By Judy Reiss
I have had lots of people who have just moved to Vermont and even those who are just visiting here, ask how I can actually like living in such a small community. Of course, those who are asking are those who come from an area that is so big they have no idea who their neighbors are and really don’t care either. And they find it an interesting phenomena that this is exactly the reason that I moved here in the late 1960s.
When I first visited Vermont, I was a junior in college and I came to spend a week or so with the family of good friends. We went to Stowe and stayed with a friend of the family and I really liked it. And then we came to Waitsfield, again to visit friends of theirs. And I fell immediately in love! It wasn’t just the family and their children, although I thought they were wonderful, it was also all the people I met and who welcomed me to this wonderful little town. I had never been in such a town before and I knew immediately when I graduated from college this was where I wanted to live.
Now I don’t want you to think that I settled down like a hand in a glove, because that wouldn’t be completely true. I was offered a teaching job in Waterbury and truthfully, I was the worst teacher in the world! So after a year, I left and moved to Montpelier where I taught high school. And although it was better, I still wasn’t the best teacher. I wanted to be, but I was still in a situation that wasn’t right for me or the school. So then I left and moved to Waitsfield, met lots of friends and kept myself alive by working at Norm’s restaurant and at various inns and lodges around the new ski area, Sugarbush. In 1963, I started my own business, The Valley Day School, which was a day care center. And after just one year, Damon Gadd asked me to move my school to Sugarbush. He also asked me to consider taking skiers’ children along with the resident children, and I did. And for over 25 years, I worked at the school and loved every minute of it.
I also met Malcolm Reiss and married him in 1965 and had our first son, Tobias, in 1966. We filled in our family with two girls and thought we were done, family-wise. But, about 10 years later, we adopted another girl and rounded out the Reiss family. Oh, in 1966, we also bought the house that we still live in and love.
But none of these facts are what I wanted to share with you. What I wanted to share with you is the tremendous time we have had as we raised our children and spent our 50-plus years living in Waitsfield. When I was young, I worked full time. I also held several positions in town, and the entire family was very involved with the school and the community. The town I came from in New Jersey couldn’t have been less alike. My parents didn’t even know the name of our neighbors nor did they involve themselves in the community. Although it was a small town it wasn’t a community.
As many of you may know, I was ill and had a very involved and bad time in the hospital. Poor Malcolm was very concerned but I understand he didn’t share his concern with friends and neighbors. But the wonderful part about living in a town like Waitsfield was that everyone who heard about my problems brought him tons of food and desserts. They also came to the house and brought me all sorts of equipment to help me recover. It is impossible to share with you how wonderful all that help was not just for me but for Malcolm, too. And you just can’t imagine how many terrific cards I got! I learned a very good lesson, too. I never knew how important those cards mean. Every single card I received was a daily reminder of how much my friends and neighbors meant to me.
Nothing makes me sadder than to think that the small Vermont towns might actually be destroyed and that the new people who can afford to bring the towns they come from with them and then change everything that we love. Close neighbors and good friends who are willing and able to help their neighbors are really the Vermont way that seduced me to spend my life here. And it breaks my heart to think that this way of life could be on the way out!
Don’t let Vermont become just another New Jersey! Vermont has always been unique but it needs those who love it like is to “hold hard” and not just because you might need a casserole when you are ill either! Although it is a great healer!