Monday, March 01, 2010

Dwight Goes to One More Meeting

Tomorrow is the first Tuesday in March, the traditional Town Meeting Day across Vermont. If you have never been to a real town meeting and think they are what you see politicians stage on television, you should make the trip to see one. At Town Meeting the residents of a town are convened as a legislative body who, under the guidance of a moderator and Roberts Rules of Order, hold sole authority over town matters on the agenda. Everything from fire trucks and road salt to budgets and even resolutions to impeach the President are debated and voted on. It is democracy in its finest and most concentrated form. The Selectboard -- the elected officers of the town of which I am a part -- sit impotently at the front of the room to answer questions and defend proposals placed on the agenda. This year the school board convenes in the morning, the town in the afternoon. There's a lunch in between prepared by the Grangers of ham and potato salad which we put on top of the morning's homemade donuts from Lester Dunklee. Dark stains appear on our dog-eared personal copies of the Town Report.

One of the highest honors a town can bestow upon one of its residents is to have the Town Report dedicated to them. This honor is usually reserved for long-serving town officers when they retire or especially beloved residents upon their deaths. Last year it was dedicated to my neighbor, Dwight Miller, who was killed the summer before last when his truck rolled over him while he was cutting brush. I was invited to write that dedication and I present it here once more in Dwight's honor and in celebration of the Town Meetings that meant so much to him and mean so much to all Vermonters.

Dwight Read Miller, Jr.

February 23, 1924 – August 23, 2008

In Fond Memory

“We were going to grow peaches up here in ’88,” says Dwight to a new neighbor while they stood on a breezy hilltop. The neighbor might be forgiven for thinking this was a twenty-year-old story, but as Dwight elaborated it became clear the year in question was 1888, and that when this walking warehouse of local history said “we” he meant every person who had ever farmed or thought of farming this land. And he was related to all of them.

What Dwight Miller and his ancestors and his progeny meant and mean to the Town of Dummerston can’t be captured in this modest dedication. Perhaps one day a shelf full of books will accomplish it. For now, some warm impressions will have to do.

Dwight was a “meeting man”. He belonged to more organizations, farming and otherwise, than most of us can name. But of all the meetings he attended none meant more to him than Town Meeting. He was known in later years to return from warm Florida vacations in order to slog through the parking lot slush to Town Meeting.

One never knew when or about what, but at some point or two or three in the meeting Dwight would stand up and speak his piece. It was usually a story followed by an opinion. Sometimes an opinion followed by a story. And sometimes you couldn’t tell which was what. This was a man who gave a lot of thought to a lot of things.

While versed in the traditions of his family and his trade, Dwight remained an innovator all his farming life and was forever puzzling out better ways to do what he’d always done. He had strong opinions but would change them when presented with information that proved him wrong. This didn’t happen very often. He had a lot of information of his own.

Not long ago the Board of Civil Authority was misguided enough to try to change the official polling place from the church basement to the school. This didn’t last. Never had a chance. At the very next meeting Dwight spoke passionately about the wisdom of leaving it be. When anyone starts a testimony at your meeting with the words, “In 1775 …” You know the rest of your evening has just been spoken for.

Philosopher farmer. Man of faith. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Singer. Chocoholic. Brush cutter extraordinaire. However you knew Dwight Miller, he knew you too. He paid attention to people. He collected friends like shiny stones. He kept track of people who shared his birthday and called them all every year at ungodly times of the morning like a good farmer would.

He once welcomed a new family to town with a parable. It starts off like a joke, but doesn’t end up that way.

There’s a farmer cutting brush alongside the road when a stranger rolls up in his wagon. The farmer tips his hat and asks the stranger if he needed help.

“I’m looking to settle here in town and wonder if you can tell me how the folks are around here?”

The farmer dusts his hat off and says, "How were they where you come from?"

“The worse sort,” replies the stranger. “Liars and gossips. Two-faced and mean. I couldn’t get away fast enough.”

“Eyup,” says the farmer, sadly. “That’s just the way you’ll find them here.”

The stranger shakes his head and rolls on.

A few days later another stranger in another wagon comes up the road and waves to the farmer out in the field. When he reaches the fence the stranger calls out, “I’ll be moving my family into town soon and I was hoping you could tell me how the people are around here?”

Once again the farmer asks in return, “How were they where you come from?"

“Oh, they were the best sort. I hated to leave. Do anything for a neighbor. Give you the shirts right off their backs.”

“Eyup,” says the farmer with a nod, “That’s just how you’ll find them here.”

Story or opinion? One never could quite tell with Dwight.

Town Meeting will not be the same without Dwight Miller and neither will the town. He cannot be replaced. He can only be remembered. And he will be – as the best sort.

© Current Tom Bodett
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