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Vermont Writers' Prize - 2024 Winners

Updated: Jun 6

SPONSORED BY GREEN MOUNTAIN POWER

PETER HUNTOON • PETERHUNTOON.COM
POETRY WINNER

At the Fair

by D. Slayton Avery

D. Slayton Avery 

is a writer whose earliest successes were with the WCAX contests while a student at Woodbury Elementary School and Hazen Union High School. She grew up in the same area of Vermont as seven generations of her ancestors. Though much of her adult life was spent teaching out of state, she retired, returned, and can state emphatically and unequivocally, “There’s no place like home.”



ESSAY WINNER

Farm Boy

By Thea Lewis


Graham was finishing a plate of eggs, his brain full of the piano variation he’d been composing during his shower, when his wife, Alyssa, sprung the news that their neighbor, Clara Laflamme, had broken her ankle tripping over the family dog. 


It took a moment to give her his full attention, and to realize her attack on the onion she was chopping meant she was annoyed. With him. 


“When did it happen?” he asked. 


“Day before yesterday. They’re going to need some help.” 


He took a few sips of coffee, before speaking. “The Larsens’ll give them a hand, I bet.” He added optimistically, “And, maybe the Thompsons?” 


Alyssa shot him the look he deserved. Eric and Julie Thompson, with two preschoolers and a newborn, lived across from the LaFlamme farm. Eric drove a plow for the state and Julie worked at home. Recalling their sleep deprived faces when he saw them at the store the week before, Graham knew there was a snowball’s chance in hell they’d pitch in. 


He watched his wife lift the cutting board to sweep vegetables into their slow cooker. “They’re our neighbors, Graham. We should offer.” 


He put his plate in the dishwasher and closed it. It wouldn’t latch. He remembered it needed looking after. He’d even made a note. 


I should, you mean.” He poured a second cup of coffee.


“No. I mean, we. But, I know zilch about animals, and their goats are apparently having babies left and right.” She covered the pot and set the timer. Shrugging into her coat she said, “I’m taking a stew over after work. Would you at least check on them this afternoon? And, text me if they need anything?


Graham sighed. “Sure.” Alyssa came close, taking his face in her hands. “Be nice. Okay?”


“I’m always nice,” Graham muttered, knowing it wasn’t true.


“If you have time later, maybe you could look at that light fixture I told you about?”


She grabbed her keys from their hook. “It’s still making a buzzing noise.”


She pecked his cheek and was gone. He watched through the window as she scooted past the tangle of bittersweet at the end of their driveway. He was overwhelmed by crabbiness.


Clara and John LaFlamme lived down the hill. Their farm, with its big, green, barn rising behind the house wasn’t just the place he drove by to get to town, he’d grown up there, until he was fifteen, anyway. Some of his first memories were of feeding chickens and gathering eggs, milking cows and tending sheep. He’d helped with the mowing and during sugaring season he ran sap lines alongside his parents and their hired man. 

The town hadn’t had a high school, so he’d taken a bone-rattling bus ride to one a few towns over, where well-to-do classmates made fun of his muddy boots, calling him, “Farm Boy”. It stung, but there were worse things to be called. They might have nicer clothes and cars of their own, but they’d probably never held a newborn lamb in their arms.


He bought a guitar with his chore money and taught himself to play, winning the Christmas talent show, and their higher opinion of him. Life felt fine.


Then, the following spring his father died of a heart attack. A “widow maker,” he overheard in their kitchen after the funeral. He was thrown into a web of despair, a tangle made worse when his mother, facing the harsh realities of running the farm alone, accepted an offer to sell from their current hand, Roy Laflamme and his brother, John. Graham begged her not to, but she said it was for the best. He was furious—with her, with Roy, and even with John, whom he’d never met.


After the sale went through they moved to a city by the lake. He resolved to forget about the farm; The animals, the work, times happy or troubled, were tossed away like his old barn boots.


He made friends at his new school, and took up the piano. His first year in college he started a band. They lasted through graduation and a wild year out West before breaking up, thanks to petty squabbles and their drummer caring more about getting high than he did his Hi-hat. 


He stayed in L.A., writing and doing session work. A few of his songs charted for other artists. His mother came to visit a few times, but he never went home until word came that she was ill.


He flew back to Vermont, where doctors spoke in measured tones of assisted living and hospice. Leaving the hospital that first night in a jacket too light for the season, he felt emotionally depleted but somehow comforted by the familiar, cold air that bit his cheeks.


