The second major life influence was when my family left the Philadelphia area and moved to rural Vermont the summer I turned 16.
We had only discovered Vermont a year earlier, when family friends of ours (The Tebbs) invited us to house-sit for them while they spent several weeks on an overseas trip. We had easily fallen in love with Vermont, with its lush, rolling green hills, crisp mountain streams and glittering starry nights. We spent the next 8 months or so obsessing about it until finally my parents announced that we were going to move there.
One of the things I liked instantly about the culture in Vermont was how laid back everyone was about appearances. It might be something that would turn off the more fashion conscious person, but to me it was great. People wore practical clothing. Dressing up meant putting on your nicest pair of jeans and a clean shirt. Women didn’t dye their hair when it started going gray, they just let it do it’s thing. And speaking of hair, there was a lot of it. Men, women, children, everybody just let it all grow out.
It’s beginning to sound like we went and lived on a commune. It wasn’t that extreme. We did live with another family for a couple of years though. The Tebbs were also slowly working their way out of Christadelphia, although I don’t know that any of us really knew that at the time. What had bonded our families together was a similar open-mindedness about our faith and similar interests in education.
Living with the Tebbs family was a really cool experience, although it was at times stressful. Before we moved up, they built an addition to the house to make more room. When everyone was there, it was six McKelvies, four Tebbses and whatever boyfriends were in the picture at that time. The Tebbs were from England and often had visitors come and stay while we were there. We also had visitors from back home, and so sometimes the little house was positively bursting at the seams. That was when I loved it the most.
Most of the time though, it was much quieter. Dad continued working in Philadelphia, and Uncle Trevor took on various professor jobs at colleges too far to commute to, so he was often living away as well. So the usual household was us kids and mom and Aunt Jenny.
Going to high school in Vermont was a world of difference from high school in New Jersey. As I mentioned earlier, people dressed much more practically. In fact, I even took scissors to my jeans and sewed patches on them to make them look more worn out and hippyish. I soon learned that the standard winter outfit was jeans, thick wool socks, a t-shirt and a heavy sweater. Thanks to the wood stoves in every home, you often had to take off the sweater or risk overheating.
Pursuing my passion as an artist seemed to fit better in Vermont as well. Of course it helped that we were living with the Tebbs, since Trevor was an accomplished painter and professor of art, and Jenny was a writer and a musician, and both of their daughters were artistically gifted. It was very inspiring to me and whatever time I wasn’t spending outside was spent hunched over a sketchbook or canvas, drawing or painting.
Speaking of outside, there was so much of it! I would often wander around in the woods with the dogs for hours, just thinking and looking at the different kinds of trees and plants. My favorite time to do this in the winter was twilight. The sky would go through a series of beautiful pinks and purples that would turn the snow and the world around me into a magical place.
In the summer, the Tebbs had beautiful gardens all around their house. I watched and helped Jenny cultivate the plants, and later, after I began a part-time job with Boardman Hill Farm, I started my own veggie garden plot. We’d had vegetable gardens in PA and NJ, but it wasn’t until VT that I really got into it myself. Sidenote, when I worked for Boardman Hill, they did not yet have pigs for slaughter. I would not have been down with that.
I liked living in Vermont so much, it’s a wonder that I ever left. But once I hit my 20’s, I got antsy and I thought I had a better chance at getting a good job in Connecticut. Which turned out to be true, of course. I still miss living in Vermont and it is my hope that someday I will be able to move back.
For now, I will just make do with regular visits.
Other Life Influences: