A de Tocqueville weekend in Vermont

  The Bradford Congregtional Church

The Bradford Congregtional Church

From Robert Whitcomb's Nov. 24 "Digital Diary'' column in GoLocal24.

In most years for the past quarter century, I’ve joined a bunch of malefriendsand driven to Bradford, Vt.,  a small town on the Connecticut River, on the weekend before Thanksgiving to eat at a game supper in the Congregational (aka “Congo’’) church there. It’s held in an assembly hall beneath the nave as the church’s major annual fund-raising event. The food is a wide range of game,  including beaver (yuck!), elk, venison, pheasant, wild boar, rabbit and some other animals. (Too bad they don’t  offer alligator, which is quite good.)

I generally avoid meat, mostly out of sympathy for the animals and a little bit because of health. But the game dinner is for a good cause, and maybe some of the animals being served are road kill anyway.

It’s tasty enough but the trip has been mostly an excuse to get together and catch up once a year. It’s also a bit of Americannostalgia.

The small-town folks manning the supper are a delightful mix of old, young and middle aged. (Some of the teens look a bit as if they’d be drafted against their will into acting as waiters to bring the cider, coffee and dessert – always gingerbread – to the tables.)

There are always a lot of what I used to consider “old people’’ staffing the long buffet tables;  I am their age now. Most of the “old people’’ we first encountered in 1990 have gone to their reward, including, I think, the blue-haired lady who used to pound out tunes from old shows such as Oklahoma! on the upright piano in the nave to amuse those waiting to be called by number to go downstairs to the chow.

There’s a big kitschy picture on the wall in that hall showing a boy Jesus teaching his elders; it must date from the late 19th Century. At least this Palestinian kid wasn’t blond, unlike in my Sunday school books in the ‘50s!

The church needs painting and I’d guess, like most mainline Protestant churches, its membership is down, so it was nice to help out a bit to keep the place going.  For various reason this was my last year attending this little annual event but it’sbeen edifying to participate insuch a good-hearted community endeavor, and find out what the contemporaries in my little group were up to as they moved from middle to old age.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), who wrote on the special importance in America of community organizations for a healthy civic life and local democracy, would have liked the Bradford Game Supper. “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens,”  he wrote.

And Norman Rockwell would have found a subject for a magazine cover or two in this escape from the increasing sleaziness of American life.

It snowed in the hills on our way back to southern New England. Winter is pressing in.