In early 2001, I started hosting an interview show on New Hampshire Public Radio.
The Front Porch had a simple purpose: to showcase interesting people from the NHPR
listening area. Occasionally, someone would ask, semi-seriously, how long it would take before I ran out of interesting
people. Ha, ha.
At first, my answer was a bit hesitant: I was pretty sure we’d never
run out. As time went on, I became more and more decisive: There were plenty of interesting people – a seemingly unending
supply. I interviewed hundreds of people on The Front Porch, and I know that we
barely scratched the surface.
In 2005, I became a full-time writer. The
medium changed, but the focus of my work did not. Many of my stories have been profiles of interesting people. And the lesson
endures: the more I look for them, the more I find. Indeed, there are stories all around us.
my book, Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives, I tell the life stories
– in full length – of some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I’ve found them in the most unlikely
At a small church in Claremont, New Hampshire, is a Russian Orthodox priest who
is a renowned iconographer, a maker of iconic images used in Orthodox worship. (He was also the parish priest of Alexander
Solzhenitsyn during the writer’s years of exile in Vermont.)
Down a dirt road in Deering,
New Hamppshire lives a pioneering writer on food, nutrition, and natural living. She was preaching the value of whole and
natural foods long before they became popular.
In a condo in Wilder, Vermont, lives a woman who
survived through World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland, a German Jew masquerading as a Polish Catholic.
a quiet side street in Townshend, Vermont, is the workshop of a furniture maker who’s taken his craft to the extreme.
He uses no glue or metal joinery in his pieces; he cuts every piece to join together seamlessly. A single piece of his furniture
can sell for over $100,000.
Most people don’t have a life
story this dramatic. But I’ve become convinced that there are unforgettable people in every community, neighborhood,
and family. Further, I would argue that every person has a story worth telling.
For example: One
of my recent magazine assignments was to write about the night shift at a 24-hour diner. The purpose was simply to chronicle
this very unique slice of life. In the end, the story focused on the night waitress, a seemingly ordinary but truly memorable
Brandy, as she is known to one and all, is 64 years old, rather small in stature, and a bit
overweight. If you saw her o the street, you wouldn’t give her a second thought. But she’s the heart and soul
of the night shift. Every Sunday through Thursday, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., she’s the only staffer in the front of the
house (the night cook is the only other person on duty).
In her 12 years on the job, she’s made
countless friends – and a few enemies. She runs the place with a warm, open heart and (when necessary) an iron fist.
No raised voices, no rough-housing, no bad language. But if you abide by her rules, you’ve got a friend for life
Another example: A couple of years ago, I spent several hours interviewing
my father about his life. I didn’t discover anything extraordinary, but I learned a lot more about him and how he became
the person he is. Then, in June 2010, he suffered a brain injury that affected his speech. It’s likely that he will
never again be able to tell his story, which makes me truly glad that I took the time – and did it before time ran out.
If there’s a lesson I’d like to transmit, it’s this:
take a fresh look at the people around you. Consider the richness of each experience, the uniqueness of each life. If you
have the chance, learn about the lives of your relatives, your neighbors, the people you see each day
I hope my book will inspire you to explore the breadth of human experience and the richness of human
life. Not to mention tell you r own story, and explore your own road less traveled.
A slightly revised version of this essay first appeared in the 11/4/10 issue of The Bridge, a community newspaper in Montpelier, Vermont.