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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

'I Want To Take Care Of My Neighbors': A Conversation With Essex-Caledonia's Freshman Lawmaker

A woman sitting at a table by a woodstove
Erica Heilman
Terri Williams is the new state representative for the Essex-Caledonia district.

Terri Williams was recently elected to the Vermont House of Representatives for the Essex-Caledonia district, which has exactly one representative. Independent producer Erica Heilman visited the freshman lawmaker at her house in Granby, and they talked in her garage during the first freezing rain this fall.

Terri Williams: “From where we live here, you have to travel a minimum of a half hour in any direction to hit pavement. So if you run out of milk, your best bet is to call your neighbor, and if you don’t know your neighbors, you might not get your milk. So, it pays to keep good with all your neighbors.”

She is not kidding. When you go to the store, make sure to have a list, and maybe a jump starter in the trunk. We don’t hear that much from Essex County, maybe because there aren’t that many people in Essex County.

But Terri Williams knows most of them. She worked as the secretary at the Concord School before the high school closed. She owned Barnie’s Market on Route 2 in Concord, which closed after she sold it. And I think all of these closings are part of why she ran for office.

"The people that came passing through left some good money, but the people that lived in the town were your bread and butter. So you have to take care of all of them." — Terri Williams, freshman lawmaker for Essex-Caledonia district

Here’s Terri Williams talking about her years at Barnie’s Market:

Terri: “We had construction workers, loggers, contractors, pavers, painters. Lunenburg people, Granby, Victory, North Concord, Concord people, all came to that store. The people that came passing through left some good money, but the people that lived in the town were your bread and butter. So you have to take care of all of them. Even though you’re never going to come in and buy an ice cream, you might buy oil. Or if you’re coming in to buy oil, maybe you want that ice cream. So I wanted to give enough attraction for everyone to stop by.

“I had a deer weigh station. And the deer weighing station was the most fun project that I endeavored at Barnie’s Market. I weighed turkeys, deer, bear and moose.”

Me: “What was fun about the weighing station?”

Terri: “Oh my gosh! What’s fun about weighing? OK, weighing is the easy part. You can get excited about the weight and excited about the horns, but to hear the hunt: ‘I could hear a noise. And then I saw the antlers, and my heart started beating…’ then they talk about pulling the trigger. And then as he’s telling the story and you’re weighing his deer, half a dozen, dozen people have driven in, well now they gotta come over and they’ve gotta check it out. And there’s other animals waiting to be weighed. They don’t care. It’s the story. And that’s what made it fun.”

More from VPR: 'Living The Dream': Father-Son Dairy Farmers Keep It Small, Simple In Essex County

Me: “What happens when a town or an area loses its store?”

Terri: “I feel so bad for the town of Concord, because they lost their high school. Now they’ve lost their store. And now they’ve lost a place to gather. They don’t have any place to sit, drink coffee, find out who shot what for animals. And when that’s gone, what is there? The old people that want to sit and tell you about their stories from past, they’re now sitting in their homes wishing someone would come and visit. It’s sad. So I want to take care of my neighbors. I can’t do it at Barnie’s Market anymore, so I’m going to do over in Montpelier.”

Me: “What does this state not understand about Essex County?”

Terri: “Oh. When you talk about the state of Vermont, it’s cut in half, because you’ve got a massive amount of people over in Burlington and you’ve got a handful of people over here. Well, when Burlington wants to run away from life, when Massachusetts wants to run away, when Connecticut wants to run away, they all come up here to the Northeast Kingdom. So accept us for who we are when you get here. So many people come up here to enjoy this and don’t realize that tomorrow morning when you wake up, you might have two feet of snow, and that you might not get plowed out today. They can’t comprehend that that’s OK.

"I represent a very small group of people that are just as important as the rest of them. Essex County, Essex and Caledonia, Kirby, don’t get recognized. People don’t know we exist hardly. And when they make laws, they need to know how it’s going to affect us backwoods people. Montpelier needs to know who we are.”

"I represent a very small group of people that are just as important as the rest of them." — Terri Williams

Me: “When you think about Montpelier… ‘cause this is a new venture, is there anything that you’re worried about?”

Terri: “The only thing that I feel afraid of is getting my way there. I feel very confident, very strong about the people I represent. I know their needs and wants. I’ve lived it, I am them. So what I worry about is getting there, finding my way, learning the streets of Montpelier, and getting to the Capitol building, and I did that the other day and I’m feeling pretty good about that too.

"I came home last evening from the meeting and took Route 2. The sun is setting in my back. And it’s one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve had this season. And I felt humble. The people of my district, I say, ‘Why did they pick me to go to Montpelier to speak for them?’ But I got a tremendous outpouring of appreciation, and for that I will give all that I can.”

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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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