A Return to the Familiar

Melissa O’Brien

It was in the spirit of Olympic fever with which I watched the video of my son, Sam, launching himself off ski jumps, spinning, flipping and soaring. I watched this Instagram post of his over and over thinking to myself … I gave birth to this?

Sam is a member of the freestyle ski team at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nevada. There is nothing about his life that surprises me; for as far back as my memory stretches he was climbing trees and onto the roof, launching himself high into the air from the trampoline that Justin Simpkins and his wonderful Charlotte Berry Farm family gave us when they moved to Martha’s Vineyard. Sam is a bird without wings, and I love watching him soar.

Charlotte, Vermont, its fields, woods, water and dirt roads, launched that guy and many others like him. Our young ones grow up and leave; friends settle for a time then move on. Still, like most small towns here in Vermont, this place retains an unmistakable draw. Perhaps it is the lake and the remarkable view of the Adirondack Mountains to the west. Maybe it’s the quiet or the way the morning light looks just peeking over the hills on the east side of town. I don’t know, but here I am, back in a place I occupied 10 years ago.

Life has a very funny way of doing this, bringing places and people back around. Maybe there’s unfinished business, maybe we left something too soon. Maybe, just maybe, life puts us where we are needed when we are needed.

A lot has happened in the 10 years since I last received a paycheck from The Charlotte News. I launched two of my three children into the world, my marriage ended, I became a seminary student, answered the call to preach at a church in southern Vermont, became a hospice chaplain and half of a therapy dog team. I can’t leave that part out—our blind coonhound, Daisy, factors prominently into the story of Us.

Why are you here, they asked me when I sat and interviewed for the position of news editor of this paper.

Why am I here? Because I love newspapers and I believe in them and I don’t want them to die on my watch. On Sunday mornings I do my thing at the pulpit of the Pawlet Community Church, then we have our coffee and catch up with each other, and then I head to Sheldon’s Market to get The New York Times. It’s six dollars now, which is absurd, but I love everything about it; I read it all week long. For a time I had a subscription to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. The newspaper they churn out on that tiny island is, in my opinion, one of the finest anywhere.

I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I thought I would grow up and be a reporter. Turns out I did.

Why am I here? Because I believe in community, and I believe that newspapers like the one you have in front of you right now play an important role in the life of a community. When we share our stories and our photos, news of our triumphs and losses, when we share our lives this way we grow stronger together, and that matters. That matters more than ever at a time in history when people are becoming increasingly isolated, anxious and lonely. The bonds of community are worth preserving, protecting and nurturing. All of you should be proud that Charlotte has sustained this newspaper for 60 years, and, too, you should be thinking about how to keep sustaining it because that’s how it works. It’s one of the things we do really well in small-town Vermont life: we recognize what is of value and then we throw our weight behind it.

Why am I here? It’s simple: because this paper, brought to life in 1958 by a group of teenagers in the basement of the Charlotte Congregational Church and has chugged along for six decades, is of value.