Brattleboro and its little ways of love
“You two look like a great couple, you look really happy together, and I wanted to wish you a great day here.” Writer Jon Katz and his wife, Maria Wulf, encountered James Banslaben, a local man loved by many, who died Oct. 9. Friends remembered him on social media as a warm, open, and eccentric man who would offer his trademark signature line, “Enjoy your Vermont day!”

Brattleboro and its little ways of love

For one visiting couple last year, some chance encounters sowed peace and friendship. One such encounter was with James Banslaben.

There are lots of reasons to take a drive to Brattleboro on an oddly warm and beautiful November day. The town is a charismatic throwback to another time: people know one another, speak to one another, and seem to always be willing to talk to a stranger and brighten one another's day.

I think it is special because so many people there practice little acts of love.

Plus there are great thrift stores for my wife Maria to browse, and some restaurants where we love to eat. We are thinking of spending Christmas there.

So we got up today and decide to take a drive there. Black Friday was in full force in Brattleboro; the small town was packed with people shopping and walking around.

Maria found a scarf for me - it is pretty stylish - and I found a woven bracelet for her. I got my suspenders and a neat sweater, if it ever gets cold. (It will.)

As we were walking down the street, arm in arm, laughing, a man in a blue wool cap carrying a ladder crossed in front of us at the intersection.

“Hey, you two,” he said. “You two look like a great couple, you look really happy together, and I wanted to wish you a great day here.”

I don't really know how we look, but people will often smile at us and tell us we look happy together. I am happy to hear that - it is true. And I am even happier that it gives other people pleasure.

I thanked the man and said, well, now I have to take your picture, and he nodded and said sure.

* * *

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux practiced what she called “the little way of love.” She inspired us to not miss out on a kind word, a smile, or any small gesture that sows peace and friendship.

In our world, there are big acts of hatred and conflict and violence. St. Thérèse believed little acts of love are very powerful and would ultimately win out over big acts of hatred. I think that is true.

A few minutes earlier, a cashier at Sam's told me a touching story about how she left her Thanksgiving dinner to drive to a mall on a crowded and frantic day to get a special kind of bicycle for her grandson. He had some kind of illness, I gathered, and he had wanted one for a long time.

She had learned online that there was only one left, and she drove more than an hour to get there to buy it, fighting the crowds in the parking lot and the store.

She got there in time. Because the bike was on sale, reduced by 30 percent, she could barely afford it. The next morning, when the sale was over, she wouldn't be able to.

She was beaming proudly as she told me the story.

“Will you be able to wait until Christmas to give it to him?,” I asked.

“Of course,” she said.

She knows exactly where it will be under the tree. I wonder if the boy will grasp the love and devotion his grandmother felt for him? It is the purest kind of love, I think.

* * *

In Brattleboro, I could see that love in the gentle faces of the cashier and of this workman, who could just as easily have walked across the street and have paid no attention to the couple walking hand in hand in front of him. He was, after all, busy carrying a big and heavy ladder.

But he did notice us.

Good for him. He is, I think, an angel inviting us to practice the little ways of love.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates