Getting Started
Finding My Way
(Part 7)

This is part 7 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.


As I mentioned a couple of installments back, I left The Grassroots Project in Vermont two weeks before graduation, but I didn’t leave town. …

Earlier in the spring I had made friends with Bruce and Patty Womer, a young couple that lived on the edge of Craftsbury Common, the town where my school was located. Bruce was a talented carpenter. Years before, he and Patty had purchased a large, old, white-clapboard building from my school (it had once been used as a dormitory). They lived in a small portion of the building. The Craftsbury Inn across the street had bought the building from Bruce and Patty and they wanted Bruce to remodel it to suit their purposes.

The remodeling started with Bruce jacking the building up off its bad foundation and excavating underneath. The crawlspace would be a full basement. The logistics of the project required that a great amount of the excavating be done by hand. The Womers inquired about getting student help at the school.

More than a dozen students, including me, responded to the call. We showed up after breakfast one morning and commenced to pick, shovel and wheelbarrow load after load of dirt out from under the building. We worked until lunchtime and the Womers fed us. Then we went at it for the rest of the day. We moved an incredible amount of dirt out from under that big old building, but didn’t quite get it all done in one day.

Bruce wondered if anyone would want to come back the next day to finish up. Most everyone was tuckered out and didn’t relish the thought of another day of digging. They had had enough. But I didn’t give it a second thought. The Womers had paid us well and they were nice folks. I wasn’t one to quit a job just because I was sore and tired. Me and a couple other die-hards showed up the next day and finished the work.

I made a good impression on the Womers, and they on me. A friendship developed. I visited them often and worked a couple more times for them. When I told them about the problem with me having to leave school early, they immediately responded by inviting me to come stay with them.

So, two weeks before graduation, I left school and moved in with Bruce and Patty, their big dog Zeke, and a little kitten named Darwin Beep. I spent my days helping Bruce with the bull-work of remodeling. In the evenings we had dinner together and visited, or I would walk into town and visit my friends at the dormitories.

On one evening while visiting at school, some of my friends presented me with a black & white poster of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa from the Rocky movie (which I wrote about in a previous part of this series). On the back of the poster were numerous written messages from my classmates. They wrote the kinds of things that high school kids write in their yearbooks to each other. It was a thoughtful gift and I still have it packed away in a box somewhere.

On graduation day, I was there to see everyone graduate. The school had a luncheon for graduates and parents afterwards. I had no intention of staying for the luncheon and was about to leave, but the director of the school didn’t know that. When he saw me in the crowd he confronted me and told me to leave, which I did (needless to say, he hadn’t signed my Rocky Balboa poster).

I went back to the Womer’s, sat on their front stoop, and watched the cars roll out of town. It was a sad day for me, not because I didn’t graduate, but because the school year was over. Even writing about it now evokes a pang of sadness. I had made some good friends and had some great times. I didn’t want to go home. But a few days later my parents arrived and I left Vermont for my home in New York.

Click HERE to go to Part 8 of this series 


Garth and Ildi Fout said...

If you continue in this vain you are going to make ME cry :)

What would you have gotten if you finished and graduated?

The Deliberate Agrarian said...

Hi garth & ildi,

My story gets a bit worse, then better.

Had I graduated, I would have gotten a diploma that said I had completed the one year program. And I could have attended the luncheon after graduation. That's about it.

Today the school is a fully accredited four-year college and getting a diploma is much more significant.

I have to say that I do regret not graduating. Several years later, I considered sending the $400 assessment to the school with my thanks, but I never really felt I had the money to spare. And it was water under the bridge. The school and the year were life changing and worthwhile for me in many ways, even if I never did learn blacksmithing.

Garth and Ildi Fout said...

I think many times we do things as children and regret it when we are older. And, at other times continue to badger ourselves over things that are not all that important. As a teacher, and a student, I appreciate your "self-motivation" in your own learning and think that your time in the project was a confirmation to you that you were (and are) in fact, your own best teacher. I have seen students like you come in and out of my classroom over the years. Sometimes they are hard to deal with, and other times they are refreshing students who can handle adult conversation, but the overwhelming thought that comes to mind when they leave is that one day they will "make something of their life". It might not look like the stereotypical success stories that people OOOH and AAAH about, but they are people who make conscience decisions about their life and choose what they will be and do. I enjoy that about you as I read about your life. The piece of paper...I wonder if you had finished if you would be the person you are today. :)

Anonymous said...

Herick, you're bringing it all back.

My "grassroots project" was about 265 miles NE of you, and 2 years before. (74-75)at the Miner's Institute near Chazy, NY.

A VERY cool time in my life, I was just into Jr High at the time, and the institute had a lower classman outreach project going on, in the form of a weekly open to the public tour.

I read my first Mother Earth News there in the summer of 1974.

Great experiments in power generating, (wind) and the very beginings of the organic movement.

I miss those days.