Essay: Reflecting on community

Editor’s note: After three and a half years at the Milton Independent, Jacqueline Cain is heading back to her native Massachusetts at the end of the month.

In my last few weeks as a Vermont resident, I had the most quintessential, small-town newspaper reporter experience, one anecdote that perfectly sums up the community and trust I’ve developed in my three-plus years reporting on Milton and Georgia. And it’s only fitting it happened during a snowstorm.

It was the Wednesday evening commute, March 12, and heavy, wet snow had fallen all day. I was driving to road conditions along Route 7, but this latest winter weather reminded me yet again how desperately I needed new windshield wipers.

I’m chagrined to admit that mine were in disrepair since the Christmastime ice storms (seriously), and despite driving by a handful of auto parts stores every day along my commute between Burlington and Milton, I only ever remember this fact when the weather brings it up again.

I decided to stop in at one of the local automotive chains whose sign about free wiper installation I had read dozens of times this winter.

The snow picked up, not to mention the aggressive wind, as I parked. Inside, two employees immediately asked how they could help. I jokingly asked if their offer for free wiper replacement stands in such weather, and the manager earnestly assured me it did. He added they’re busiest during storms, unsurprisingly.

He accompanied me outside in only a corporate polo shirt, the wind whipping the store’s front door open. He lifted up my wipers to see the damage, and the smaller, passenger-side wiper fell right off.

“The clip is even broken,” he told me, unnecessarily.

Thus began the employee’s concerned incredulity at my waiting so long to pick up new wipers. I gave him my excuses about driving by and reading the sign, but I truly didn’t have an answer; I just didn’t get them. It’s a laziness thing. I don’t know.

At the counter, I reached into my purse for my wallet … which wasn’t there.

I immediately knew why: It was at home, inside my closet, safely tucked into a smaller bag I’d brought to the grocery store earlier in the week. (Please ignore how I’ve just realized I drove without a license on me for a day.)

I apologized and offered to come back tomorrow. He asked if someone at home could read off my debit card number.

So, I called my boyfriend. But, remember the snow? It was his commuting time, too, and he responsibly had his phone stowed so he could concentrate on navigating the snowy landscape. I left him a message, then told the employee I’d wait for a call back.

The employee and I small-talked; he asked me where I work to commute out of Milton every day. I told him I’m a Milton Independent reporter, and he recalled I had interviewed him and taken a photo of him and his son a couple years ago. Of course I did!

Once he mentioned it, I promptly remembered swinging by a new (since shuttered) Milton restaurant one afternoon and chatting, man-on-the-street style, with a Georgia dad trying out the new sandwich shop on his lunch break with his kid.

We chatted for a few more minutes before I made another call home, feeling only a little ashamed. No answer still; the snow was getting heavier as the sun sank lower.

With the update, my acquaintance offered to replace my ridiculously terrible windshield wipers with a used pair he’d planned to recycle. I assured him it was OK, the boyfriend would call back soon.

Then he offered a new pair and I could call him when I got home. He knew where I worked. Either way, he said there was no way I was leaving his shop without a different set of wipers.

I took him up on it.

Despite my mild shame at not only putting my safety in danger with shoddy wipers but also forgetting my wallet, I was immediately humbled and proud of the Milton community.

I know that sounds grandiose, but hear me out. This man takes his job seriously and recognizes how the right gear can keep others safe and happy. And he showed he trusted me.

He rang in my order, fronting the purchase, and handed me a receipt. I thanked him, then accompanied him – still in just the collared T-shirt – back outside and watched him change my wipers in about 20 seconds. Why, why had I waited so long again?

I got home, kicked off my boots, headed toward the closet and grabbed my sneaky wallet. I dialed the 893 number. The manager answered promptly.

The new wipers work great, by the way.

When I was considering this essay, I originally thought I’d try to touch on a dozen or so memories I’ll treasure from my time at the Indy.

From traveling to the White House and photographing the First Lady kneeling beside a Milton Elementary School student, to riding on the back of a Yamaha V-Star with an Iraqi war veteran in the 2012 Vermont Thunder, to building relationships in a close-knit community that had never had a dedicated reporter as the Indy’s first Georgia correspondent, literally every week at my job has been exciting and interesting.

I love working with my fantastic editor, Courtney Lamdin, and my newspaper group colleagues in St. Albans and around the state, and I love greeting my office neighbors at 69 Main St.

I could share countless anecdotes showcasing various things I’ve learned in my first job out of college, but I wanted to leave with one that illustrates the character of this community that has allowed me to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’m going to bookmark the paper’s award-winning website and keep up with these great towns. Thank you, Milton and Georgia.

– Jacqueline Cain

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