Arlo Mudgett: The View from Faraway Farm: Bless your heart

A Georgia friend shared an opinion piece written by Dick Yarbrough in the Eatonton Messenger on June 14th. Eatonton is about 45 miles southeast of Atlanta Georgia. It is an absolutely lovely town where the Uncle Remus stories were written by Eatonton native Joel Chandler Harris. Mr. Yarbrough's commentary was about the $10,000.00 reward that Vermont is offering to move here, with a bunch of conditions, of course. The real gist of Yarbrough's writings boiled down to his love of being a Georgia native and his beloved state. Sure, he mocked Vermont for being small, delivering his sleights in that sugary style that some Georgians find endlessly clever. With one phrase he identified himself as being a bit beyond the age of eligibility for taking advantage of Vermont's residency bounty. Here's the context: "What are you going to do on a Saturday afternoon in the fall? Look at red and orange leaves all day? Gag me with a spoon." Hahaha, I bet he put that "gag me with a spoon" line in there for the youngsters. Those same youngsters who uttered that phrase for the last time in 1988.

Dick also used that shopworn comparison where you cite Vermont's tiny square mileage and compare it to Georgia's huge square mileage. He also compared populations, pointing out the ten million plus residents of his home state. Then he went on to say that if you couldn't pronounce certain local place names you didn't belong in Georgia. I get that. We do the same kind of thing here in Vermont. Charlotte, Calais, etc. In the end, I don't think Dick has ever been to Vermont. I've been to Eatonton numerous times. It's a nice place. Parts of Georgia are really special. Atlanta is a pretty cosmopolitan city, Savannah is gorgeous, and there are plenty of nice people down there.

The thing is, more Americans have not been to Vermont than the number of Americans who actually have visited our state. Those who have visited don't tell the same kind of story that Dick Yarbrough tells. I freely admit that we are a small state with brutal weather extremes. We are also considered one of the more beautiful states. Yet, put all of that stuff away and focus on what Vermonter's have done. We were the first state in the Union to outlaw slavery. Vermont was proudly a main line for the underground railroad, taking big risks to assist escaped southern slaves on their way to freedom in Canada. Proportionally, Vermont offered up more of her sons to serve in the Civil War than any other state in the Union. Vermonter's had a big hand in changing the course of the Civil War at Gettysburg, effectively blunting Pickett's charge and giving the advantage that won the battle to the Union. However, the bigger difference is this: we aren't still fighting the Civil War like many in the south. Vermont is truly about inclusion. Open-mindedness. We don't dislike Georgians because they are southern. We don't even dislike Georgia, and we certainly don't mock it or disparage it. We even named a town after the state. We see Georgia as it is because many of us have been there. My Great Great Grandfather Captain Horace French spent years in Georgia as a guest of the state in several of the finest Confederate prisons. I don't know what he was thinking those three times that he escaped.

Eatonton still has many of the beautiful homes that stood before the Civil War. Why? Because (and this makes both sides look bad) the wealthy could purchase cards that they would show to the Union troops on their march to Atlanta that gave them immunity from having their plantations sacked and burned. I once took a lovely walking tour of downtown Eatonton with a native who pointed out the separate entrance to the movie theater for "coloreds" as well as many other sites that adhered to Jim Crow. But we're over all that just like Georgians are over it, right?

I have to admit that I find the ten thousand dollar reward for moving to Vermont a bit embarrassing. It wasn't that many years ago that we couldn't slow the numbers of "flatlanders" moving here. Well, we finally figured out how to stop them. We taxed the living hell out of everyone and made our state one of the most business unfriendly atmospheres in the Union. Nowadays you really have to want to live here badly to move here because there are so many valid reasons not to move to Vermont. The fact that Dick Yarbrough is unaware of all that proves that he's never been to Vermont. So yeah, this is a tough place to live in for a bunch of reasons, but we do have our priorities straight and we do believe in being inclusive and we do see the good in every other state in the United States. Yet there are those of us who will put up with all of the negatives because of our state's beauty, but mostly because of its people. An indomitable assemblage of clear-eyed realists who view all people as equal. To Dick Yarbrough, I say bless your heart, and come on up and visit some time y'hear?

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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