Four years ago, when I was first considering a move to Vermont for a career change, there were certainly reservations. I knew that Waterbury was smaller than most any town I had spent the night in, much less lived in, and nearby towns weren’t much larger. I considered commuting from Burlington, a bit of a mixture of Wilmington and Newark, Delaware—only with more spunk and vigor—but the distance and inadequate transit made it impractical.
So, I gathered all the info I could about Waterbury. I knew the village had been ravaged by Irene, the 2011 hurricane that barreled up the east coast before parking itself on top of Vermont as a tropical storm. Much of Waterbury was flooded, and there were many hints of the devastation during my trip to interview nine months later. Seeing how Waterbury and Vermont came together to regain normalcy after Irene was the biggest selling point.
But one story stood out.
Just two months after every house on Randall and Elm Streets flooded, people put the hard work aside to ensure continuity for area kids. Randall and Elm had been a destination trick-or-treating spot for years, and Vermont would not let Irene take that away the kids. By all measures it was a small thing, but sometimes small things are what matter most.
That one story made me love Waterbury and Vermont. Even still, I was both excited and terrified when the only rental available in Waterbury was on Elm. Could I move into an area that could potentially flood again? Could I risk everything I own for the convenient walk to work. The people of Waterbury showed that there are more important things than just stuff, so it was not a matter of fearing the loss of everything but whether or not I could live up to the ideals of community that the people showed after Irene.
Community is big here, with numerous festivals, block parties, free concerns, community meetings, parades, and other events. But the one time your sense of community is put to a personal test is Halloween—luckily I’ve always loved Halloween.
So last year, my fourth Halloween in Waterbury, it was time to do more. Yes, I had been giving out candy every year since moving onto Elm. Yes, I usually spend more than my fair share to make it special. At the insistence of parents, each kid expects to receive only one piece of candy, so I make the effort to get something they won’t get at any other house. Lindor’s Truffles usually do the trick, thanks to “flash sales” and buy-one-get-one offers. And I often forego the donations from the rest of Waterbury, just to make sure everyone else gets what they need
And why are there donations for Halloween? Trick-or-treaters on this block can surpass 800, depending on weather. This is a community event, so the community pitches in—not just after a disaster, but every year! Simply participating no longer seemed sufficient.
With Halloween 2015 being on Saturday, and thus potentially huge, I called in reinforcements—my old friends Carla and Deb from Massachusetts. Trick-or-treating is not quite as big where they live, so I knew how much they’d appreciate the polite frenzy of it all! We pooled decorations and created the biggest and best display on the block—a full-on cemetery lit only with muted candlelight, Carla as the witch on duty, and just enough of everything else to make it perfect. The kids loved it, the parents loved it, and the atmosphere was amazing.
Halloween in this little village is damn near perfect. Not only do locals and businesses collect candy to share with residents on the busy block, but neighbors also share with each other. Ben & Jerry’s gives away free pumpkins, in exchange for food donations for the local food shelf. The village closes Elm and Randall, and the police walk the block. The fire department around the corner hands out hot dogs and other treats.
The kids are also awesome—witty, friendly, and polite—and their eyes are filled with amazement and wonder, just as they should be! The parents aren’t much different, with many in awe of our display. The costumes are also awesome, with many being handmade or quite clever. The entire night feels like one big costume block party—with 700 to 800 kids and their parents.
Even more special is that all are welcome, as we saw kids in wheelchairs, kids of parents who spoke little English, and quite a few tourists. I’ve never been part of anything like it, and it’s one time I feel like a Vermont native. How can I not participate in this with all the energy, candy, and passion I can muster?
The only downside to all of this is that it happens only once a year! But I’ve just celebrated four years in Waterbury by planning my fifth Halloween here. “Elm Street Cemetery” will be bigger and better, and I’m in negotiations to get the lead witch to return. I’ve also been planning the candy for a few weeks now—yes, months in advance.
Let the magic continue!