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Doherty: Now We Know

Two years ago, when Irene came through, Kevin Lavigne, his wife Diane, and his neighbors collected those who lived close to the White River and brought them to their houses high in the hills of Sharon. Everyone took them up on their invitation until they came to the last house.

The old farmer had gone through many floods and he saw no reason to leave for this one - although his wife did. Kevin said he would stay with him until he was ready to go. "He had cable,” Kevin said, “and the Patriots were on."

The waters rose. But the farmer showed no signs of leaving.

"Just how high does the water have to be before you'll leave?"

"Oh, if it fills the basement, I'll go."

The water filled the basement and was high up on their shins but the farmer still didn't want to leave. Then, Diane and the neighbors came back.

They said the house was completely surrounded by water, and insisted, “You have to leave. Now!"

When they got outside, they could hear someone yelling for help, but couldn't see anyone, so they tied a rope around Kevin’s waist, and he waded out into the fields, up to his neck in water. He still couldn't see anyone and wasn’t quite sure from which direction the voice came, so they took the farmer home out of the pelting rain – but Kevin came back in his kayak.

By then, it was dark. "Trees went by. A mobile home went by. A garage." Suddenly, in the sweep of his miner's light, Kevin saw a woman’s face looking out at him from the branches of a tree, with only her head above water.

Kevin wedged his kayak against the upriver side of the tree. But the water was raging and the woman was cold and nearly exhausted. He couldn't get her into the kayak.

"Forget about me," she said. "And save yourself."

So Kevin used his teacher voice.

"I came out here to get you,” he said, “and I'm not leaving without you." He did get her to safety, but he never did catch her name.

A few days later, he went back to the farmhouse, where family and friends were shoveling mud out of the second floor windows.

Now, two years later, the house is mostly rebuilt. The farmer and his wife have a new great granddaughter, by the name of Stella, while Kevin and Diane have just left for China, where Kevin will be teaching for the next two years. Life goes on.

Now, two years later, we know there were many unsung heroes like Kevin: those who carried people through chest deep water in torrential rivers, boated to get people stranded in cars, ran to neighbors whose houses had collapsed. People pooled all their building and mucking-out skills to rebuild homes. The FEMA people still talk about Vermonters with wonder.

Now, two years later, we know down to our bones what is important and what is not. We are wiser, more compassionate, and we know our neighbors. We are grateful for each other, and for the certain knowledge that there are real heroes among us.

April Doherty is a former science teacher still involved in public education. She works at Hanover High School, helping students in the Science Resource Center, and at the Hartland Public Library.
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