Prunewhip's unswerving devotion to rectitude, duty, propriety - the life and death struggle to be clean, normal, and virtuous at all times - turned everyone into cowering hypocrites.
Children were frequently reminded that God was watching us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,
and one extra day on leap years. God was watching me when I sat on the toilet reading a Nancy Drew book, picking my nose, and wiping the boogers off underneath the sink. Clearly my relationship with God was ruined. He might be extending love and guidance to other little children, undoubtedly He was, but not to me, or to Dickie Shaw who tried to talk girls into playing doctor with him. Dickie Shaw and I would be in Hell together.
Fortunately there were other chinks in the wall, some involving grownups. Crimes and misdemeanors committed by denizens of Bennington College didn’t count. Those people came from some other planet, and only served as a spectator sport. One professor got drunk on a summer night and sat on his roof playing a guitar and singing "I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now" over and over again. The lucky few who actually witnessed this event told the story over and over again, an almost unrestrained joy shining through their disapproving faces.
But the really interesting deviations arose amongst the townspeople themselves. Only a few were spectacular - such as Mrs. Whitaker’s petrified cat turds, or Mr. Cushman’s descent into madness - these were the Hope Diamonds of local gossip. The lesser gems - the fact that Kaki Peterson’s husband drank, and that Melanie Woodworth spent last summer at the Florence Crittendon Home of Redeeming Love in Burlington, and was not visiting her aunt in Minnesota, as her parents proclaimed. - these were the bits of information which kept people going from day to day.
Some people were outcasts no matter what they did, such as Clover Sweet, the garbage collector who was half Negro and lived alone in a small house in the woods. People praised Clover for doing an excellent job of collecting garbage and always being very polite. He was the most invisible man in town after his garbage route was finished. In all the years I lived in Prunewhip, I can never recall meeting Clover at the grocery store or the post office. Perhaps he had Rural Free Delivery, and drove out of town for groceries and hardware, to some cosmopolitan town such as Albany, 45 minutes away, where other Negros were known to live. It was my personal opinion that Clover was burdened as much by his name as by his ethnic parentage. Normal people had names like Arthur Whitman or Jimmy Beavis. Any guy named Clover Sweet would have been doomed to extinction no matter what. In later years it has occurred to me that Clover may have been a great yogi whose sadhana was to live in the woods in Vermont and collect the garbage of the unilluminated, thus bestowing his blessings upon us and assisting our eventual delivery from Vermont and the 1950s.