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Luskin: Anniversaries and Identity

12/26/11 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(Host) Commentator Deborah Luskin lives in Newfane, which will turn 250 in the year 2024. She wonders if twelve years will be enough time to prepare a celebration equal to that of neighboring Guilford, one of the Vermont towns that turned 250 this year.

(Luskin) Guilford, Vermont, was established in 1761, and the town has been energetically celebrating the two-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of this event all year.

I’ve followed the way this community is honoring its past in so many different ways with great interest, and a little envy. They've held concerts, art exhibits, and a town-wide picnic.

I live in Newfane, about fifteen miles to the north. I've felt like an outsider watching the insiders having all the fun. Frankly, I was agog at the social capital these Guilford residents were minting without an obvious bone of contention or the catalyst of a local disaster.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my town. The way we came together in response to Irene was remarkable. I can imagine no better place to survive a natural disaster. But it’s also true that we like to argue, and we show up in force for special town meetings about zoning and air brakes.

The Guilford celebration has been open to the public; so recently I headed to the Guilford Center Church for a performance of Broad Brook Anthology, a staged reading of a play by the poet Veranda Porche, a long time Guilford resident. The performance was directed by Michael Kennedy, and accompanied by music composed by Don McLean and photographs created by Jeff Woodward - all local residents.

Six actors read the words of people still living in Guilford - and some just recently passed who had lived most of their lives there. Almost all were born at home; several were delivered by Dr. Grace Burnett, who drove a horse and buggy even after cars became common. Most were raised on family farms, and many still lived in the family home, or in newer houses built on family land. As kids, these people had attended the town’s scattered one-room schools and then moved on to the newfangled town-wide Consolidated School for seventh and eighth grade. Some went on to high school in Brattleboro. A few were married in the church where the play was performed.

Right up to the mid-fifties, life in Guilford was absolutely local, from birth to school to marriage, from work unto death. The play celebrates neighbors whose lives spanned most of the twentieth century and who adapted to the enormous changes that politics and technology wrought during that period of expansion and invention.

This homage to the recent past is a remarkable way to honor the more distant time of the town’s founding - and promises to nurture continuity for all who call Guilford home.

I like that the people of Newfane take governance as seriously as we do. But I also hope that between now and the time we turn two hundred and fifty, we can stop arguing long enough to celebrate each other and the town in which we live.
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