Deborah Lee Luskin


Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.

A few years ago, as I was leaving a doctor’s office, an elderly gentleman was pushing an older woman up the handicapped ramp. I held the outer door open, but even with my help, it was an awkward maneuver in a narrow passage, first to reach the inner door, then open it and push the chair in. The woman in the chair leaned aside as best she could, and the man succeeded, but muttered, “Accessible doesn’t mean convenient.”

A few weeks ago when lightning struck Valley Cares, an assisted living facility in Townshend, the residents and staff executed their well-practiced emergency drills and were all safely outside by the time fire fighters arrived. The residents then traveled the half-mile down the road to Leland and Gray Union High School, where they awaited transportation to temporary alternate housing.

Thirty-Six Miles Of Trouble is the title of a slim and entertaining history of the West River Railroad that once operated between Brattleboro and South Londonderry. According to author Victor Morse, the railroad suffered a series of disasters that included poor track, worse equipment, and regular derailments. The original wood-burning engines weren’t powerful enough to pull a train from Brattleboro up to the highest point on the route in Newfane, so passengers had to get out and walk.

Last year, I was picking berries, when I heard a car skid and crash on the road by my house.

When the town of Newfane celebrated its centennial in 1874, the Federal style courthouse, the steepled Congregational Church, and the Newfane Inn were already anchoring the Newfane village green that remains photogenic today.

I was born during the heyday of the agricultural use of DDT, so I didn’t see my first bald eagle until twenty-two years after the pesticide was banned.

I attended college during an era of feminist activism, when non-sexist language meant not using the word man when we meant human. The Handbook of Non-Sexist Language sat on the shelf right next to our copies of The Elements of Style, and we insisted on the honorific Ms. allowing women to be in the world without reference to their marital status. I didn’t see what business my marital status was back then, and I still don’t now. Even though I’m long married, I use the name I was born with, and smoke comes out my ears when people who know better call me by my husband’s last name.

When a recent commentary about the need for intelligent and empathetic discussions about vaccines by Abby Mnookin ended with a plea to “relearn how to talk to each other with compassion and to consider the broader impact of our decisions,” I was both amused and appalled when the thread of comments that followed escalated into an on-line shouting match, complete with snide remarks and name-calling – until VPR closed the thread.

Not long ago, I received a private message on Facebook from a woman who’d once been my best friend, but with whom I hadn’t spoken in thirty years.

Since last year’s Town Meeting, I’ve been called to the polls twice for special elementary school votes, once for a special article about a Town Charter, and once each for the November elections, the union high school budget, and the elementary school budget. That’s a total of seven votes – an indication, I think, of how vibrant self-governance is in my town.

In 1764, King George the Second set the boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire at the Connecticut River’s western low-water mark. Simultaneously, Britain’s Royal Board of Trade decreed the same low-water mark as the border between New York and New Hampshire, squeezing Vermont off the map.

The arch truss bridge on I-91 that’s been spanning the West River since the late 1950’s was once state-of-the-art but has become functionally obsolete. A new bridge of balanced cantilevered construction is going up in its place.

Last winter, Governor Shumlin took a good first step in reframing the issue of drug addiction by defining it as a public health crisis rather than simply as a problem of crime. Since illnesses can be treated, it follows that treatment should be more effective than incarceration and in the past year, Vermont has made great strides in creating a number of proactive strategies.

I suffer a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder, where the diminishing daylight depresses my mood.

As humans have done for eons, I celebrate the seasonal festivals that brighten the dark, especially those including candles and lights. There’s evidence that humans have been lighting the dark for as long as they’ve had fire, especially in the parts of the world where daylight dwindles in winter. But with the advent of electricity, humans have been lighting the night to an unhealthy extreme.

Thanksgiving is the Big Holiday at our house, the one my kids attend with their partners in return to spending Christmas away. In addition to the traditional turkey, we have our own traditions, including a Big Project. This year, it’s augmenting a stonewall. And if weather permits, we’ll light up the night with a bonfire, burning all the brush accumulated over the year. The Thanksgiving feast is just one part of what’s turned into a house party that lasts most of a week and involves lots of meals, walks, Scrabble and talk.

I’m named after a woman who emigrated from Russia with two sons, then gave birth to an American, but never became one herself. Every year Devorah Leah would register as a resident alien, because she never learned to speak or read English – a subject in which I’ve earned a PhD.

I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot recently as I stumble my way around the foreign territory of the digital landscape, with only a rudimentary knowledge of its language.

The Newbrook Elementary School serves the towns of Newfane and Brookline, and this Thursday, the voters of both towns will meet for the second time to resolve how to heat the building.

The current boilers are weary, and the ventilation inside the school is poor. After years of study, the energy committee is proposing a solar array with air-to-air heat pumps. The old boilers would kick on as the temperatures approach zero.

On a sunny afternoon last month, I visited NewBrook Elementary School for a field day celebration of their food-based curriculum. Mixed aged teams, Kindergarten through sixth grade, rotated through different stations on the school grounds. I followed Team Tomato around the course.

Our first stop was at a picnic table covered with a map of the world; a geography lesson ensued, where the kids read stickers on fruit and packaged food, then located where in the world the apples, seaweed and chocolate came from.

Unlike many much larger towns, Brattleboro boasts a rich cultural life filled with music, art, intellectual exchange, lively politics and literature. On any given night, residents can attend concerts, lectures, theater, or classes. Sometimes, the choices are so varied it’s easier just to stay home and read.

When the late Dan Darrow was running for the state legislature in my district almost twenty years ago, he handed out a campaign brochure with the recipe for his famous blueberry pie. His opponent accused him of offering pie in the sky.