Lila & Theron: Bennington Banner Review
- By Michael F. Epstein Bennington Banner Aug. 10, 2017
Vermont, with all of its natural beauty and rich history, is a place where two worlds co-exist side by side, largely untouched by each other. One Vermont is manifest in the outlet shops in Manchester, the theater and music available from Weston to Hardwick and from Randolph to Marlboro, the fine dining and chic shops of Burlington and Stowe, and the big glass and wood second homes being built on hillsides near thriving ski mountains. The other Vermont is evident in the empty store fronts that line many of our Main Streets, the worn-out trailers at the edges of towns, and the crumbling barns and farmhouses in mountain valleys and back hills. It is the latter Vermont that is the main setting in two fine books authored by local writers — Bill Schubart, a native of the Northeast Kingdom and now a resident of Hinesberg, and Robin MacArthur, born and now living in Marlboro.
Schubart’s book, “Lila and Theron,” (Charles Michael Publishing, 2017) is a slim volume written in plain, unadorned language laid out in short sentences and brief paragraphs. We meet Theron, the main character, in the book’s first sentence at his birth; his death, 94 years later is recounted in the book’s final sentence. In between, Schubart introduces us to a group of memorable and caring characters around Elmore where Theron grows up first in foster care after his mother dies and then with his alcoholic, depressed father until he also dies. Theron goes to school, marries his classmate Lila, and works the subsistence dairy farm left to him, never going more than a few miles from his birthplace. The community’s support in the roles of the poor administrator, the town nurse, the school teacher, the foster family, the neighbors, and most of all his Uncle Adrian enable this deeply-wounded and scarred young man to emerge sad but strong, steady, and loving.
His young wife, Lila also lost a parent when her father drowned on a log run on the Big River that went bad. Her mother, disabled by chronic arthritis and grief, sends Lila from Springfield to Elmore to live with her aunt and uncle. Lila and Theron, both orphaned, are drawn to each other, and most of the book recounts their 71-year marriage, their childless years on the farm, their simple pleasures, and their love and commitment. Theron’s care for his aging wife will move even the most reserved reader to tears. The hard lives of Vermont’s farmers, loggers, trappers, and laborers are conveyed with subtlety and passion. Schubart makes clear the importance of community support and interdependence for survival in this hard and challenging environment. – Michael F. Epstein