Brain Dropping #79
Ingathering. The service for John Cassel was held November 1st at the East Fairfield Meeting House. John died of a heart attack as he was driving back from his thirty year-long piano gig at The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. For over forty years John was the nexus for more musicians in the area than you could shake a stick at. Because of his charisma this little town at one time had five excellent bands. And too suddenly, he was gone. Now they were coming together to pay tribute. It was a remarkable gathering of folks who came to Franklin County in northern Vermont in the early seventies to try their luck at homesteading, and to put down roots in a soil accepting of alternative ways to live in what was to become, in the next four decades, an increasingly oligarchic society.
Forty two years ago, my wife Gail and I with our two infants, Jonah two-and-a-half and Eli six months old, lived in a GMC Suburban while we built a shed to live in for the winter. We were hardly aware that we were part of the “back-to-earth” movement seeking independence from the tumult of big city life – we were too busy digging post holes and fighting off black flies. The property we bought at two hundred dollars an acre was on Clapper road off West Street, both dirt roads, seven miles from the county seat, St. Albans.
Our gnawing concern, those first days, was about being alone and isolated. We knew no one in the area and were too involved in digging and hammering, getting ready to spend the year with an outhouse and no running water, while we planned the permanent house we would attempt to build the following spring. Lyle Clapper, the retired farmer, part of whose land we bought, was our only visitor. He kindly allowed us to use his spring to haul water in buckets carried by wheelbarrow.
This was the month of May. Toward the end of June getting groceries from Brown’s Store in Fairfield, we noticed posters for a July Fourth celebration in East Fairfield. We decided we needed a break from our labors and on the Fourth got the kids in the Suburban and drove to the green in East Fairfield. Astonishment is the only appropriate word for our reaction to what we saw. Dozens, maybe hundreds of folks had gathered on the green which had been transformed into a carnival of games including “Dip-The-Hippie” – a stock tank of water over which was suspended a seat held tenuously in place by a hook which could be dislodged by a ball hitting a strike plate. And the “hippies” came out of the woods to celebrate. We soon learned that many of them were transplants like us and living under similarly rough conditions.
When the music began on a hay-wagon stage it was John Cassel at the piano with a number of musicians and singers who became our friends over the last forty-two years. The musical life of Fairfield and Bakersfield has sustained us for decades. My wife Gail has been a member of a woman’s choral group for thirty-five years. Our rural area has been so suffused with music that my two sons and the sons and daughters of others have become performing musicians. In subsequent years most of those at that first July Fourth celebration had moved away but today they were back hugging old friends and shouting words of recognition.
Although the heyday of the bands waned by attrition and the exigencies of livelihood, John Cassel had been steadfast. The loss of his creative energy and devotion to his art is profound.