Small Government


This beautiful old house, perhaps the most elegant in the town, once looked out through three majestic maples across a sloping field down to the West River. There is an el in the rear that you can’t see, so the house is even bigger than it looks. It was owned by the Tewskburys. Mrs. Tewksbury, who was a pianist who taught many children in the village,  was widowed some time in the 1950s, leaving her alone with her developmentally disabled daughter Anne. When Mrs. Tewksbury died, a rich man from Connecticut, Jack Raymond, bought the house with the condition that Anne’s housing would be taken care of. For a while Anne lived in this house, but then moved into a room in the village. Eventually she was taken to an assisted living accommodation in the next town where she died, only a few years ago.

In the meantime, Jack Raymond had purchased some of the other well-constructed, well-sited and historic houses in the village. One of them was at the top of a steep dirt road and ended in an apple orchard beyond which, in a kind of saddle between mountaintops, he built an airstrip. There are people in the village who remember planes landing on that airstrip. All the houses he bought were notable for either their good, classic construction or their stunning locations. The house at the top of the long dirt road, for example, looks out over miles of sloping mountainside into the deep river valley.

Jack Raymond’s plan, apparently, was to create a New England tourist destination and link his properties together with horse-drawn carriages that would take guests from one venue to another. However, he was mostly in the buying mode, not the fixing-up or finishing-the-job mode, and the starkest evidence of this was the Tewksbury house, where he did make a stab at “improvements” by starting to build cement squash courts off the rear el of the house. No one I have talked with knows what Anne thought about this. She would walk through the village wearing her blue wool coat with the fur collar (I remember her mainly in the fall and winter seasons). She must have walked past her house a thousand times over the years, so she saw her family home slowly weather, be partly demolished by the squash court construction, and then bit by bit become an adventure destination for teenagers who explored the inside, broke windows and tore out the curtains and wallpaper.  We would see her at church. She was always smiling and friendly to us.

In the midst of all this, Jack Raymond got divorced. My father told me that they had had  long conversations about his life and that he was often depressed and immobilized.

Apparently he is still live, somewhere in Connecticut. The house at the top of the long dirt road, the one with the fabulous view (now blocked by a growth of pines and birches) and the airstrip, got a new foundation and secure locks a few years ago, so someone is interested in preserving it. Another one of his properties is the “green house” known as the Gladys Wolf house because Gladys, a friend of my parents, lived in it for many years in another housing arrangement after Jack bought it. This  house is within sight of ours. It is occasionally occupied by a couple who come up from Connecticut for a weekend. However, that house had its barn and kitchen el torn away when Irene came through in 2014:

With the November 6 election two weeks away, we went to a Select Board Meeting at the town offices. The item on the agenda that attracted what for the village is a big crowd (10 people) was getting the agreement of the town to go ahead with spending the insurance money to repair the roof of the Cheney Mill, a post-and-beam building that is the last one standing of the many mills that stood along the Ball Mountain Brook (see the flood video) in the old days. A high wind last year tore part of the metal roof off the mill, distributing it around the town, and insurance would cover the repair and replacement of the roof. After considerable discussion, the Select Board agreed to allow the Jamaica Historical Society (which wants to turn the mill into a community space for exhibits, concerts, etc) to oversee and go ahead with the repair.

The Chair of the Select Board proposed selling the old mill to the Historical Society for $1.98 and letting them undertake the repairs, using the insurance money, or, if they wanted, “sell the wood and take the money and run.” Antique barn wood is in high demand by decorators. The word about the Select Board is that under this leadership, “the town doesn’t like to own anything.” The JHS declined the offer.

Which led to the next discussion, which is relevant to my self-assigned task of trying to capture moments of grassroots democracy.  After the issue of the repair of the mill was taken care of, the majority of the attendees left. The next item was the transfer station. A transfer station is a location where people bring their trash, which is in turn “transferred” to a bigger place. Vermont itself has only one ultimate landfill for trash, somewhere “way up north.” Apparently much of our trash — at least the electronic debris, which can be recycled — gets sold, or used to get sold, to China, although China has now decided not to accept any more. At any rate: after the Roads Department, the Transfer Station is the single biggest operation in the town. It accepts food garbage, electronics, hazmats and metal from three other villages. It also has big bins for paper, plastic and glass and a squisher  for “real trash,” which village residents (people with a special card) can deposit trash into using special bright green and yellow plastic bags which we have to purchase at $3 each. Apparently this requirement has reduced the amount of “real trash” that we send down to the next step in the trash chain from an amount we used to pay $14,000 for to an amount that we pay $9,000 for.

