Past And A Future in the Green Mountain State

Houston Tribune
May 2005

Bridgette Mongeon © 2005

I just came out of the science lab, one of the only two places that I can e-mail things here on the campus of Vermont College of Union Institute & University. Walking up to my dorm building at Dewey Hall I watched a half a dozen people outside, playing music talking and smoking cigarettes. These students are not your typical eighteen to twenty year olds. No, in fact they are students of all ages. The door to the dorm hall seems to be in perpetual motion. Someone is always coming or going. I can hardly believe I’m forty-four years old and having a college experience. I’m on my first intensive week residency in a very progressive sort of program. In this program at Vermont College of Union Institute each learner picks a faculty member to work with. The learner also picks what they want to learn. Ah, what a wonderful idea for education. Tap into the passion of a person, give them guidance and watch them grow. I know the program sounds new and inventive, but this program has been around for almost forty years.

If the program in itself isn’t stimulating enough, there are all these learners (students) around me that are so impassioned with this past semester projects that they will present throughout the week. I am a newbie, one of only three new people, trying to make my way through the maze of buildings and schedules. I’ll stay here for a week; design a program of study, according to the program is dubbed” twenty-forty-twenty. I have to spend twenty hours a week, write forty papers through the semester and read twenty books as a part of my project. Luckily I’m using my sculpting work as my project, so the actual work won’t take any additional time away from my life. And I’m journaling most of my projects on my web site as well, so I am hoping that will work into the writing portion of the program.

This week I will also watch a hand full of people from this incredible program culminate. I can’t help but envision my own graduation eighteen months from now.

My future is in Vermont, but it is not my only ties to this wonderful “Green Mountain State.” In fact it is amazing that of all places I would choose to go to school I would end up here.

When I was little girl, every year in the spring, usually around Easter my parents would take the long drive to Vermont. Our first leg of the journey was 300 miles from my hometown in Buffalo, New York to Troy, New York where we would spend time at my aunt Bea’s. I loved aunt Bea’s. The meandering creek held my attention for hours. The large pine tree in the neighbors yard held the biggest pinecones I had ever seen.

From Troy, New York Mom and Dad would load us all up into the car and head off for the additional 150 miles to Vermont to see Meme (French for grandmother) and Pepe (French for grandfather). The trip from Troy, New York to Burlington Vermont always held the special attraction of visiting the maple syrup manufacturer. I only remember really getting the grand tour once. When you are six years old watching how the maple syrup is tapped from the trees, poured into huge steaming vats and turned into sweet syrup seemed like magic. As a family ritual, on each of our Vermont trips we always stopped at the maple syrup manufacturers gift shop. Each child, my brother, my sister and myself were allowed to get one thing from the shop. I always bought the same thing- a small rectangular package that contained an entire maple syrup sugar candy family. The joyful family stood glistening at attention under the cellophane wrapper. I watched my brother and sister devour their candies. If I was lucky mom would have bought a small package of maple syrup candy pressed into the shapes of maple leaves and I could taste that sweet sensation, which was preferred by me over moms favorite gift shop item -peanut brittle. I would however leave my little candy family intact for as long as possible, sometimes even the entire trip. They were much too special to eat.

Meme’s house smelled like old people. The thing I remember the most about it was her walk-in pantry. A room filled with cabinets with glass doors that contained canned food of all sorts of pretty colors. I would sit at the table and color in my coloring book while I watched the women bustle about. Every now and then someone would ask Meme, “Where is the…” and this was always followed by Meme’s comment, “… in the pantry.” I would look around the kitchen and though it was a nice size I wonder how my father and his twelve brothers and sisters could all eat at the same time in the same small room.

I thought that when I grew up Vermont would be just a memory, but a few years ago I began to research my family Genealogy. Until six months ago my search ended in all places –Wanooski, Vermont. In my own search I could not get past the five generation that ended in Wanooski. Then upon opening an e-mail that had a subject line that read …Mongeon genealogy, I was able to put all the pieces together. Or should I say a distant cousin was able to put them together. He sent me an old photo and the research that he had done. My great, great, great grandfather was in the bottom row; his was in the top row. This photo was of the generation that came to the United States, to Vermont. The sender of the e-mail gave me the rest of the genealogy all the way back to the sixteenth-century in France.

There seems to be quite a few things in my past that link me to Vermont. Who would have thought my future would be linked there as well. Here I sit in Vermont typing this article at my dorm room at Vermont College of Union Institute. I decided on this college less than two months ago. I know it will be a lot of work, but I am thrilled to be here.

It is hard to believe that at forty-four years of age I am sitting in a dorm room, away from home and in eighteen months after three more residencies, I hope to be graduating. Even though it has been over thirty years since I have been here as a child it still feels familiar. Not only is my past and my roots touching deep within Vermont history, but as the college experiences prompts me to reach higher than I have ever tried to before, this lovely state of Vermont also holds my future.

Bridgette Mongeon is a writer artist and now student of Vermont College of Union Institute. She works and studies in her Houston home.

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