The annual something-or-other

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been visiting a daughter in northern Vermont and marvels at the energy that goes into the state’s annual August celebrations.

(Lange) There were three of them standing in a line, with their backs to me. Two in blue jeans, one in brown canvas Carhartts. All three had Northeast Kingdom back pockets: worn rectangle on one (pocket book), a circle on the other (Copenhagen). Baseball caps; same as almost anywhere in rural America. This trio was watching the passing scene with interest. And there was plenty to watch.

Inside Town Hall, craftspeople laid out their wares on folding tables. Another table was loaded with baked goods. Outside, runners warmed up for the 5-kilometer foot race. In front of the fire house three people hawked raffle tickets for a pink kayak. Out beside the road, a flatbed trailer was a parade reviewing stand. Somebody fiddled with a balky sound system. Behind the firehouse, smoke billowed from a huge barbecue. It was smart, someone advised me, to buy your barbecue tickets early. There were only as many tickets as chickens — 160 – and most years they run out before everybody who wants one gets one.

It’s a scene common all over northern New England in August – the Annual Something-or-Other. For not only does August have much better weather than July; the tourists are here in numbers as large and predictable as black flies in June. Just as March brings sap up from the earth, into buckets, and into local bank accounts, so do the tourists provide important infusions of cash during the late summer. There’s hardly a town doesn’t schedule something to tap that resource. Old Home Days, centennial celebrations, ham-and-bean suppers, concerts on the green, raffles. It’s an old rural maxim – make hay while the sun shines – and August means sunshine.

This was the annual Woodbury Volunteer Fire Department Day, to benefit the local department. It’s hard to imagine a worthier town charity. The firefighters and rescue personnel are all volunteers, who respond around the clock to emergencies over a wide area accessible by secondary and dirt roads. But even with the inexpensive labor, costs for equipment run high. After lunch there was an auction of donated items, proceeds going to the operating budget and the purchase of a new tanker in 2005. The money comes hard, but it comes.

Everywhere I looked, people were doing their thing. The chicken barbecue guys, wreathed in smoke, labored like stokers in a world of their own. The runners took off in a rubber-soled herd. The parade organizers got everybody lined up and ready to go. Traffic control guys moved orange cones around and waved cars past. It was like a beehive, everybody pitching in. Mother and I were tickled to see one of our daughters in it up to her elbows. You could tell, the new tanker, when it finally arrives, all shiny with valves and wheels and levers, and with Woodbury’s name on the door, will be cherished like a precious jewel. This is the Kingdom at its finest.

This is Willem Lange up in Woodbury, Vermont, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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