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Slayton: Green Mountain Bodhisattvas

The other morning, it was 10 below outside, and, as I gradually awoke, I realized it was getting cold inside as well. I looked at my bedside thermometer: 49 degrees. Uh-oh... Something must be wrong.

The chilly room hustled me along as I leapt out of bed and into my clothes. Very quickly, I stood in front of my furnace and pressed the restart button. Nothing. The furnace was taking a winter vacation.

Great. I built a quick fire in the woodstove and went for the phone to call Kerry, my furnace maintenance guy, quietly praying that I would reach him.

The phone rang. A very sleepy Kerry said hello. With a sigh of more than relief I told him the situation.

He said he would be at my place within an hour, and sure enough, just about 7, he came through the door, cheerful as always, lugging his toolkit.

Turns out, he had been working late the night before. In this long cold spell, furnaces are dropping dead all over central Vermont, and he hadn’t gotten home until 3 a.m. the night before. He’d had about 3 hours sleep when I called.

Even so, he was not only cheerful, but competent. In about 15 minutes, he had the furnace running, and he gave me a quick lesson in what to do if it should fail again.

And then he was out the door and on to the next rescue.

Personally, I’d like to award Kerry the Distinguished Service Medal, but I know he wouldn’t accept it, and besides, I’d have to award at least a dozen others to those Vermonters I have come to think of as Green Mountain Bodhisattvas: the people who keep us pampered middle-class folks alive and comfortable in our homes in a long winter.

There’s Nate, who has shoveled off our roof twice this winter and, when I was recovering from hip surgery, split our wood and shoveled our walks. There’s Kathy, who helps us with the housecleaning, always doing more than we expect. There’s Cliff, the best plumber in Vermont, who understands the dark mysteries of our steam-heating system and can tweak any toilet or faucet back into operation in minutes. And there are several others.

Unlike journalists like myself, these people do honest, physical work for a living. Sure, we pay them, but not enough for their competence or the peace of mind they give us, just knowing they are there.

They are proof to me that despite the changing world we now inhabit, Vermont values live on. Which is yet another reason to celebrate them.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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