Susan Cooke Kittredge


Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.

I don’t usually answer calls from 800 numbers, but for some reason I did a couple of weeks ago. Adding to my tendency to dismiss these calls, it was an automated message, but it quickly got my attention.

I used to cross country ski for hours from my front door. Then we moved to the Champlain Valley, where I’ve not yet gotten in the habit of driving to snow, so aside from running and walking outside, I’ve been looking around my house more than usual.

Here we are at the time of year when we roll out family traditions with bravado. For many this is a great solace and comfort, but for others it can be a clashing symbol of what’s changed, what’s missing, who’s gone. No wonder the air seems charged, having as it does such conflicting emotional ions butting about: anticipation and joy, anticipation and dread.

How fitting that Pope Francis came to the United States from Cuba, a country with whom we have a long history of friction and distrust. It was indicative of his core message of reconciliation and healing. By so doing, he also modeled the immigrant experience and touched an inflamed nerve in this country.

Until 1967 Memorial Day was called “Decoration Day.” The tradition of placing flowers on the graves of lost soldiers is an ancient one dating back to long before the American Civil War. It was, however, during that war that the practice became widely observed.

I was recently at a gathering where people talked about their memories of Easter. Granted, it was a group of church folk, so stories of Easter dresses, sunrise services, and interminable Easter sermons abounded.

Winter in the North Country requires that we live a bit on heightened alert. We shrink from those around us who are sneezing and coughing; judiciously count the logs in the woodshed, drive cautiously and pad about on slippery walks ever watchful for a patch of ice.

Our sons grew up watching Star Wars and constructing elaborate space ships out of Legos - not uncommon for young boys in the late 1970s and 80s. One of our boys, Zeb, always wanted to work in space. “Sure, sure,” we said, “you can be anything you want to be.”

But when, after graduating from U-32 in East Montpelier and getting his Bachelor of Science from Stanford, he was then admitted to a Coop program at NASA as part of his graduate work at Stanford. We figured we’d better start taking him seriously.

By the time the passengers of the Mayflower finally got off the ship for good in March of 1621, they had been on the boat for seven months. They had boarded in early August ready to launch, but she was an old ship and kept springing leaks so it was a full month before they even set sail. In the meantime they were crammed together consuming their precious stores for the journey. After a treacherous crossing of the Atlantic, they landed on Cape Cod in early November.

With maples turning, and frost on the pumpkins, there are fewer customers at our farm stand. In comparison to the many robust farms with roadside sales, our farm stand is tiny, but I love it. Last spring, however, when the push to plant and organize and clean up in winter’s wake pressed hard, I decided I had to cut back on something. Serving a church, running a catering business and having a farm stand was just too much. Since I love being a minister, there was no way that would end. At first, I thought the stand would go. But as soon as the vegetables started coming in, that changed.

When I wasn’t attending camps in New England, the summers of my childhood were spent at the end of Long Island in a small beach house atop a sand bluff. Until the vineyards arrived about 30 years ago, there wasn’t much happening on the North Fork except lush fruit and vegetable farming. The small peninsula called Nassau Point on which my parents’ house stood jutted out into Peconic Bay and was, if you can believe it, pretty remote.

The subject of obesity and its impact on individuals and on our society as a whole is running the risk of redundancy. As often happens, repeated mention of a certain topic leads to our not really hearing it anymore; we don’t process information when we hear it over and over and over again.

In 1969 my brother-in-law who is an astrophysicist generously and patiently spent a long afternoon trying to explain black holes to me. After four hours I had a headache, but also a faint understanding of what these huge gravitational sinkholes might be.

I have long maintained that the excellent quality of Vermont’s public schools is a result of the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s idealism among young adults was rampant. Spurred on by what many believed was an ill-conceived war; people protested what was seen as the establishment’s unjust and immoral engagement in Vietnam.

Unlike most people, I’ve always enjoyed my visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Without a doubt, these excursions are not likely to be swift; an hour is pretty standard, but they can take longer.

Several years ago our daughter Jane, who is a violinist, needed a new bow. Finding the right one can take a long time; musicians take them out on trial and guard them with their lives.

Jane was testing a particularly wonderful bow when she was getting her Masters at a conservatory in Manhattan. Over Easter weekend there were few students at school so Jane spent long hours in a practice room, comparing her old bow with the new one and falling in love with the latter. Late Saturday night she packed up her case and walked home to her apartment.

The holiday season is so much about memory, remembering times past, good or bad, and creating memories for the future. I’ve asked people recently what their clearest memories are of holidays past and to a one they have recounted a particular event, a time when things went really well or really wrong. They haven’t talked about presents or decorations or even food, they’ve talked about people and relationships and often music. It’s worth remembering as we’re whipped into a frenzy of getting and spending: what we are apt to remember are small crystal moments of meaning.

Though we may put candles in our windows, adorn shrubs and Christmas trees with stands of lights, with the sun not rising until 7:15 and slipping behind the western hill shortly after 4pm, this remains a very dark time of year. We go to pretty extensive measures to mitigate the darkness and brighten our world.

In the Christian tradition this is Advent, a supposedly quiet time for contemplation and reflection. And with Hanukkah coming so early this year, Jews are in the midst of observing the Festival of Lights.

In the early 1980s in Middlesex, there was a Haunted House for the amusement of the local children. An old abandoned farmhouse in the center of town had been so neglected that, although it was very close to the road, it was barely visible since vines and trees encased its dark, weather beaten clapboards. Doors hung askew, the floors creaked, there was no electricity and it smelled musty from time and the resident rodents.

For several years I have watched a particular pair of Canada Geese build their nest and raise their young on an island in a small pond near our house.  Having spent many cold spring mornings crouched down with my binoculars, I know it’s the same couple.