I’ll never forget my first adult glimpse of Lake Champlain and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The sight captivated me to the point of postponing my trip to Montreal, so as to explore the state of Vermont – a spacious museum of pristine nature and “New English” culture.
Being a Chicagoan curious about small-town America and personal (ethnic) identity, in Vermont I commenced what would become a living tour of far-North American history.
I visited people, places, and circumstances I had previously only heard and read about – particularly the impoverished “Yankees” of the Appalachian North. I often tell people Vermont has the worst poverty I have ever seen – it brought me to tears.
In many Vermont towns, pickup trucks blasting country music are paramount – cultural characteristics I always attached to the south(west). This amazed me because the history books always portrayed Yankees and Confederates as culturally polar opposites.
I befriended an older Italian-American woman named Mary. A child of Italian immigrants, and in great physical condition, she shared tales of tearing up the New York dance clubs in the 50’s and 60’s.
She also shared her family’s struggle – that of able-bodied Abruzzi men arriving to America with New York-sized hopes and dreams, only to spend the rest of their lives digging ditches to feed their families. The lucky ones made way to Argentina and fared much better.