Vermont has never been spared the yin and yang of the world. We were certainly reminded this summer that we are not exempt from violence and death in Berlin and Barre and Greensboro, as well as on our interstates and usually quiet country roads.
Most of us, however, simply went about our lives. We swam in Lake Champlain and the New Haven River. We climbed Camel’s Hump. We drank any one of the seven million Vermont microbrews. We gardened.
I mention this because my work over the last quarter century has reflected the shadows and light that mark our state. On the one hand, I wrote novels set in the Green Mountains that focused on domestic violence, racism, and our discomfort with the transgendered. In one novel, I put a Vermont midwife on trial for manslaughter. In another, I had a beautiful young social worker savagely attacked while riding her bike not far from Burlington. Most recently, I wrote about a homeless girl trying to ride out the winter on the Lake Champlain waterfront in an igloo made of black plastic trash bags filled with wet, frozen leaves.
But this column, Idyll Banter? It was always about that other side of our little world. It was, I hoped, about the phantasmagoric beauty of our autumns and the cerulean skies of our summers. On a weekly basis I tried to celebrate the eccentricities of my neighbors and the kindness of strangers. I wrote about the joys of being a husband, a father, and (yes) a son. I wrote (perhaps too often) about my cats and their epic turd hockey matches. I was never shy about my colossal ineptitude as a homeowner and the reality that – once upon a time – I was a young man and an idiot flatlander who needed all the help he could get. (I am no longer the former; I will, I imagine, always be the latter.)
Since the first Sunday of February 1992, I have filed a column every single Sunday but three. The final total is, I believe, 1,225 columns and roughly 827,000 words. That’s the equivalent of eight novels. When I started in 1992, I hoped I could find the wherewithal and the spark to write 52. One year. That was the goal.
This column has been among the great blessings of my professional life and I loved writing it. It was both a memoir and performance art. I hope I entertained all of you, because heaven knows I entertained myself – even, yes, as I eulogized my mother, my father, my mother-in-law and far too many friends and neighbors and cats. (There is that yin and yang again, the shadow that comes with the light.)
And so I want to thank Candace Page, the first editor at the “Free Press” who ever let me file a column. It was actually in the business section and it was way back in February 1988. I want to thank Steve Mease, who as features editor published my first lifestyle essay in 1989. I want to thank Ron Thornburg, who took a chance on me and this weekly enterprise in the first weeks of 1992.
Others at the newspaper over the years to whom I will always be grateful include Jennifer Carroll, Joe Cutts, Geoffrey Gevalt, Mickey Hirten, Becky Holt, Stephen Kiernan, Ryan Mercer, Julie Metzger, Melissa Pasanen, Julie Pidgeon, Sally Pollak, Dennis Redmond, Brad Robertson, Adam Silverman, Aki Soga, Philip Tortora, Mike Townsend, Clover Whitham, and Jym Wilson.
I have to give a shout-out as well to Rita Markley with the Committee on Temporary Shelter and Mark Redmond with Spectrum Youth and Family Services. It’s not merely that you both do the work of the angels day-in and day-out; you both shared with me dozens of stories over the years that gave this column gravitas and heft.
I am indebted to the people of Lincoln (and Bristol) whose stories brought Idyll Banter to life, particularly families with the last names of Brown, Goodyear, Cram, and Wood. I want to thank the church, the school, the preschool, the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Company, and the general store. You gave me material – and you gave me perspective.
My lovely bride, Victoria, and our daughter, the always amazing Grace Experience, allowed me to exploit them shamelessly and share with the world how very much I love them.
And, of course, I have to thank all of you: my readers. You opened the paper and gave me the great gift of your time. You brought me into your homes. As I wrote at the beginning of the summer when I announced the formal end to Idyll Banter, I will pop in to the “Free Press” periodically in the coming years. Old habits are hard to break. But in the meantime? Please know that I will miss you. I will miss you more than you know.
Goodbye. Godspeed. Farewell.
At least for now. . .
(You may still see Chris riding his bike this autumn around Vermont. You can also visit him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Instagram.)