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Greene: Giant Cat's Cradle

(Host) With Vermont largely spared from the full wrath of Hurricane Sandy, writer and commentator Stephanie Greene caught up with a neighbor with roots in New Jersey, who's still working to recover from Tropical Storm Irene.

(Greene) Someone described the tangle of yarn that stretched throughout Wilmington in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene as a giant cat's cradle, knitting the community together.

But to Beth Leggiere, who ran Handknits on Main Street, it was $100,000 worth of stock. Gone.

She shakes her head at the power of the water that swirled through town that day just over a year ago. It carried off her 300 pound, 12 drawer Ikea counter that took two people to budge and dumped it on the shores of Lake Whitingham, a half a mile away. The water came up through the floorboards, ripped up the carpet and washed away her livelihood.

She suspects that boats on Lake Whitingham may still find yarn tangled in their propellers - even though large mats of fiber were pulled from the lake after the storm.

When Leggiere was finally allowed back into the front of her store - its back end was unsafe to walk in - she rescued her computer and a skein of yarn that had caught on a nail as it floated off a shelf. It's a Dream in Color skein in pink and red with silver sparkles. And it's become sort of a talisman for her.

Miraculously,the data from her computer's hard drive was saved by Patrick Brown of Brown Computer Solutions in Brattleboro. But like many merchants in downtown Wilmington, Leggiere didn't have flood insurance. She says that only the people with recent mortgages carried it and were therefore able to rebuild fairly fast. For renters like Leggiere, the road to recovery has been long and frustrating.

FEMA, she says, was near useless. The agency referred her to the Small Business Administration, which treated her loan request as a business expansion. Because she'd lost 18 months of paperwork, Leggiere had to try and recreate her records with the bank and vendors.

When it came time to buy inventory again, the SBA loan would have charged Leggiere 4%interest, so she turned to local relief groups, who seemed to have a better grasp of her needs.

Leggiere bought new yarn using personal funds, grants from the Irene Flood Relief Fund, and the Rotary Club of Deerfield Valley. Some of her suppliers offered generous terms.

Now Handknits has relocated to what used to be a garage right beside her house, three miles north of Wilmington. The walls are brightly painted, and though she estimates she has about 20% of the yarn she once did, she's again open for business. She plans to resume holding Knit Nights and classes in crochet, knitting, and dying. She'll even carry spinning wheels and small looms. Her Dream in Color skein will have a place of honor in a shadow box on the wall.

When Leggiere thinks of her native Hoboken, she shakes her head again, picturing, she says, her old cellar filled with water.

But she's here now, darning up the holes left in her life by Irene, and thankful for new beginnings.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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