All of us here are experienced at making people feel welcome. The truly special hosts create an experience for guests where they feel someone’s here for them as they explore a new place, whether they need us or not. As we welcomed guests to our barn apartment and the homes we host for folks who live out of town, this has been a year that has tested that idea.
In February and March, we watched the corona virus creep across Europe, just a few weeks ahead of the path it would take in the U.S., settling in to our cities and larger towns, causing nearly unfathomable suffering of their residents as we watched on our newscasts. Imagining what public health experts predicted was ahead felt like watching old history films. How could it be possible today? I remember watching the reporting from Italy and calculating we were on what my former naval officer husband would have called “constant bearing, decreasing range” with the virus, about twelve days off by my reckoning.
I logged on to my favorite warehouse shopping site to put in my regular order for toilet paper and found there was none to be had. Paper towels were limited. Bleach and Lysol were gone. I scrambled and found a palette of toilet paper. It wasn’t the fluffy kind. It was the kind where each roll is individually wrapped. It seemed perfect for what I thought was ahead as I set out to prepare each rental as if it were for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. “Don’t judge me,” I told my friends, “I can’t be out.”
We found shoe covers and disposable masks, latex-free gloves in two sizes and, oddly, berry-basil scented Lysol for 10 bucks a can. We studied cleaning protocols and ordered separate mops, vacuums and supplies for each home. We wondered whether we could hold our breath for long enough to inspect an entire dwelling and sprayed our oddly scented Lysol with abandon. We realized how frequently we touched our faces!
The rental calendars crumbled and then suddenly filled again, with guests whose offices and children’s schools had closed. Vermont seemed safe. The ski resorts were still open. Why not have a second spring break? As fast as they filled, they emptied again, as the ski resorts shut their doors. An ER doctor friend called. “Please stop renting to people from out of town. Our beds will be full. We won’t have the staff or ventilators to save them.” The vacationers stopped coming.
Suddenly the calls and inquiries were different. Guests were desperate. The notifications came at all hours of the day and night; the people I connected with were focused on getting out of metropolitan areas as quickly as possible. Our most frequent query, “how close to the mountain?” was replaced with “how fast is the internet?” The sheer volume of the questions and the frantic nature of the calls started to take a toll. I found myself waking up with a clenched jaw. My thoughts kept drifting to the people without the means to run from the virus.
As we settled these new guests in to what had been vacation rental properties, we watched some of the neighbors become nervous. Where were they from? Were they bringing the virus with them? How long were they staying? Assurances were made that those arriving would quarantine. And they did.
Rumors started flying that the Governor of Vermont was going to close down the state by executive order. As potential guests scrambled to find lodging, it became evident we had a new kind of visitor, “the sudden resident.” They came in droves, some to be near family, some as first time visitors, and Vermont, albeit cautiously, welcomed them to “the brave little state.”
In 1928, Vermont native, then President, Calvin Coolidge made a speech after visiting home to survey the damage from a devastating flood. It is from this speech that Vermont earned the moniker, “the brave little state.”
‘Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox, without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride, here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our everlasting hills. I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and her invigorating climate. But most of all because of her people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves in the service of others. If the spirit of Liberty should vanish from other parts of our Union and the support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of the brave little state of Vermont.’
As each of these sudden residents emerged from their 14 days of isolation (and Netflix binging) they began to explore as if they had landed on the moon. The questions followed. When will the snow melt? What do you mean there’s no Whole Foods? What is this “transfer station” you refer to? How does this composting thing work? Where do we score some toilet paper?
We watched as guests bought milk and cheese and butter from Mansfield Dairy, traveled to Craftsbury for frozen chicken directly from the farm and tossed around newly acquired lingo like “mud season.” The towns people came together, apart, of course, to take care of one another and the sudden residents as well. A local shopkeeper discovered there was a run on jigsaw puzzles, and put a shelf outside her store where people could exchange for a fresh one. A committee was formed to organize donations and delivery of meals and items to people in need. Volunteers sewed and mailed two masks to every household. I happily shared my hoarded toilet paper.
All over town, hundreds of little signs popped up, made by a mysterious someone now called “the sign fairy,” reminding us that we can do hard things.
As the weather changed, and the world seemed a little bit safer, some of our “sudden residents” moved on. For a while we were able to welcome vacationing guests again in a new normal fashion. Some seemed harder to please than we had experienced in the past. Others were effusive with their gratitude for time away from the same four walls and Zoom interface. We adapted to waving to guests from afar, rather than shaking hands and conversing. We threw together tiny last minute weddings to replace larger, long planned, rescheduled and canceled ones. Our guests devoured all things Vermont. I can’t remember a time where I’ve experienced such contagious exuberance for the wonders of the outdoors. Suddenly EVERYONE owns a mountain bike or a kayak.