His mother’s house went on the market. He needed a place to live. City rents were steep, so his leasing agent cast a wider net. One possibility, a Craftsman that had seen better days, was in his hometown, up the hill from the old farm. He balked, but it was a deal, so he signed the lease. He installed a basement studio, sending samples of his music to a few contacts. He scored a TV project, then another. Sporadic work, but it paid the bills. He saw John in town and avoided him.


What was there to say?


One day, picking up bread and mouse traps at the general store, he met the owner, Alyssa. With her sparkling eyes and fishtail braid she was like something from a fairytale. Flirting over the hundred year old counter, he asked if she liked ice cream. “Doesn’t everybody?” she laughed. They met that night for creemees, and a few days later, for breakfast. He asked her to the movies. She suggested the drive in. She was light where he was heavy. She was sensible and kind. He realized he was in love. She moved in with him. A year later they bought the bungalow and got married in the yard.


She hadn’t grown up in town. When he told her about the farm, she was bemused. “It was all so long ago. And they’re such good people.”


She loved the LaFlammes, who ran dances at the Grange Hall. Whenever they went, Graham avoided them like the plague. One recent night Alyssa laid into him when they got home.


“All these years with you shunning them for no reason! If you’ve got enough energy to keep dragging your cross around, there’s plenty of projects around here that could use your attention.”


“Like the dishwasher,” he thought now.


“Damn, Clara. Why’d you have to trip over that dog?”


He got dressed.


John seemed surprised and pleased when he answered Graham’s knock. “Well, look at you!” he beckoned him in. “Clara’d want to say hello, but I just checked on her. She’s asleep.”


“Please don’t disturb her,” Graham settled in at the kitchen table. “We heard, Alyssa… and I. I wanted to offer you help with the animals.”


“Kind of you. We could use it.” They fell into silence accentuated by the ticking clock over the sink. An old yellow Lab ambled in, melting the awkwardness.


“Here’s the culprit,” John exclaimed, “ Canine non grata.” Graham laughed, rubbing the dog’s ears.


“Want lunch?” John asked. “There’s bean soup. I didn’t make it. VFW ladies did, so it’s edible.”


Graham chuckled. “Sounds great.”


John ladled out steaming bowls and set one in front of him. Their spoons clinked.


“You look like you mother.” John offered, “She was a great lady.”


“She was,” Graham said, then observed, “The place looks the same.”


John shrugged, “We’ve done a few things, but we loved it like it was. Roy had ideas, but he got bored. He never was one to stick. We bought him out.”


“Where’d he go?” Graham had always like Roy, until he didn’t.


“North Dakota, last we heard.” They lapsed into silence.


John gestured to Graham’s empty bowl. “Little more?”


“That was plenty, thanks.” John stood, “Come see the rest of the place.”


Graham followed him through the dining room and upstairs, admiring the new wallpaper, surprised by the addition of a bathroom on the second floor.


His old room was Clara’s sewing room, model planes replaced by racks of thread and cubbies full of yarn. Without asking he walked to the window and moved the curtain aside, revealing scars in the wood.


“G.P. loves L.S.” John recited, startling him, “I always wondered about L.S.”


“Lucy Simpson. Owns the dance studio on Park Street now.”


“I’ll be damned,” John chuckled, “If I was your dad you’d caught hell for that.”


“I did, believe me.” They laughed.


“Got to tend to those goats if you’re still willing.” John led the way downstairs. “We never had goats, just sheep, but I’ll do my best.”


“Goats are rascals by comparison,” John advised, “Problem is they’re too smart for their own good.”


“Aren’t we all?” Graham thought.




Thea Lewis

is a native of Burlington. An author with Arcadia Publishing, she previously spent two decades as a writer/producer for Vermont’s CBS television affiliate, getting to know people from all corners of the Green Mountain State. Look for Thea’s books from the History Press’ True Crime, Wicked, and Haunted America Series at your local bookseller, at barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and arcadiapublishing.com





The Vermont Writers’ Prize is a collaboration between GMP and Vermont Magazine. It was created in 1989 as a way to celebrate Vermont, writing, and to honor Ralph Nading Hill, Jr., a Vermont historian, author, and long-time GMP Board member. The contest is open to all Vermont residents, including seasonal and college students, and you can be a professional or amateur writer.





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Joy songs and cover songs to create a different exchange between myself and the audience. backrooms game

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