell onto the wagon and Grampa started placing the loose hay on the front corners, the sides, filling the middle. Grampa had done this so many times it was second nature. Using his three-tined fork, he deftly placed forkfuls of hay about the flatbed wagon as he had done so many times before. A first layer of hay was followed by a second and a third, the load mounting. He stepped on the escalating layers interlocking the strands of hay as they rose higher. Three times during the loading Grandpa hollered whoa which I repeated to Dick and Dan, bringing the team and wagon to a halt giving Grandpa time to place the mounting hay. You gotta hold ‘em back. Keep a steady rein. The wagon was nearly filled and I was wondering if Grandpa would let me drive the loaded wagon to the barn. I suddenly heard a muffled yell from Grandpa, Whoa aaay followed by a thud. I stopped the horses and looked back for Grandpa who wasn’t on the wagon. I hurriedly climbed off the high mound of hay and there he was on the ground in a heap, trying to stand. Give me a hand getting up he said. When he stood with his arm about my shoulder, he said his neck felt real stiff. He could stand on one leg but the other wouldn’t cooperate. That’s funny he said. Help me to the ground. Once lying in the stubble with his head back he said You’d best get your grandmother.

I ran as fast as I could barely seeing the ground through tears welling in my eyes. The 500 yards to the house seemed like two miles. When I finally arrived I was so winded I could barely talk. Grandpa’s hurt I said. He fell off the wagon.

Grandma hurried to the hay field, found Grampa on his side, still stunned, trying to make sense of the pain that riddled his body. Again, he tried to walk, this time leaning on Grandma. You best lie still, Fred she told him. With my help she let him gently to the ground.

Grandma saw Mrs. Stimets hanging clothes in her backyard down the road barely within shouting distance. She took off her apron and waved it back and forth over her head, yelling as loud as she could. Yoohoo! Yoohoo! Della! Della, bring your car! I ran closer so she could clearly hear me and yelled, Gramps is hurt! Bring your car! Mrs. Stimets drove her car to the house and over the mowed field to where Grandpa lay. She and Grandma helped him into the front seat and drove him slowly to the farmhouse.

I unhitched the team leaving the loaded wagon in the field. As I walked behind the horses toward the barn, I picked up Grandpa’s sweaty hat from the ground. I drove the team to the barn where I hitched them at the watering trough. I brought Grandpa’s hat into the house where they had seated him in the varnished kitchen rocker. The chair’s back was adorned with a white crocheted netting that read Come Rest Awhile. He sat there dumbfounded, in shock. What happened? Why can’t I move my leg? Are the horses in the barn? Did that load of hay get put up? My wrist pains real bad.

Grandma dialed Doctor Dugan. Fred’s hurt real bad she said, voice quaking. He arrived an eternity later, about a six mile journey from his office. He was not whistling his typical jaunty tune when he arrived. Dr. Dugan looked concerned as they moved Grandpa from the kitchen to the front seat of hid car. They pulled from the driveway, Grandpa leaning stiffly against the back of the seat, Doc Dugan reaching to support Grandpa’s head with his right hand.

Grandma next instructed me to ride my bicycle to the Nolan farm where brother, Ray, was working. The cows need milking and maybe Ray could do the job. I bicycled to the Nolan farm just over a mile away on the east end of Lamkin Street. He and Mr. Nolan were in the barn astride an overhead beam of the hay mow. I told him Grandpa was hurt and he was needed to do the milking. Together we milked the herd and awaited the report from the hospital.

Days later, they brought Grandpa home. He lay in his bed traction, an unlikely sight no one had envisioned. The life of this working man had taken a sudden, irreversible turn. He would have to sell the farm because he would be able to work no longer. He would give up his land, his cows and horses. All he knew was farming. I held back tears at the site of him held immobile in the bed, and the thought of Grandpa never farming again.

Grandpa’s eyes turned to mine. With a glint in his eye he asked Did you figure it out yet?

What’s that, Grandpa? I asked.

The riddle? Did you figure out why horses don’t pull?

No, I replied sullenly.

Why do horses wear collars? Grandpa asked.

He smiled at me as he answered his question They push their shoulders forward against their collars. So, if you think about it, they push the wagon, they don’t pull it. He chuckled and tenderly stared at me through forgiving eyes of understanding. It was clear he wanted to ease my hurt as he was beginning the long process of working through his own pain.

—————————————————————–

Grandpa and Grandma bought a small house in the village across Route 78 from McCuin’s Blue Seal Feed Store. They lived there for the next ten years until Grandpa died of cancer in 1963 at the age of 83. I inherited his iron spittoon and a wooden foot stool he had fashioned from scraps of turned wood and pine board, mementoes of quiet rest.

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