I got married a little over a year ago.
My bride lived and worked in a Massachusetts mill town called Athol. Like so many of these mill towns, it’s seen better days, but it is where she lived, married, had kids and later grandkids. She grew professionally there. She has a deep cadre of good friends. She has history and roots here.
At first, as we talked about marriage, I thought I might end up in Athol too, but she felt moving to Vermont was the thing that made sense. She did not want me to leave my church behind, or my own roots (Shallower than hers, I’ve only been in Vermont for nine years.) or my friends.
Making the move took longer than we expected. But she has found a job in Vermont and begins Monday. She is keeping the rent on her apartment for an extra month and for the next 30 days or so, we’ll migrate between the two states and move her things to my little miner’s house in West Pawlet.
We’ve been migrating for over a year now. I’d come down mid-week and spend a few days in Athol, working from her apartment. Then we’d migrate back to Vermont for weekends. It was OK. I wanted to be with her – that’s why we got married after all – but it was also tiring. We’re both pretty done with it.
I have come to like Athol. Just as Vermont was a very different world than Southwest Virginia, this area of mill towns is a different culture than my little corner of Vermont.
West Pawlet is very rural. To get pretty much anything you want to get means a journey of 30 minutes to an hour. Culture is also a distance away. It’s a quiet place. My little town, for instance, has about 300 people in the environs. Most of them actually live outside the town proper, on farms.
When I go to my favorite diner, the talk is of weather, crops, and liberalism. The conversations are mostly gentle, almost genteel. (purposefully misspelled so you can hear the difference.). Voices are low.
I’ve found a favorite diner in Athol as well. It’s called Nicks and it is near the corner of a downtown street. They actually have a downtown in Athol. It’s a town of about 11,000. A big metropolis by West Pawlet standards. The food is not as good and the music is not as good as my favorite diner, but it’s true to the area, full of robust blue collar workers. They discuss sports and politics with fervor. They are more forward than the folks in Vermont. There’s an edge to them and an energy. I’ve come to know them, and I like them.
I like my wife’s friends too. A high energy, eclectic, no holds barred, filters are optional group, they are different than any friends I’ve ever had, in Virginia and Vermont. There’s a radical honest to them. They laugh loudly and often. They are passionate and unlike my friends in Virginia and Vermont, they wear that passion on their sleeves. All the time.
I like the mills and mill towns. I’ve explored a few abandoned factories and I adore going in to photograph them. The second-hand furniture stores have a different ethos than the ones in my neck of the woods. There are relics from an industrial past instead of a rural one.
People here, when I tell them I am a pastor, look askance, like they are waiting for some sort of condemnation. They won’t get it from me, and in time, they have come to see that and let me into their lives. In Vermont, they politely say, that’s nice, tell me why they don’t go to church and that’s that.
There’s a curiosity here that people actually evoke. For instance, when I work at the diner, I take my computer, which has my little company’s logo on it. Inevitably, people ask me about it here at Nicks. No one ever says a word in Vermont.
People here, at least the ones I have run into, are doers. Act. Make it happen. The work ethic is epic. And mostly, they can’t turn it off. In Vermont, we work hard, but there seems to be an ethic of just being. Taking time to zen out. Paint. Draw. Make things. Stare into space. I love that ethic actually. It suits me. But I like the energy of people in Athol.
The poverty here is different. More obvious. So are some of the other things that tear us down. Domestic abuse. Opioids. Other drugs. Alcoholism. It’s not that Vermont doesn’t have those things. In fact, it’s rampant, just like everywhere else. But it is easier to hide because we are so spread apart, so isolated. But here, you see it. You can’t hide from it. It’s easier to ignore in my corner of Vermont. Not here, you have to choose to ignore it.
Time is different here. One of the hardest adjustments I had to make is that in Vermont, “soon” has a wide range of time that goes from “later today” to “Next week sometime.” It used to drive me crazy. I’m used to it now. Here in Athol, today actually means today. It’s more like what I was used to living in Virginia.
I’ve come to like it here. If I had ended up moving here, it would have been a good enough life. I’ve moved and changed cultures before. A man could do worse than live in Athol. It’s an interesting, vibrant place with interesting, vibrant people.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love Vermont and have adjusted to ruralness completely. But I will miss my weekly dose of Athol.
I am glad we’ll be coming back. The woman I love has family here, and loads of friends. There will be plenty of reasons to come back. I won’t miss the weekly travel, but I will miss the people and the place. I would never have picked the back and forth life we’ve led the past year, but I am richer for it.
And I am thankful.
Be well. Travel wisely,