I got a bad cold once, back when I was a young, slightly lost foreign student in a tiny town in Vermont, and something astonishing happened. I opened my door and found a surprise outside.
Vermonters are very private people. They make jokes about how you’re an outsider in Vermont unless your grandparents were born there. They’re proud. The further north you go in New England the greater — and more justifiable — the pride, because the place is beautiful but also stunningly harsh. It’s difficult even to imagine what winter must have been like there in earlier times, snow piled up to the eaves of the roof, the wind howling, and the temperature dropping down to minus 70.
When I got that cold, I found out how they survived: what was outside my door, as if magically left by fairies, was soup. I hadn’t even told anyone I was sick. Perhaps I’d coughed walking down the street?
That moment was when I understood the real Vermont. Vermonters are good neighbors. There is a lot of racism in this country — in every country — but in Vermont I had the feeling no one would care if I was bright green and from Mars, only if I was a good neighbor. When I worked at the Bennington Museum one summer, one of the volunteer docents, a middle-aged conservative Italian Catholic woman, set me up with her son, which proved it. (Apparently she thought I was a nice girl. And he was in fact a nice boy. We actually ate dinner together, both of us too polite to hurt her feelings.)
Vermonters are proud, they’re private, almost stand-offish; but when the chips are down, they’re genuinely, deeply kind. They are good friends. I don’t have the fortitude to live in that climate any more, but I hold a deep affection for the place.
And I still to this day divide people into two categories: those who bring soup when you’re sick, and those who don’t.