Deborah Lee Luskin


Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.

When I came home with my ears pierced more than fifty years ago, my father asked, “Why didn’t you get a bone through your nose?” To further prove he was square and I was cool, I had a second set of holes drilled through my ear lobes and rarely wore earrings that matched.

Then I had kids.

When our oldest was thirteen, she wanted nothing more than to have her bellybutton pierced. It was perhaps the first and only time her father and I responded with an unequivacal, “No.”

My dad has been a widower for the past eighteen months, and he’s been living alone for the first time in his life. He met my mom was he was eighteen, courted her by letter from a foxhole in Europe, married her when he was twenty-one, and lived with her for sixty-six years. In 2009, they moved to a deluxe independent living facility, where they had daily exercise class, fine dining, evening programs and an apartment tastefully decorated with their familiar furniture.

Even though I don’t live in Brattleboro, I attended a recent, special meeting about the town’s budget, which was developed by the Select Board, passed by the Representative Town Meeting, and defeated by a referendum. The initial budget was the work of months of meetings – but none so well attended as last week’s, where so many people showed up they had to find a bigger room. At issue was the five percent across-the board cuts the Select Board suggested in response to the budget’s defeat. These cuts would affect every town department.

William Shakespeare was born 450 years ago right about now. His exact birthdate is unknown, but his baptism was recorded on April 26, 1564. Shakespeare left neither letters nor diaries, and only eighteen of his plays were printed during his lifetime. The thirty-six plays that comprise what we consider his complete work were published in The First Folio of 1623, seven years after he died, but this lack of hard data hasn’t hindered a thriving industry in Shakespeare scholarship.

Town Meeting Day itself may be over in my town – but the voting isn’t. We’ll go to the polls two more times, both for Australian Ballots that failed. The first recall is for the Union High School, whose seven million dollar budget lost by ten votes. It would be easy to blame the low voter turnout on the snowstorm on voting day, but the truth is more people voted this year than did last year, when the weather was fair.

At our annual school district meeting this year, we voted to reduce the size of our school board from five members to three. Even so, we have only one elected school director, and we have to hold a special election to elect at least one more, so that we have a quorum and can conduct business.

The last board tried recruiting candidates but no one stepped forward, which is both understandable and too bad.

Henry Martyn Robert lived from 1837 until 1923, and while I don’t know if he ever set foot in Vermont, his influence in this state is significant. He’s the army corps of engineers officer who wrote the manual on parliamentary procedure that governs Town Meeting in Vermont.

What started as a list of rules for governing deliberative assemblies short enough to fit on a slip of paper that General Robert could carry in his wallet is now more than seven hundred pages in its newest, revised edition just off the press.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love the new, high performance, fabrics that have been keeping me warm, dry and protected from the wind during the recent arctic cold. But as I geared up to snow shoe in the sub-zero weather, I couldn’t help but notice that every article I pulled on came with a multitude of labels.

My polypro long johns have the size and fiber content printed inside the collar and waistband. These inked labels are a big improvement over the old-fashioned kind that used to irritate my winter-dry skin.

For thirteen and a half years, I thought my dog just slept between walks. I thought of her as a companion animal whose only real work was as my personal trainer, the pet who lived impatiently from walk to walk.

Only when the intervals between walks dragged on too long did I see her out in the field, digging for rodents, or rolling in malodorous stuff.

This last trick was a sore point between us. I know she thought acquiring the odor of some dead varmint was analogous to me daubing perfume behind my ears.

Brevity is the soul of wit , according to Shakespeare – and it’s notoriously difficult to achieve, according to the French mathematician Pascal, who wrote, I would have been more brief had I more time. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared it was his ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

Nietzsche wasn’t successful, but Abraham Lincoln was. His Gettysburg Address, which was delivered at the consecration of the National Cemetery 150 years ago, is only ten sentences long.

The Brattleboro Community Justice Center celebrated its tenth anniversary last week with a one-day exhibit of artwork by Vermonters affected by violent crime and by violent offenders in a Vermont prison.

I raised my first pig in 1985. Our house was in a perfect spot: On one side, there was an old cellar hole we turned into a sty, and on the other was a farm stand, where we picked up unsold produce at the end of each day. Our pig got fat on strawberries and squashes and apples gone by.

Saturday started out typically enough, with more to do than could possibly be accomplished in a weekend, let alone in just one day. In addition to the usual fall chores, we had a few left over from summer, and we’d been on vacation, so not only had the household chores piled up, but we’d also just spent the work week digging out our desks.

On the morning of Sunday, August 28, 2011, I pulled on a pair of boots and walked out into the rain.

Last week, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

The next day, I saw a production of Blood Wedding, a revenge tragedy that ends with a double homicide. The play opens with a woman slicing a loaf of bread. She offers her grown son some, but he wants the knife. The mother withholds it. Her husband and older son were knifed years earlier, victims of an on-going feud.

The son tells his mother he wants to marry. The mother objects to his choice of bride, who once dated a man related to their enemies.

I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, which I always understood to be a continuation of the Civil War. It wasn’t until I visited Gettysburg this past April, however, that I learned about the actual warfare.

We started early, ducking out of our B&B before breakfast to climb the tower on top of nearby Culp’s Hill to gain a clear view.

Back to the inn for a good feed, and then out to the battlefield, which has been well preserved.

Last month, I sat on a Senior Roundtable at The Compass School to assess a high school senior’s bid for graduation.

Compass is an independent school in Westminster, designed to provide a personalized and responsive education for middle and high school students through an innovative, real-world curriculum.

Every year, sweepers in costumes follow the cows that march in the Strolling of the Heifers parade through Brattleboro. The sweepers, of course, are there to shovel up any manure the cows drop along the route.

Humans are a narrative species; one fundamental thing that sets us apart from all others is our ability to tell stories. So it’s not really surprising that when word went out there’d be live storytelling in South Newfane on a recent Saturday night, the Old Schoolhouse was packed.

When my children were small, my mother and their godmother both supplied them with lacey slips, fringed shawls, glam shoes and a mink muff. The girls donned this wardrobe to costume their endless games of make-believe. It turns out, this dress-up was good preparation for the steady diet of hand-me-downs they received from their well-heeled suburban cousins. These lightly-worn threads supplied my kids well into middle school.