Left in Andover: Finding home in Vermont

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Despite my third generation status as a “native” I have no nostalgia for the traditional Vermont in which I grew up. My outsider Jewish, vegetarian, socialist family’s connection was to the land rather than the local culture.

Paradoxically, it took Vermont’s early 1970s “Hippie Invasion” and an influx of flatlanders to make me feel truly at home in my state of origin.

Hippie Invasion scare article published in Playboy magazine in 1972.

Aside from close relatives, I am always asking the question, who are my people? Where do I belong? At age 10, I felt at home in my synagogue. At age 20, I felt safe in the bosom of my commune and, at age 30, I enjoyed the sociable old time music circuit in my role  as fiddler’s wife.

Over the last 25 years, I have carved out my own niche participating in the development of seven local farmers markets. Year after year, week after week, I have loved belonging to an ever-evolving, overlapping tribe of food and craft vendors setting up our tents in the early morning dew, transforming unremarkable grassy spaces into community squares enchanted as Brigadoon.

I concur with Gov. Phil Scott’s mantra that buying local is no longer “just for hippies.” There are many ways to further the cause, but the farmers market venue with its synergy of native and transplant, second-homeowner and tourist, local food, crafts and music has been pure magic.

Due to Covid-19, this was my first 21st century Memorial Day weekend not participating as a crafts vendor, and I am bereft.

Besides disrupting my schedule, Covid has also played havoc with many of my basic life assumptions, behavior patterns and even moral code. At times, I hardly recognize myself.

Susan and grandchild at the West River Farmers Market in 2019.

In the last 30 days:

  • I panicked when an acquaintance innocently knocked on my door to drop off a gift.
  • I stalked off in a major huff upon concluding that dear family members were not social distancing.
  • Plus, I snapped at my beloved sister for inching closer to me than 10 feet as we went for a walk together along opposite sides of Middletown Road.

Back in my hitchhiking days, as part of my formula for survival, I always scoped out a driver’s footwear before accepting a ride. Long hairs driving VWs never wore alligator skin loafers with tassels — ergo my safety was assured.

Since ‘hair the person does not make,’ and shoes are a reliable indicator of socio-economic status but not of inner character, this ritual did little to protect me.

My dad told the following story:

Herb Leader in overalls.

“In 1943, bearded and wearing overalls, I was hoofing past Quechee Gorge when I happened to see a newish car with New York license tags parked along the road.

As I got nearer I spied a couple at the brookside below. The owners seemed to be a middle-aged man and woman. I was just barely able to decipher their Yiddish conversation which went something like this:

Wife, ‘Did you lock the car? That fellow looks like a thief.’ Husband: ‘Let it be. Should I prefer that the car be entered or my head be broken? Let him do what he wants.’

I vacillated, savoring the scene for some minutes, then continued on my way without saying a word.”

My own metrics for ensuring personal safety feel pretty useless these days. Which Shaw’s is the safest to go into? I have exhausted myself calculating who from what demographic hailing from what address might be shopping and breathing out germs at each one, be it Ludlow, Springfield or Manchester.

Susan’s musical family at the West River Farmers Market in 2012.

An authoritative article now circulating in the press and on social media dismisses the notion of supermarkets as prime petri dishes for Covid-19. Apparently the gloves I have been wearing to open doors and push my shopping wagon do more harm than good, spreading germs around the store.

Even a choreographed, masked trip to my local grocery store is a peak experience these days. I am still reluctant to cut myself off from this last vestige of physical community. For me thus far, the pleasures outweigh the risks.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Jayne Moye says:

    Since the day I met you as Jayne Gallagher I knew you were my tribe. Forever grateful for that introduction by Siraj Paletta aka My beloved friend, Caroline Lewitt. As my friend it certainly has been a pleasure and so much fun! I lift my mug to you and the family!