These past two weeks have been exciting in the D.C. area.
Things started out rather quietly. But then one day, just as I had placed a pan on the stove as the first step towards heating some soup, the whole house began shaking. We were in the midst of a 5.9 earthquake that was centered somewhere in northern Virginia.
About the time I had replaced the objects that had fallen from my bookcases and had straightened my paintings on the walls, Irene decided to pay us a visit.
It rained and it rained, and then it rained a whole lot more. When the rain began coming down in bucketfuls, the wind decided to join it. Trees fell down everywhere, and hundreds of thousands of people found themselves without power.
We had now experienced both earth and wind in the matter of just a few days, as I pointed out to my neighbor, who dropped in later to check on me.
“So I guess we’ll have fire next,” she said and took me back a few years.
“I think I’ll pass on the fire,” I replied immediately, “although I’m beginning to wonder where exactly in America we really are. Life seems to have turned into something rather surreal. If anything else unusual happens, I may have to click my heels together and ask to be taken to Kansas.”
After my neighbor left, I realized that my favorite season, fall, is almost upon us. This meant it was time to call some old friends and place a catalogue order, partly as an attempt to get things back to normal and partly as a special treat for myself in celebration of the months ahead.
Keep in mind that this was a Sunday afternoon, a time when catalog call centers can be really busy. Since I had decided to order both for myself and someone else, I was willing to wait in line for more personal assistance.
Imagine my surprise when my call was answered immediately, flipping my thoughts back to my conversation with my neighbor. Where in America was I? This sort of thing doesn’t happen. That is to say this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, although it used to be quite the norm.
Not only had my call been answered, but the woman on the other end of the line didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Had I somehow time traveled back to the ‘50s?
I began placing my order, and then reached a point where I couldn’t help myself. I had to crack a joke about one of the items I was purchasing. One thing led to another, and soon we were sidetracked into a brief conversation about this website. Where in America can you make a call to a catalogue order center and have a real conversation, however brief, with a nice person – someone that you could call friend?
I placed a small order and said goodbye as the torrential rains outside my cozy home moved farther north. New York City took a beating, and Irene kept right on moving.
The next morning the pictures started coming in from Vermont. Whole communities were cut off, and historical covered bridges had been lost.
As I sipped my morning coffee, I turned on my laptop and checked my email, not surprised to find an order confirmation had been sent in response to my call the day before. Opening it, I realized there was nothing stating not to reply because it was auto sent. From where in America are you sent an individual email from a human being when you place an order?
You guessed it. We have now gone full circle. The business I had called was The Vermont Country Store that has been owned by a family of retailers called the Ortons for longer than I’ve lived. Today they continue to deliver the same kind of service that was expected on the day I was born, and I’m not a young woman.
Were they now under water? Had the nice woman to whom I had spoken only the day before lost everything that she owned? I wondered, and then I decided I would take a chance and reply to my confirmation email, asking how they were doing.
A few minutes later I received a reply from Donna, who wrote:
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to let us know of your concern for us. We are doing fine but do have major detours in some places and other places there is no way in or out. Our highway crews are great and working continuously to get us back up and running.
Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers.
I was really glad to hear it. Fall wouldn’t be fall without their Beef and Amish Noodle soup served with some of their homemade pumpkin bread.
Now I know that there are places all over America where you can find small businesses who provide this type of personal service. The Vermont Country Store just happens to be the one that I personally have connected with over the years, but Vermont is one of those states that you don’t hear much about. Folks in Vermont kind of keep to themselves, taking each day as it comes and maintaining their quiet independence.
This morning I received another email from the store that they had apparently decided to forward to all of their customers with email addresses. The subject line read simply The Vermont Country Store and Hurricane Irene. The text of the email was newsy and completely devoid of anything even remotely referring to sales. There were no ads anywhere.
In the email, Cabot Orton thanked all who had contacted them to see how they were doing. Then he described the family’s personal effort to clean up their grandparent’s flooded home, losses in their community, and the plight of those that they know. At the bottom of the email there was a plea asking for donations to the Vermont Foodbank with these instructions:
Text FOODNOW to 52000 to make a $10 donation to the Vermont Foodbank. They will turn your $10 donation into $60 worth of groceries for local families in flood-ravaged areas, or donate online at www.vermontfoodbank.org.
A $10 donation doesn’t seem like much to ask for, especially when it will go so far, and so, I’m passing their request along.
And if you have a few dollars left over, might I suggest that you click on your laptop or pick up your phone and place an order with The Vermont Country Store? It might just be the start of the best fall that you’ve ever had.