That was the only hard number that the Select Board seemed to have at its fingertips, however. The problem is the “gaylords,”


which are used to contain the electronic waste. Ours are rusted or rotten through and the toxins in the waste are probably leaking into the soil. The transfer station is located halfway up a mountainside, on a flattened out terrace, but it is above the Ball Mountain Brook a few hundred yards below.

River near mill

Ball Mountain Brook right next to the Cheney Mill and a few hundred yards below the transfer station

The reason this has come to the attention of the Select Board is that the State of Vermont inspected our transfer station and gave us until November 17 to come into compliance. The Select Board member, Polly Flowers (the only woman on the Board, and possibly in her 70s) had researched possible remediations such as buying a shed that could be set on gravel, etc, which would cost $3,500 to $4,000.

The Select Board did not know at that moment, nor did it have any way of finding out, exactly what kinds of money were going into and coming out of the Transfer Station. Everyone knows that the new bags cost $3 each (or $2 for small ones), but what about the checks to the town that people write when they drop off old TVs and other “chargeable” junk? Did the transfer station actually make money, or lose money? What kind of a liability was it? The town treasurer appeared to not be at the meeting, and no one seemed to be able to refer to a handy document that would break out the various activities of the town into budget categories with revenue, costs, projections, etc.

The problem is that if we do not meet the November 17 deadline for fixing the rotten, leaking gaylord, we will lose the license to run a general transfer station (meaning no longer accepting garbage, hazmats such as electronics, and at least one other type of refuse). Since three other villages rely on our transfer station to accept garbage and hazardous waste, that would be inconvenient for more than just people who are village residents.

Nonetheless, one of the members of the Select Board seriously moved that we simply run out the deadline and stop providing the hazardous waste disposal function. That would reduce the number of things the town was responsible for. He also said that pretty soon all the old TVs with “those big square backs” will be gone anyway, and everyone will have these new smart TVs, and the need for so much disposal will be over.

Someone else, however, pointed out that if you don’t have a hazmat disposal option, people will simply toss their cell phones, old TVs, tape recorders, play stations, iPads et etc into the woods as they drive around.

The Select Board did not vote on this motion, but instead agreed to set aside or postpone making a decision on the issue of getting new containers for the hazardous waste until the next meeting which is in early November.  By then surely, someone would know something about what happens to the money taken in by and spent on the transfer station. The woman who had brought the information to the Board pointed out that this would make it impossible to meet the deadline, but she was gently assured that the Vermont agency in charge could be reasoned with and would not shut the transfer station down if they understood that the Board was under “a time framework”.

Small government in action.

Last night I watched the debate in Georgia that included Stacy Abrams, the Black woman who is getting national attention and may actually win.  Her main opponent, who is named Kemp, I think, has put at least 53,000 people on a “pending” list because of some problem with their registration, or perhaps because they did not vote in previous elections, or whatever.  They way you get off the “pending list”, he said, is by coming in and showing your government-issued ID. He scolded Abrams for not voting for on-line registration, but she pointed out that lots of rural Georgia does not have good internet. Seventy percent of the people on the “pending” list are minority. These folks are running for Governor. Stacy Abrams was brilliant. I actually had a dream about her! Kemp was low-key Kavanaugh, doing his best to discredit Abrams by calling her a liar, tax cheat, etc etc. The third candidate was a friendly goofball Libertarian who proposes saving Georgia’s economy by farming “industrial hemp,” but his presence as a wild card forced the other two candidates to deal with some sharp issues, and  also made the panelists and mediator, in the name of equal treatment, enforce the rules with energetic civility. He finished up by defining Libertarianism as “Don’t bother me, don’t tell me what to do, and don’t steal my stuff.” He  argued that since “this is going to be a run-off,” people should vote for him as a protest vote.

In the meantime, we had a lovely discussion of important issues at the regional meeting of the Vermont Workers Center last Sunday. It was scheduled from 9-5 and we got there late (about 10:30). I had not expected to want to stay the whole day but I was having so much pleasure — not exactly fun – listening to people that I didn’t suggest leaving until it was over.

VWC reading ex

The readings (from Gramsci) were well-chosen and the discussions were informative, stimulating, friendly and supportive. There was also plenty of food and good coffee.

Besides which, last Tuesday was my birthday. I invited the ladies of the Benefit over for lunch.


Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

4 thoughts on “Small Government

    1. Thank you, Reverend Haynes! Good to hear from you. Yes, we’re in Vermont; I guess you could say we’re hiding out from the election, because this is Bernie territory.

  1. So sad to see Mrs. Tewsbury’s home. I remember how beautiful it was back in the 60s. She was our music teacher at Jamaica Elementary, right across the street. I always enjoyed when I would have to deliver a message or stop by her house. So beautiful… now just a memory.

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