At our own home we turned to our front porch for comfort, overlooking the Worcester mountain range, looking at Mt. Putnam, Worcester, Stowe Pinnacle and Hunger Mountains. With so much change and struggle in the world, we have focused, when we can, on the natural beauty around us, purchasing a propane heater and electric blankets in anticipation of in-person connections with others in the outdoors all winter. As case counts began to climb here in November, our leaders put a hold on gatherings between households of any kind. So, for now, we’ll enjoy the view and the warmth in a new routine of virtual happy hours in hopeful anticipation of a relaxation of these further precautions.
Some of our sudden residents are still here as we buckle down for this next round, all of us holding out hope that we don’t lose anyone else before these vaccines, these miracles, can work their magic. (Did I say magic? I meant their science.) Our local school enrollment has swelled. Some have moved out of our lodgings and purchased homes and snow tires, ready to experience their first full winters in the brave little state.
Like everyone else, everywhere, we have no idea when things will get back to normal. 2020 has seemed to be a year of extraordinary losses. While the virus has exacted a tremendous toll, it seems to me people around us have experienced many other struggles and losses as well. As my sister the psychotherapist reminds me, there is no hierarchy of suffering. So while each of us is justified in saying “it’s been a really hard year for me,” I hope that each of us can also say they have grown and changed and that we were really there for each other. Even strangers, or as we call them, our guests.
You have a talent for storytelling @Heather133 - there are some real poetic touches to the way you have written this post, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences this year. It's certainly been a tough one, but it seems like you have ridden the waves, and your local community really came together to help each other out 🤗
I'm so intrigued by the sign fairy - did they remain anonymous in the end? They look fantastic and I imagine they gave guests and local residents alike a little uplifting boost of hope just when they needed it 😊
I think 'contagious exuberance for the wonders of the outdoors' puts it perfectly - did guests opt to bring their own bikes and explore?
p.s. love the way you've tweaked the porch for cocktail hour - what better way to enjoy the views!
That's kind of you to say @Katie, I'm thankful to have been here during the pandemic. We lost our 100th Vermonter to the pandemic today, but by comparison we've been incredibly lucky.
The Sign Fairy remains anonymous! It has indeed been a boost! I remember driving around to see them when they first popped up in early April. They brought tears to my eyes.
I suspect there will be a run on snowshoes and nordic skis in the shops here this winter. You could hardly buy a bike or kayak this summer because they were so popular! Some of our guests rent them here, others bring their own.
Thank you @Heather133 for your narrative. I think I’m a little in love with your beautiful environment. We too had the “sudden resident” syndrome before our borders shut and ever since the border opened. Southerners buying homes here, sight unseen!
Fear is a terrible thing, but for us, this current trend in the real estate market, restricts the purchasing power for local, young, new home owners getting into the market as the pricing is in the rise.
Hopefully the fear will settle....
We need to be grateful for all the positives and blessings and breathe deeply! (2metres from another) 🥰
@Cathie19 , yes, that's been a big issue here too. A similar crazy real estate trend happened here after 911. It lasted a couple of years before some decided our winters weren't for them. I share your fear about young families being priced out of the market.
The ripples in the water will last for some time, won't they?
Thank you @Trudie7 , I sure think so. Feel free to steel that greeting for your guests. It comes from my own excitement about traveling! I imagine guests arriving and thinking "Yay! I'm here!" Your place looks absolutely stunning and I'm sure that's exactly what I'd be saying when I walked in!
@J-Renato0 It's my pleasure! I found it cathartic to look back through this year. How has it been for you in Brazil? We can be rather "ethnocentric" here, so the coverage in our media has been less than stellar. But I seem to recall it's been difficult there.
@Heather133 Well, it is stil hard time. There was lockdown. Now people are going out wearing face masks and following all the safety recommendation. However the danger is still around.
Brazil is second country on earth in number of death due to the pandemic (about 170k)
The country is late in terms of vaccination. It will start only in january, unfortunately.
The speech of President Coolidge, Wow, what poignant words ... Certainly sounds like things haven’t changed much since then. Thank you for sharing your amazing post @Heather133 , it is certainly a tribute to Vermont and the spirit of it’s folk and their hospitality.
‘ There is much goodness in the world , especially in your ‘brave little state!!!’
Festive greetings & wishes ✨