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Brownington logger and builder Jane Greenwood on being a 'working class' woman who's been to the opera

Jane Greenwood of Brownington, Vermont stands in her barn with a view of mountains in the distance.
Erica Heilman
/
Vermont Public
Brownington logger and builder Jane Greenwood says she straddles two classes, the "working class" and the "NPR class."

Jane Greenwood ran a sawmill in Sutton for 25 years. Now she's a carpenter and a logger. She's got three cows and 50 broiler chickens and 12 laying hens and she grows most all her own food. She lives in Brownington, in the Northeast Kingdom, population 1,000 and growing.

This story is the fourth installment of a five-part series called "What class are you?" Follow the series here.

Here's Jane Greenwood.

Erica: "What class are you?"

Jane: "Yeah, my immediate response to that would be the working class. I mean, I ran a sawmill and worked hard and earned a little bit and grew up on a dairy farm where we did the same. However, I'm fortunate enough to have had parents who are college-educated, and fairly worldly, from a rural-Vermont-farm way. But they managed through their lives to always to have a hired man so that they could go off and do some things more globally. They even went to France once, and that's unheard of when you got 90 cows you got to milk twice a day. Therefore, I inherited some of that worldliness.

"I was encouraged to go to college. I tried it and didn't like it. I knew that my education was better gotten out behind the barn or working with my hands. But I've been privileged, because of my upbringing, to have that exposure. And I think that that puts my feet into two or three different classes. But I'm one to not really put myself into a category that way, because I'm interested in all categories of life and living. Except maybe opera. I never really got into opera. But I've been! And I have been beyond Burlington."

"I was encouraged to go to college. I tried it and didn't like it. I knew that my education was better gotten out behind the barn or working with my hands. But I've been privileged, because of my upbringing, to have that exposure. And I think that that puts my feet into two or three different classes. But I'm one to not really put myself into a category that way, because I'm interested in all categories of life and living. Except maybe opera. I never really got into opera. But I've been!"
Jane Greenwood

Erica: "You mix with a lot of different people when you're a builder, when you run a sawmill. Do you notice cultural divisions that are the result of blind spots or things that people don't know that they don't know about their neighbors?"

Jane: "I do a lot of my carpentry work and logging with a true friend who's a little bit younger than I am, who's born and raised in this immediate area. And up until two years ago he had never been south of White River Junction. And there are so many things that he makes me aware of that I just take for granted. He's a bright guy, kind, gentle, aware, clever man, who just doesn't know. He does not listen to NPR. And when we ride to a job together, I turn it off. Because I feel like I'm offending him. He doesn't mind if I want to listen to it. But I feel that he would really rather not. He doesn't want to hear news from that perspective. He doesn't even want to hear news. He doesn't have a TV. He listens to Moo 92. Or the country station. And we get along as two people as well as any two people can."

Erica: "You turn off NPR when you're riding to a job. Why?"

Jane: "I don't want him to feel that he’s outclassed. I like to be on an even playing field as much as I can."

Erica: "Are you aware of cultural tensions in your town that you can trace back to people's assumptions about class? Do you think that’s a component?"

Jane: "Growth is inevitable. But nobody ever goes to a town a planning commission meeting. And yet, you talk to some of the individuals and they say, ‘I've had junk cars in my yard forever. And that's how I earn my income. I take parts off them, I have a garage and I use them somewhere, and I just sell them, and nobody's going to come and tell me not to.’ And what I'm thinking as the mediator — me that has a shoe in both ponds — is, ‘You guys, growth is inevitable. There's going to be people coming here, and they're gonna buy the land next to you. And we don't have any zoning. We don't have any plans. That person could set up whatever he or she wants to, or they start complaining about your junkyard just because they moved in next to you. So if we want to maintain our independence and have what we cherish, we need to have a plan, because these people are going to come.’"

More from Vermont Public: Hardwick's Karen Shaw is from the 'agricultural class,' and she doesn't see much hope for national unity

Erica: "What do you encourage people who are new to the area then, or people coming from somewhere else, what do you encourage everybody to do to make that relationship work?"

Jane: "Well, here's an example. I was introduced to a couple of gals who are partners, or they're gay. And they are quite worldly. And they bought a 25-acre tract of land a couple miles up the road and decided that they wanted to build a garage on it. Neither one of them had ever built any buildings. And here come Alan and me over there with our little toolbox saying, ‘What are we going to do here?’ And along comes the guy who did their excavator work. And he's a good old Brownington boy. And they are having a beer at the end of the day together, and sharing stories and having a good old time. Like they've known each other forever. Total respect for one another. And these girls just rolled up their sleeves and joined Brownington.

"And I think what makes it all OK, it was the focus of the building project. Something that somebody new coming in needs help with that the local community can become involved in. Instead of being grudging, they can be having engagement that then dissipates all the stigma attached to ‘them and us.’"

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Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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