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.
To be continued.....
Click HERE to go to Part 8 of this series
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