Ways of Seeing, Kate Gridley: Middlebury welcoming from day one

They say “it takes a village.”
It started our first day in Middlebury, back in 1991.
Six inches of wet snow on the ground, November 1. I watch a couple of men unpack a small moving van, my four-month-old son on my back, my three-year-old son holds onto my right hand, asking questions. It’s a deep gray day in a new town where we know no one.
A young woman trudges by, with a baby on her back and a toddler gripping her right index finger. She is holding a plate of cookies — for US — and she invites us to come play the next morning. That night, another neighbor, a widow in her eighties comes by with a casserole.
24 Hours: we are already home.
As I look back over twenty-six years in the town we call home, there is no doubt that the saying “It takes a village” was relevant as our sons made their way. It was safe to walk to school. As they grew, they found adults in the community for mentors. The community raised our boys. But in practice, I think the community may have raised the whole family. Here’s one example of many.
Three years ago this week, my husband returned home from a spinal fusion.
While John was regaining his ability to walk and move, my father suffered a medical setback and went into hospice. For the next ten weeks, while I shuttled back and forth between managing the care for one man’s recovery and the care for another man’s death, two villages moved into action.
We weren’t used to asking for help.
There were food chains — the care and love that comes through food is nourishment on many levels.
There were also walking partners. If John was going to recover, he had to walk. This was a full time job: walk, eat, hydrate, and sleep. He started by counting the cement squares on the sidewalk on South Street. The first walk, five squares, about twenty-five feet, was a victory, and then he needed to rest. We set up a schedule of walkers, and folks he didn’t know particularly well, as well as close friends, signed up for either a late morning walk or an afternoon walk. At least fourteen walks a week, steadily increasing in length: fourteen opportunities for conversation and connection.
John made new friends on the walks. I was able to go to work. And go to Connecticut to help my father and mother.
When I was with my father four hours away, the walkers stayed to help John dress and deal with meals. He wasn’t allowed to go out or to go up and down stairs when he was alone for fear he might fall.
Meanwhile my father stopped walking. He and my mother desired more privacy and were uncomfortable asking for — and then receiving — help. Their village brought food anyway, held their hands, sat quietly, ran errands, helped my mother socialize, and kept us company. That company also came through notes, letters and emails: a laugh from California, tears from Florida, memories from Wisconsin.
So on this third anniversary of a personal ten week tunnel of care — for which I will be forever grateful — I cannot help but note that as large parts of our country are on fire, under water, drying up, and drying out as wild fires, floods, droughts and hurricanes rage, we witness countless communities spring into action as folks scramble to help each other get out of harm’s way, and pick up the pieces after.
There are tales of courage, tales of sweetness, and tales of horror — many, though not all, beyond politics, beyond posturing.
Work to be done. Crisis. Help your neighbor.
In some places it is so easy.
In some places it is not.
Kate Gridley is an artist residing in Middlebury. She is currently working on a new series of paintings, “An Iconography of Memory.”

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