Vermonters Take To The Street To Remember Irene

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Vermonters are finding many ways to mark the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene.

In the villages of Williamsville and South Newfane, where the damage was heavy, people flooded the streets on Sunday. With music, flowers, ATV’s and trucks, they celebrated the power they found in one another after the storm.

The Leland and Gray High School Samba band started warming up well before noon. Thirty six groups and vehicles had signed up to march in the parade. They met at the Dover Road Rubble Pile. It’s an open field where a yellow house once stood.

Norma Shakun, who lived nearby, carries a poster with ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs.

"The ‘before’ is how the house used to look, with all the trees and the barn and the complete house," she explains with a not-quite-mirthful laugh.

One photo shows a concrete slab, leaning at an odd angle, and a couple of smashed cars.

Shakun points down the road.

"This red one was from my neighbor, over here. And the slab is part of the whole wing that we built in 1992 that was washed away."

Members of the Shoshkes family played percussion on the plastic pails they used for cleaning up muck after the storm.

They chanted to the staccato rhythm: "Irene! Irene! Irene Irene Goodnight Irene!"

The mood was buoyant as the parade began its mile-long route through the covered bridge to Williamsville, with the village fire trucks in the lead.

Several local farms were represented by tractors, shined up and decorated for the occasion. Kids circled on bikes, and one, Aidan McCormick, bounced along on a pogo stick.

Shelba Jean Hescock and Ellie Applegate shared a banner for the South Newfane Church. Hescock saw a neighbor’s house — and the Hunter Brook Bridge — swept into the river.  But the two women agree that quite a few good things also came out of the disaster.

 "I think it’s developed a real sense of community," Applegate says. "It’s brought a lot of people together." 

Hescock adds, "But the guys that put back a lot of our roads and everything, they worked endless hours. It was just incredible."

Applegate chimes in:  "Between the road crew and the fire crew that evacuated everybody, they were our saviors." 

Town moderator Deborah Luskin supplied the commentary as the groups passed by: The Guard Rail Gardeners, who are trying to green up the newly barren rockscape between the river and the road.

Luskin went on, as the crowd cheered: "The Rock River Artists, celebrating 20 years of open studios!  Our local Buddhist Community!" 

A brass band greeted the marchers with a lively tune at the Williamsville Hall. Inside the hall was a barbecue lunch, to benefit the Williamsville-South Newfane Fire Department.

Parade organizer Chris Triebert was all smiles as neighbors lined up to eat. She says she thought it was important to support the fire squad — and to celebrate the community, the neighborhood, and people’s sense of resilience.

Even though the recovery isn’t yet complete, she says, the community deserves to have some fun.

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