Saturday, December 1, 2012

A note or two about my little town

Sometimes, most of the time in fact, I really love the town in which I live. It has been my intention to start writing a bit about it and telling a few of its stories.

Just yesterday, for instance, I started the day by hosting a Friday morning radio show on our all volunteer community radio station. Most of the two hour time slot was spent in a free wheeling discussion with Daryl Pillsbury, who works nights on the maintenance staff at our local hospital. I first met Daryl when he was the sole voice for the working class on the Selectboard which manages our town. He later spent 8 years as our county's representative in our State Government. Several years ago, he and another local citizen created the Heat Fund, a non-profit (no one gets paid a cent) which raises money to provide emergency fuel assistance in our county.  He'd come in after getting off work to promote the Heat Fund; we also talked politics and his work for the Marijuana Resolve (which he helped start) whose goal is to end the legal insanity and attendant costs of criminalizing pot smokers. By 9am I was training a new radio station participant, an older man who has spent years as a local realtor, whose show mixes advice on real estate with 1950's and 1960's rock and roll. As each song plays, he makes hand gestures as though he were performing the choreography of a doo-wop group. As I made my way to the post office, I ran into two different friends, both requiring stops for quick discussions. After running other errands, I attended the kick off of our holiday season at the tree lighting in the center of town. The tree is in a "vest pocket" park, which is a story or two in itself. Santa was there. As was a young father with his 3 or 4 year old son, both on Dad's bicycle standing off to one side. The Dad asked his son if he wanted to go over and meet Santa. The boy hid behind his Dad's legs and confessed that Santa Claus scared him. The park sits at the main intersection in town, in front of a Thai restaurant. By the time I made my way home, I'd had another training for another new DJ (Friday is our most difficult day to fill and it is filling up). Today, Santa will arrive via tractor, a yearly event in which he is, I believe, accompanied by Alfred, our local black drag queen (well, the famous one, anyway) who will be dressed as an elf. The annual sing-in of Handel's Messiah also takes place this afternoon. It has professional soloists, but those attending get to sing all the choral parts. There's lots else going on today - all in a town of 12,000 people. Well, it is the third largest town in the state.

Lest you think that I am joking about the Messiah Sing-In, here's an odd bit of video from You Tube. At the beginning of the video, there is a brief shot of the interior of the Centre Congregationalist Church where the event takes place. The church used to be on our town common, but was moved to Main Street and rebuilt close to the center of town back in 1843.

As I was starting the preparations for my regular radio show this week, I was thinking that I might use some of my research for a post. It was quite a surprise, therefore, to find that Laura over at the Austanspace blog had written about our Community Radio Station. As a part of my show, which covers the big band era, vocalists, songwriters, etc. I usually finish with a 15 minute or half hour broadcast from that era which is from the roughly the same week we are in, just a different year. As part of the set up to that finale, I read the news from the local paper published that day. As enjoyable and oddly familiar as the news might be, I think I get my biggest kick from the old advertisements. Here's a few examples from the paper of December 2nd, 1938:

This ad (above) was on the bottom of the front page!

The above ad was from one of the three movie theatres in town in 1938, the Latchis. 
It is part of the Latchis Hotel, one of the few art deco buildings in the entire state of Vermont.

The Latchis in 1938, the year it opened.
The opening was delayed due to the Hurricane that October, which hit the area pretty hard.

Above is the auditorium as it appears today, barely changed from the days when there were weekend stage shows (usually 5 acts of vaudeville) along with the movie. Many years ago I was successful in getting a series of Sunday matinees of classic movies played there. But the story of the Latchis, and my little part in its history, are stories for another day. In the meantime, I have a radio show to put together, and a gentle snow, the first able to leave a bit of accumulation on the ground, is falling. I must make coffee and stare out the window for a bit. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012


There was a time not so long ago that my Sunday morning rituals included a pot of coffee, a couple of newspapers, and Ella Fitzgerald records. For over 25 years, one of those newspapers was the New York Times. That paper, and worthwhile newspapers in general, are far too expensive to purchase now. This past winter, there was a special discount for the Times' online service at 99 cents per month. I signed up, carefully creating automated notes which would be sent to myself to cancel the account as the deal's expiration date neared. Their gambit has paid off, and I have yet to end my service; even though the price has gone up, it is still cheaper per month than purchasing just two editions of their Sunday paper. One of the differences between the online and newsprint edition is that online some of the features stay around for a bit. And so it was that this morning I read an obituary published yesterday of an everyday woman who did remarkable things.

Her name was Vladka Meed. She born Feigele Peltel in Warsaw, Poland. She was a teenager when the Germans walled off Jewish portions of the city into a over packed ghetto of misery and despair. She was working as a seamstress sewing Nazi uniforms when the round up and deportation of Jews to the Treblinka camp 190 miles away began. When members of her family were taken, she joined the Resistance. With Aryan looks, she was recruited to live on the Christian side of the wall, adopting the code name Vladka. She helped circulate information that something was wrong at Treblinka - trains filled with Jews sent to the camp would return empty, but no food or clothing was being shipped there. She began smuggling goods into the ghetto, and children out. Most of such activity was performed by women who could pass as Aryan - men were readily identified as Jews by their circumcisions. She purchased and smuggled across the wall guns, bullets, gasoline for bombs, dynamite and other contraband which helped arm the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis. Ordered not to take part in the four month uprising's final battle, she watched the smoke rising from the ghetto while pretending to enjoy a ride on a carousel. She would later note that with death all but certain, "there was little left to fear."

After the war, her book, "On Both Sides Of The Wall", was one of the first eyewitness accounts of the uprising published. She and her husband, Benjamin Miedzyrzecki (a resistance fighter who had escaped while on a forced work detail and who smuggled many people, including his future wife, to safety) made their way to the United States with $8.00 between them. Around 1950, they changed their last name to Meed. They worked to make people aware of what had happened in Europe. At a time when most people wanted to forget, they started the reunions and registry of Holocaust survivors, and were instrumental in creating the Washington DC and New York City Holocaust museums and memorials. Benjamin died in 2006; during the last few years Vladka slowly declined into Alzheimer's disease. I wonder if it was a blessing.

When I was younger, I always thought that such action in the face of evil was an easy choice. It never occurred to me to think otherwise. But I recall a shameful moment in the late 1970's, early 1980's. I was walking down 6th Avenue in New York City with friends at 2 in the morning. A young man was walking alone a half a block in front of us. Suddenly two other men crossed the street, and to yells of "faggot!" broke a bottle over the head of the man who had been walking by himself. I yelled "let's get them" and started off after them. My friends grabbed me and held me back, telling me not to get involved. The two bashers ran away while their victim walked steadily forward, never stopping, never looking back. To this day I wonder why I let my friends stop me, why we didn't beat the shit out of the bashers, or hold them for arrest. And it makes me wonder, in similar circumstances to hers, would I really be able to show the everyday courage of a Vladka Meed?