by Ron Powers
Ron Powers is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author who lives in Castleton, Vermont. His latest book, “No One Cares About Crazy People” about the dire state of mental health care in America and the loss of his talented guitar-playing son to the disease comes out February 2017. Here is his column:
Several days ago in this space I took up the topic of the recent Easter-egg-hunt debacle at Wilson Castle in Proctor. You may recall the details: a gentle traditional frolic for children exploded into a proto-riot by their parents who had endured delays in the waiting line, an apparent shortage of plastic candy-filled eggs, and the failure of certain promised cartoon characters to show up. The kind of persecution, in short, that we associate with the downtrodden masses of Chad, Bolivia, Zambia, and North Korea.
Oh, and the inflatable bounce-house collapsed.
Human beings were not meant to live under conditions like this.
Many of the grownups in the line apparently agreed. They decided that they had taken enough. Is a lady in a bunny suit so dear, or jelly beans so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! Revolution was in order! So the patriots streamed under the ropes and out across the meadow, grabbing every goddam egg they could get their hands on (including some from the children’s baskets). They demanded their money back. Scuffling broke out. Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene. Tear gas was employed. An arrest was made. The organizer of the Easter egg hunt was last seen in a shopping mall paying refunds from his own pocket to affronted survivors of the event. Peter Cottontail was reported to have sought sanctuary somewhere deep inside Toys R Us.
The story “went viral,” as our pioneer forefathers used to say, and gained attention throughout the world. Vermont, a state once rated as “the most livable” in the country, where billboards at the border assure incoming tourists that “Yep! Even the gas stations are friendly,” suddenly found itself with an image problem. It was beginning to resemble the United States of America.
In my column, I repressed the urge to unleash my initial reaction—revulsion—at the news of this incident. I refused to fight ire with ire. I opted for the less-blunt weapon of satire. This was just a small incident, after all. Only a few instigators, no doubt. Let it go.
I couldn’t let it go. It wasn’t just a small incident. (See: “went viral,” “gained attention throughout the world.”) Something had been violated, and needed to be restored.
Call me a dreamer. I believe in Vermont, in the idea of Vermont, in the implicit promise of Vermont, in the hope that Vermont represents. (I know. I know. I am a recovering flatlander; our kind gets all verklempt about these things sometimes.) I believe in a Vermont that embodies and respects tradition (Easter eggs are of course an early-Christian symbol of new life); which in turn means a Vermont that respects religions without necessarily subscribing to one. I believe in a Vermont that, contrary to its host nation, rejects commodifying everything, which means not getting grabby and surly over children’s jelly-bean Easter eggs. I believe in a Vermont that accepts human frailty instead of lashing out against it (See: Wilson Castle Easter-egg hunt, debacle). I believe in a Vermont that believes in children, and resists—oh, say, resists snatching away their jelly-bean Easter eggs.
Aren’t I wonderful?
No, but see, I do believe in these things. And this is where Brenda of Modern Cleaners in Rutland comes in.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I returned to Vermont after a few days in the United Sta—after a few days away. A day or so later, I noticed that I’d apparently lost something valuable: an electronic amplifier that I wear on a cord around my neck to boost sound into my hearing aids. (I come from a long line of the hearing-impaired, including my father, who used to go, “Do whut?” every time he misunderstood someone, which was often. I grew to love that phrase as much as Captain Hook loved the sound of the ticking alarm clock in the belly of the crocodile that was following him.)
I called my sister and no-account brother-in-law, in whose house we’d stayed. Called the airport hotel where we’d spent the night before flying home. Called the airline. Each time, I got either a “haven’t seen it” or a “do whut?”
I began to accept the fact that I was out a few thousand dollars.
I hadn’t yet noticed the missing four hundred dollars in cash or the credit card.
I stewed over this for a day or so longer, until I got a phone call from Marilyn, who works behind the counter at the Village Store, down the hill from where we live. The Village Store is where I take my laundry to be sent off and cleaned. I never bothered to ask where it was sent. Flatlander.
Marilyn told me that she’d received a call from Brenda in Rutland. Brenda is an owner of Modern Cleaners. Modern Cleaners is the place to which the Village Store sends my laundry. Modern Cleaners is also the place where for years I have taken clothes to be altered. I like the people at Modern Cleaners. But I never realized that they were the same people who cleaned my duds.
Marilyn told me that Brenda had told her that she had found some items in the pocket of my jacket. One item was my hearing-aid amp. Another was a wad of cash—four hundred dollars—that I’d put in the pocket, so that if our hotel room was burglarized, the bad guys would never find it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burglarized in hotel rooms.
And a final item was an active credit card.
I’d forgotten completely about the cash and the credit card. Brenda at Modern Cleaners had found everything. She’d sealed the items in a little plastic pouch and called up Marilyn at the Village Store.
Now, cleaners-owner X might have discovered this stash and returned everything but the four hundred dollars. Or the four hundred dollars and the credit card. Or even all of it—electing to get in touch not with Marilyn but with Ebay.
Brenda didn’t do any of this. She returned every item she found.
Now, you might say that this is only to be expected of an honest business-owner, especially a Vermont business-owner.
I would agree. And I’d add that civil, forbearing behavior and respect for children are only to be expected of grownups at an Easter-egg hunt, especially a Vermont Easter-egg hunt.
And I’d finish by saying that Brenda at Modern Cleaners represents the kind of Vermont I believe in. The kind of Vermont that the whole country believes in, and needs to believe in, perhaps more than it realizes.
I choose to believe that Brenda’s Vermont is larger Vermont, the authentic Vermont, and that anyone who disagrees with this is a rotten egg.