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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Holvino: Maintaining The Steeple

James A. Cumming
Two workers repair and maintain the Italianate 140 foot high steeple of the Centre Congregational Church on Main Street in Brattleboro.

I never thought too deeply about the details of what it takes to keep New England looking – well – like New England. But my perspective has changed as I’ve watched two workers scrubbing, repairing and painting the fine Italianate one hundred forty foot high steeple of the Centre Congregational Church on Brattleboro’s Main Street.

From my fourth floor rented apartment, I have a perfect view of these steeplejacks, just a few hundred yards from my window. One of them works from a crane or lift. The other uses what’s called a bosun’s chair, though it looks more like a rope harness than a chair.

With the contraption wrapped around his body he pulls himself up with what seems like a very primitive and dangerous pulley rig. The ropes look like they’re connected to the lift, but they’re also looped around the very top of the steeple. It all appears very complicated to this Puerto Rican woman whose childhood town churches didn’t have steeples, but cúpulas.

Watching them work, I was inspired to look on the internet where I learned that steeplejacks are included in the broad category of construction and related workers. What they do is considered one of the twelve scariest jobs, like skyscraper window washers, bomb squad technicians, and field epidemiologists. And for all that, they’re only paid about forty thousand a year. About a third of them are women.

After several weeks of constant work, the steeple is shining and the steeplejacks are done. I walk to the site and start a conversation.

“I watch you from my apartment,” I yell from a few feet away, where they’re fixing a wood plaque by the entrance of the church.

“Did you want to come up too?” one steeplejack asks.

“No; no way,” I answer. “I just prayed for you every day.”

“Well, thank you,” he says and gives me a thumbs-up.

I’m grateful to the church congregation that values their steeple and maintains it. And I’m glad to have met these competent workers who risk their lives to sustain our town’s distinctive skyline with a powerful combination of skill, sweat and courage.

Evangelina Holvino is a creative non-fiction writer and a free-lance consultant on issues of social differences and justice in non-profit organizations.
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