Even After Irene, Halloween Tradition Continues In Waterbury

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(Host) As Vermont communities hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene move through the process of recovery, they mark progress with small, but important steps. This week, Halloween was one such turning point for the town of Waterbury. VPR’s Lynne McCrea has more.

(McCrea) For as long as anyone can remember, Randall Street has been the place to go trick or treating. It’s in the heart of Waterbury village, tucked behind Main Street, where century-old homes sit close to the road – and to each other – a true, small-town neighborhood.

And on Halloween, Randall Street is closed off to vehicles, making it ideal for families with young children.

But back in August, when Irene hit, every house in the neighborhood suffered significant damage. Waterbury Fire Chief Gary Dillon says hardly anyone is actually living on the street right now.

(Dillon) "And the question this year was: After the flood, would people turn out, and would people want to go to Randall Street? And apparently the residents on Randall Street have said, ‘We’re open.’"

(McCrea) One of those residents is Jeremy Ayers, who’s been living with relatives while he rebuilds.

(Ayers) "There’s always been a lot of Trick or Treaters on the street – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, so the neighborhood was making a resolute statement that we would be open for Halloween, even if only 10 percent of the street is living here at the moment."

(McCrea) Ayers says members of his family have owned this house on the corner of Randall Street for more than 100 years, and they’ve been part of the Halloween tradition for generations.

(Ayers) "My grandmother used to make popcorn balls for the neighborhood back when – before the age of packaged candy, when it was still safe to give out homemade candy."

(McCrea) Ayers sits on the door stoop with his wife Georgia and baby Fletcher, giving out candy. His house is like others on the street – more of a construction zone than a home. In between trick or treaters, he recalls the day of the flood.

(Ayers) "We left in chest deep water with the baby on my wife’s shoulders, and we live here in this house with my 94-year-old grandfather and helping him out, we all left with water up to our chest. It went from ankle high to chest high in an hour and a half, and we were really caught off guard by it."

(McCrea) Around the corner, Roger Clapp has also come back to his house for the evening.

(Clapp) "Yes, we had to do it – this is what Randall Street is all about – Halloween – and we had to show our thanks to the community because the community did such a great job helping us out. I had about 10 people here every day, right after the flood, and they were mucking us out in the basement, tearing out sheet rock, and just tremendous outpouring of community here on Randall Street."

(McCrea) Clapp says he hopes to move back in in about a month. All along the street, houses are in various stages of repair. For this one night, though, residents are all together in enjoying a little part of the old neighborhood.

For Fire Chief Gary Dillon, the message is clear. Waterbury, he says, is starting to dig its way back out.

(Dillon) Literally. Gonna be a long way to go, but small steps make a difference."

(McCrea) For VPR News, I’m Lynne McCrea.

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