Fantini: Half a century in the Brattleboro area

Spending the last 52 years in the Brattleboro area is an experience worth remembering. No doubt, others have witnessed some of the same: a mixture of changes, novelty, excitement, and challenges, but also certain wonderful and unchangeable aspects of life in a small town.

It is difficult to describe Brattleboro. One can say that it is a small "conservative" town where big and unique things happen; that it is a progressive and ahead-of-its-time town where values, attitudes and people change fast; or that it is a small town with big city aspirations. Walking down Main Street today, I found myself nostalgically reflecting back over the past 52 years to the time when I first arrived.

As I walk down the street, I remember the many businesses lining both sides. On the east side, were stores like Fairchild's, Galanes, Burrow's Sport Shop, Woolworth's, Grants, the Paramount Theatre, Root's Pharmacy, the Dutch Bake Shop, Baker's Bookstore; and, across the street, were Lewis Brown Photography, Montgomery Ward's, Mann's Department Store, Rexall Pharmacy, and, of course, Sam's Army and Navy. And of course, there was the Dunham's Shoe Outlet on Birge Street. I remember the many places to eat both in town and outside the business district: Via Condotti, Shin La, The Stone fence Inn, The Country Kitchen, The Lamplighter (now Panda North), and other places that have changed over many times. New places opened throughout the years, including the Steak Out - a New York style restaurant, decorated with vintage photos of movie stars like Orson Wells, Clark Gable, Edward Robinson, etc. Farther north, the Putney Inn Restaurant served a very special fare and the locale was used for weddings and other special occasions. I also remember many small short-lived but very special restaurants like La Casa del Sol in Putney, run by a retired anthropology professor and his Mexican wife who cooked the home style food all by herself.

Over the years, Brattleboro became diversified, first by the presence of foreign students who came to study English at the recently founded School for International Training; then, language instructors from Afghanistan, Africa, India, Iran, and Brazil, who were here to teach for the US Peace Corps projects also at SIT, and later the arrival of new immigrant families. The availability of foreign food eventually became commonplace - Thai, Cambodian, Korean, and Chinese cuisines were added to the Austrian-German food served at Dalem's Chalet in West Brattleboro. Others followed, and today a visit to the Farmer's Market provides an opportunity to taste all kinds of new cuisines. Today, children in and around Brattleboro are acquainted not only with pizza, but also with burritos, tacos, calzone, samosas, and, of course, Chinese egg rolls and Japanese sushi. As a resident in this area, I have also introduced my friends to various Latin American foods, especially from Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia (my own country of origin).

Teachers in both Brattleboro and Dummerston schools provided excellent educational experiences for my children (in addition to a happy and delightful social environment). Happily, teachers valued and supported the fact that my children were raised bilingually and, more importantly, they cooperated with us when we took them to Bolivia each year by providing text books and tasks for them to do while abroad that they could mail back home for the benefit of their schoolmates. They recognized the value of travel abroad and were receptive to our requests. My children's third language, Italian, came later when they participated in a summer exchange program with another amazing local organization, The Experiment in International Living. All of these were good signs that Brattleboro was a welcoming community.

When I first arrived in Brattleboro in 1966, I could easily identify the few foreign women in the area - two Swiss, three Germans, one Korean, two Spaniards, one Dutch. There were also some older residents from Germany, Greece, and the Netherlands. Brattleboro, Dummerston, and Putney allowed me to be "different" and to be accepted. People showed interest and understanding. Today, the community is accustomed to people from everywhere. In the Brattleboro, Putney, Dummerston, Vernon and Guilford areas, I know of families from Chile, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela, and probably from many more areas as well, contributing their native language and customs, while also participating in the American way of life. In addition, I am also acquainted with long-standing families in the area who continue to make this town the wonderful place that it is; families like the Abels, Bakers, Darrows, Everetts, Dunhams, Galanes, Millers, Richards, Robbs, and others.

Over the years, I have witnessed many events and activities - the Marlboro Music Festival, local concerts, Gallery Walk, Film Festivals, the Halloween parade for children, the Brattleboro School of Dance, NECCA, the Winter Carnival, the Ski Jump, and the Strolling of the Heifers. Marlboro College, SIT and the defunct Windham College (campus now occupied by Landmark College) attracted students from all over the country and overseas as well. All of these have certainly enriched the lives of people in the community while also attracting many visitors.

Brattleboro provides a welcoming environment and a safe place for all kinds of people with different inclinations and for people of different backgrounds. It might be because this diversity provides a kind of education that you cannot get in school. To meet people from other countries, to listen to different languages, eat different foods, learn about different ways of life - these all have the potential to enrich the lives of so many people and to benefit the character of a very special town. Thank you, Brattleboro. Thank you so very much.

Beatriz C. Fantini writes from Dummerston. She retired last year from SIT after 50 years.


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