I woke this morning at 4:00 am. My first thought was, “this is Election Day.” It was with a sense of anticipation, lively anticipation, of the significance of this event. Here in New York, and certainly in New Jersey and other places as well, people are still in the fairly early stages of picking up the pieces and embracing the wounded following Hurricane Sandy. I walked up the hill here in East Norwich, New York to vote at the James Henry Vernon School. The school building has power, but it hasn’t operated as school since the waning days of October. But it was humming today with folks coming together to exercise their right to vote. I live in a bastion of Republicanism. Mitt Romney was here in Oyster Bay for a couple of fundraisers through the campaign. Teddy Roosevelt sits astride his beloved horse as route 106 enters the village.
I walked up that hill past innumerable downed trees and an electrical system strung together with skillful and obviously temporary repairs. Workers from all over are here doing that work. I walked into the school gym, and I couldn’t look and tell the members of one party from another. (Maybe they could tell me, as the scruffy winter beard is three days in!). But I saw people. People who live with one another, who care for one another, and who want the best for this place and, I hope, for this entire people from coast to coast. We have disagreements on how to get to the best and fulfill those hopes. Some of us – by a measure I am content to leave to God – are actually more right than others in how we hope to proceed to the future. But these are all good people.
The school is named for a local man who lived, loved, farmed and gave here all his life. A website on the school says this about James Henry Vernon:
James H. Vernon was born in East Norwich on August 31, 1873 in the home he would live in for his entire life. He died there in 1948 at the age of 75. Both Mr. Vernon’s father, Henry, and his grandfather, Jackson Vernon, were born in East Norwich. Mr. Vernon attended the local East Norwich school then located on North Hempstead Turnpike. He also attended Friends Academy for a short time traveling to Locust Valley on horseback.
Mr. Vernon was a farmer whose home was located across from the East Norwich Pond. He was always active in local community affairs like organizing the first volunteer fire department at East Norwich and served as its first foreman in 1912. Mr. Vernon was elected to the Board of Trustees of East Norwich Schools in 1916 and he remained active for 26 years in that organization. The first twenty years of Mr. Vernon’s service was as chairman of the Board of Trustees. At one time, Mr. Vernon was the President of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Vernon was known by the name “Governor” to his friends. Click here for more.
That kind of valuing of education, and that kind of service to a local community and to generations of its children: that’s the stuff that makes a town and a nation. And that’s the stuff, long after Mr.Vernon’s death, that makes trudging up the hill today important. You count. So be counted.