By Judy Reiss
Until I went to kindergarten, I went from the hospital to live in Westfield, New Jersey. We lived in a small house and truthfully I can’t remember much about it. I do remember that we had a very nice neighbor who also had a girl. I only think her last name was Brown and what I remember most about her was that she was very nice and she had really big white front teeth! I also remember the first time I saw the stars and was overwhelmed. I had never been allowed to stay up after dark and the one time I did, the stars were out and I could hardly believe my eyes. I think that today, children of the age that I was, stay up literally hours longer than I did. And I wonder if they even get the chance to discover the stars!
When it was time for me to go to school, we moved to Cranford and into a very old and falling down Victorian house. Even I knew it was a wreck but it also had a huge back yard and the entire neighborhood played there. I think that I learned just about everything that I ever needed to know from the neighbor kids, who were all boys! And I was happy and content. My grandparents lived only a few blocks away, which was wonderful. And when I had to go and live with them, it was just a happy transition rather than an unhappy disruption of my life.
When I was in fifth grade, we moved to Fanwood where I spent the rest of my teen years. Now when we lived there, it was a small semi-rural town. Although quite small, there were a lot of kids and we all had woods to play in and build forts. My high school was close enough that we all walked to it. The only time I ever saw or rode a school bus was to sixth grade because the school #3 was way to far to walk or bike to. Now, it wasn’t Mayberry USA but as I think back, it was quite close! All the kids played together and we always played in the spring, summer and fall until the street lights went on or someone’s mother called and sent us all home.
After my sophomore year in college, I came to Vermont with a family that I knew and really that was a trip that changed my life. I met a farm family that was very kind to me and invited me to stay with them whenever I wanted to, and that was the beginning of a whole new life for me. The day I graduated from college, I packed my car and headed for Waitsfield, Vermont and really have never left. I did spend two years living in Waterbury and taught school one year at the school there and then one year in Montpelier at St. Michaels. But I must tell you that I was a terrible teacher and as I think back, I believe it was actually a miracle that the children in my classes survived! And then I moved back to Waitsfield and after a lot of soul searching, waiting on tables and making beds, I decided to open a day care center. And that is actually what I wanted to share with you today.
When I opened The Valley Day School, I tried desperately to find out how to get a license, to no avail. It seemed no one had ever asked for one before and “The State” just wasn’t interested. Now I don’t have the exact figures, but I think the Vermont government in Montpelier had about 2,000 people. And after the heavy bureaucracy in New Jersey, I knew right away that Vermont was for me. And the other thing that was so amazing to me was the news on the radio or TV never mentioned any crimes, especially no terrible ones. Almost never a robbery and never a murder and after New Jersey I really thought I was living in heaven!
What I don’t actually remember is when that all changed! Now we have a huge government that most of us can hardly afford and no one really cares. Taxes on our house went from $300 a year to around $5000. And the attitude is if you don’t like it, move, regardless of how many generations of your family have lived here! If you had told me about these changes when I arrived permanently in 1961, I would have thought that you were telling me a horrible fairy tale!
I am sure that many of you are thinking that I am just an old woman who is unable to adjust to change. And you are probably right! However, when I married and we had three children to raise, they never sat in the house and watched TV or played with any electronic device. They played outside, rode their bikes to their friends houses and were raised by the Village! If you ask them today they will tell about one of our neighbors who always stopped them on their bikes and then sent them home to put on shoes. Regardless of how hard they tried, Sally would always catch them when they were barefoot! And it still makes them mad. But not me, I thank her every day. I am afraid if I yelled at a child today to put on their shoes, the only answer that I would get would be from some parent’s lawyer. Villages no longer help raise a child.
Why do these things annoy me enough that I have to share them? I guess because I have always thought that Vermont was the answer to my dreams and prayers. And I hate the idea that people who have moved here don’t really want what I wanted. They want all the advantages and things that they left behind. And most of them have the money to makes the changes that they want. No longer are the old Vermonters considered to be treasures. No one wants to hear their stories or ask their advice. What they really want is their land! And I am dumb enough to hope that we can some how keep Vermont, Vermont. Not an upscale New Jersey or Connecticut. So, support any and all of the local organizations and activities that have kept Vermont the way we want it to be.