My neighbor’s husband died unexpectedly a few weeks ago. I know them from the neighborhood. I know that he played with his kids all of the time because I could see him and his three happy, silly, fun kids playing soccer in the yard. I know that they hate it when their cat viciously chases and catches a bird or a mouse because I’ve seen the mom and her daughters chasing after the cat in an attempt to save the mouse/bird. I know that like me, Eric would stop in Brattleboro at the Vermont Country Deli to get dinner for the family whenever he was passing through because once, when I was recovering from surgery, Jenn brought leftover sesame chicken and peanut noodles over for my family to eat because they “had too much.”
I have lived in Richmond, VT for 7 years now and have loved every minute of it. I love that I can walk to the Richmond Market, the post office, the playground…I love that the local dance studio, Arabesque, etc. is right down the street and I love that the owners of both Sweet Simone’s and Hatchet Tap and Table know my name and my story. I knew I loved it all of this time, but I didn’t understand how special it was until something else happened.
When I was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer in September of 2015, the Richmond community rallied around me. I had Richmond Elementary School staff dropping dinners off for me. My children’s friends parents huddled around my family like a group of penguins trying to keep warm. My husband ordered flowers from The Crimson Poppy for me to be delivered each day I had chemotherapy. Since the flower shop is closed on Mondays, the owner from Stargazer Gifts and Toys would drop them off at my house instead. My last day of treatment, she sent along some gifts for my children as well. Hatchet donated apparel to a fundraiser for me. I thought it was all pretty special and I told everyone about it and people said, it was a testament to who I am. And I thought, maybe, but there’s something about Richmond.
Then Eric died and a similar uprising occurred, but even bigger.
The community sprung into action. The owners of the Lucky Spot bought a fence and started collecting donations for the family. Friends of Jenn and Eric put together a YouCaring page and a SignUp Genius and a Meal Train so anyone who wanted to support the family could do so. Not a day has passed that I haven’t seen a neighbor walking their dog, or dropping off a meal, or picking up their children. The Meal Train is booked through January.
Of course, the family is devastated. This wonderful man who was an involved and loving father and devoted husband has left this earth, but the response from the community has been like a big bear hug while Jenn and her children go about the business of trying to reinvent their lives with a giant crater in their hearts.
Jenn and I are connected now, not only because of her generosity and kindness in my time of need, but because there is something about suffering and loss and knowing just how close death is that strips you to your primal core and allows you to show the world the scars on your heart and to not care how vulnerable that makes you. When you do that here in Richmond, your friends, family and community around you hold you up and say, “isn’t she beautiful and brave” and then they try to fill in your broken heart in the only way they can think of, with abundant love.
On September 10th and 11th, the town of Richmond worked diligently to put up and paint a fence at the Poehlmann’s Home. Carpenter Home Systems replaced the porch roof. Gardens were weeded and replanted, Landshapes/J. Hutchins provided gravel and supplies so that the driveway could be redone and the children played and laughed and jumped on the trampoline. Hillview Design Collaborative provided labor and Harvest Equipment donated the use of their brand new equipment. Yes, tears were shed and there was sadness, but because of the love, laughter came too. When neighbors would go down to Richmond Home Supply to purchase supplies, they would refuse payment to support the project. Paul Parker, the local pediatrician came with his son to labor the day away. THIS is the meaning of community.
These are the reasons that Richmond is a sought after community and why it’s so hard to find a house to buy here. This is why people stay here. This community is invested in it’s members. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. At my daughter’s birthday party she and her friends discussed how they could support the Poehlmann family. They wanted to make their daughters presents and suggested that the whole birthday party head over to help paint the fence. Later that day, when my daughter was actually painting the fence she said, “this is what I really love to do. Help my friend and her family and have everyone being together!” There was a freshmen in high school explaining to her kindergarten sister that “when you are doing something to help somebody else, you want to make sure that you do the best job that you can!” This girl worked for hours perfecting the paint on the fence so there were no drips. I marveled at the amazing children my fellow community members were raising!
I know from talking with Jenn that despite feeling broken and battered and enduring a loss that feels like your heart has been ripped in half, the support that the Richmond community has provided has offered comfort. “The light shines brightest in the darkness” they say, in which case, keep on shining, Richmond.