Town Meeting is in March, but everyone in Vermont was thinking about it last week. Because in Vermont, not only do you vote on ballot initiatives at town meeting, and discuss the state of the town budget, and argue over raising the marble sidewalks, you also read the town report. Actually it comes out about a week before Town Meeting and everybody stands in the parking lot of the Post Office when theirs comes and reads the last page first.
The last page..the list of delinquent tax payers, or water bill payers, or fire department payers. You get your fire department bill and your water bill once a year from the town,. And you better pay it. Tax bills come once a year too, but are due twice. It’s up to you to keep track. And the rule is that anybody who hasn’t paid in full by December 31st goes on the list. Usually the newspaper publishes it too, unless it is too long, and then they just hit the highlights. I used to think that when they had to choose they picked the highest dollar offenders. But then I noticed one crabby lady who was in there for just $138. So now I guess that it is the high dollar folks and anybody else who has annoyed the reporter.
John and I are the sort of people who lose things, and these bills that come only once a year are no exception. No extra notices, no pink slips, nothing. If you only rarely pick up your mail, and then have a big pile which you weed at the trash can at the Post Office, and if by mistake you weed a town bill with an LL Bean catalog, too bad for you.
So, on New Year’s Eve we make an annual pilgrimage to the town office to see if we owe anything to avoid the dreaded last page. We were on it once, in the death throes of the Horrible Quaint Country Store, and people talked about it for weeks. This year though we had a snowstorm. We wondered if the office would be open. But of course it was. And the lady there informed us that we were in fact on the delinquent list, but she didn’t know for how much. It was fire apparently, and she doesn’t track that. Of course the lady who does only works part time on Tuesday mornings. Oh well, we began to rationalize. If it was for fire it wouldn’t be for much. But still…we had just gotten out of the eye of public scorn by selling the store. The lady, in short sensible New England hair, no make-up, and high boots, told us we should go to the tax collector’s house. She gave us directions to his farm. Our destination in the swirling snow made us feel like cahracters from Dickens.
Now the tax collector was just pulling up in his truck when we arrived. He is close to eighty and so is his dog. They lumbered out of the truck together when the old man promptly fell on the ice. John ran lopsidedly in the snow to help him up. I watched from the warmth of the car, as the old man then laid his groceries down, and bent to help his old dog who also appeared sort of stuck. John carried the groceries and held onto the man’s arm, while he bent, urging the backside of the dog along, and like that they went into the house. He served cookies and punch on a sideboard. The butterballs and chocolate chip were good. We thought maybe they were going to be having friends over to celebrate the new year. His wife lay back in a recliner and told about her brother in law’s funeral while Mr. Beebe organized our bill. It came on a long piece of notebook paper, hand written and listed fire service by month with late fees. It totaled $127.46. We paid and then our car fishtailed out of his snowy driveway narrowly missing a Mercedes SUV coming in. It was a fellow with a big summer place on Church Street apparently also come to avoid the list.
I saw him this morning while we were getting our papers. He said two more had come before he’d left. He liked the butterballs too. So the cookies were apparently for all of us, the new years tax payers….only in Vermont.