I have warned you about hats in Vermont. I have informed you that hats are a fashion statement too. I have told you that some people make a living making hats in Vermont. I have shown you my gigantic hat… and now I am going to share another hat with you (see picture.) This is Chet. Chet Baxter (Jr. or the III… I can never remember, and when I look his number up in the phone book to call him or his wife, I always second guess myself and call Chet’s father instead, every time.) Now Chet is what they call a “Real Vermonter.” He was born and raised here. His parents were born and raised here. It goes back pretty far, although I am not certain how distant into the past. He is also married to a “Real Vermonter,” and they have three “Real Vermonter” children… beautiful children. In fact Chet’s wife Nicole was the first person to be nice to me when we first moved here. She gave me insider information about the Cabot Hosiery Sock Sale to keep my family’s feet warm through our first winter. I have never forgotten that.
Did you notice his hat? It was made right up the road from where Chet lives in a town called Granville by a woman named Gert. This hat used to have four horns on it, but the front horn was removed because it sagged too much.
I have to return to my statement “Real Vermonter” that I threw around in the first paragraph of this blog. I never even heard that phrase until I lived here. This is basically what it means: the parents of your parents were born here, your parents were born here, and you were born here. None of these people ever moved out of Vermont, and in fact never even considered moving out of Vermont, because if you can’t find something in Vermont, it isn’t necessary to survive.
In my description, I only went as far back as parents of parents… there are those who believe it should go back even further. There are those who believe if your family wasn’t the first family who claimed the land when the United States was forming, then you aren’t a true “Real Vermonter.”
I know a woman who was born in Vermont in the late 1940’s. Her family bought land and she was conceived and born in Vermont. When I asked her if she was considered to be a “Real Vermonter,” she told me that the locals said she wasn’t. She quoted one man as saying, “She’s no Vermonter. Just because a cat has kittens in an oven, that don’t make them biscuits.” This same woman has a son. When I asked if her son was a “Real Vermonter,” she shook her head “no” quietly. “Maybe his children will be, but he can never leave the state if he wants that to happen, and he has to marry a ‘Real Vermonter.’”
You are probably thinking, “Who cares?” or maybe “What difference does it make?”
Well, it does make a difference, and here is why… because Vermont is a magical place filled with many special surprises that reveal themselves to you when you are ready to see them. There is no other place like Vermont for many reasons, but here is the reason I will share with you today: Vermont is the only place where a person can experience “The Vermont Wave.”
I did not notice for the first few years we lived here, but “The Vermont Wave” is an interaction that occurs among cars as they pass each other on rural Vermont roads. I call it “The Vermont Wave.” I am not certain if I didn’t pick up on it because no one waved at us until we lived here for at least two winters, or because I was too busy trying to keep my car on the road, or because I was too distracted by the beautiful scenery. But I never noticed the wave.
There are a few steps to “The Vermont Wave”: first the driver determines if the approaching car looks familiar, then they determine if the plate is green and white (Vermont,) then they figure out who is driving, and finally they decide if they should wave. All of this happens very quickly because there is a limited amount of time to wave on Vermont roads.
A friend (who lives in Vermont but came from Connecticut) asked me once, “What does the phrase ‘Everyone is famous in Vermont’ mean?”
I explained the best I could, “Well, when you go to the store, you always see someone you know. Every car you pass (especially on the back roads) is driven by someone familiar. Everyone knows everyone and their business, so everyone is familiar and thus everyone is famous.”
And that’s it, briefly.
I try to think back to when I got my first wave. The good news is that is has been happening for a few years now, so I don’t remember my first wave, but I do remember some classics, some waves that I would consider milestones. Read on, if you want to find out. I just think that getting a “Vermont Wave” means a lot. I feel honored. I feel lucky. I treasure each and every wave I receive.
It is important to notice which driver waves first. Occasionally, both drivers wave at the same time, which is probably best. It is also important to notice if both drivers actually did wave. If a driver waves to you, and you don’t wave back, they will think you are holding a grudge from the previous year’s Town Meeting (a topic for another blog.) I am new to the state (almost five years new now) and now that I understand “The Vermont Wave.” I always do it. I always wave. I wave to everyone. I wave to the guys plowing, I wave to every car with a green and white license plate that is coming the opposite direction, and I wave to the school bus driver (which by the way is the guy Chet whose picture you saw earlier.) I think I understand the whole “Vermont Wave” thing, but I am probably breaking some unwritten “Vermont Wave” rule written in a book somewhere. There is probably a book that I haven’t discovered in the library that I should have checked out five years ago. They are probably trying to all figure out how to get me to move to another county because I am way too friendly. I should actually wait until they wave to me first, but I can’t… though I do try.
I mentioned that Chet drives the bus. When he was young, his mother drove the bus. She probably waved to everyone too. He attended the same school he drives the bus for. One of his sons will be in my class next year (yes- we have a school next year- see my “Two-Room School House” blog.) I’ll be teaching a whole group of “Real Vermonters”, and that just doesn’t happen anywhere else other than Vermont, obviously.
I have to explain something about Chet and his waves. He has many waves. I figured it out recently and accused him of it. In true “Real Vermonter” fashion, he grinned and revealed nothing more to me. The “Vermont Grin” is a topic for another blog. And after a moment he did reveal a little bit more. He said he waves so much each day to every car that passes, that he needs one of those sets of hands that wave automatically so he can continue to drive the bus safely.
I have been using only one wave with people for each of the three years that I have been using my wave. I never realized that “Real Vermonters” like Chet have a different wave for each person they encounter on their trip down the road. My wave is simple. I lift my right hand off the wheel and hold it up. I don’t say anything, but I think to myself, “Hey… what’s up?”
Chet has the wave that he gives my husband every morning as they pass on Route 125: it is a “right hand completely off the wheel vertical wave.” Chet has the wave he gives to mothers who have children on his bus: it is a “both hands on the wheel but four fingers of his right hand are lifted off the wheel briefly wave.” Chet has another wave for my colleague Heather. She says she gets the “right hand straight up off the wheel wave.” And by the way to add to the whole “Real Vemonter” topic, Heather gave birth to her son at Dartmouth Hospital in New Hampshire and is “really bummed out that he was born 45 feet across the Connecticut River from Vermont.” So, her son does not have a chance to be a “Real Vermonter.” And by the way, when Chet drives his own family around in his own car, the wave is a “few fingers lifted up and wiggling and a slight nod of the head wave.”
But I should say no more about it because a “Real Vermonter” reveals nothing, except that he needs a plastic hand to wave for him.
And then it happened. Yesterday our vehicles passed each other near the corner store. I was trying to find a parking space and he was driving the bus south on Route 125. Before I even realized it was the bus, or that it was Chet driving, he took both hands off the wheel and waved violently as if he was having a seizure. I laughed for at least five minutes.
And that is what it is all about. I can’t wait until our vehicles pass again, because I just don’t think he can top that one. And I rejoice because I think I have finally been assimilated into the little community. Their bus driver has shown me another side of his personality.