Stannard: Manchester finds itself in a hard place

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Bob Stannard, an author, musician and a lobbyist for Vermont Citizens Action Network. This column first appeared in the Bennington Banner.

On Thanksgiving morning in Manchester, Nicholas Bell, 23, fired what he thought was an air rifle at Jeffrey Charbonneau, 24, as he lay sleeping. The weapon was actually a .22-caliber rifle. Charbonneau died, and Bell was charged with manslaughter. Police told the Associated Press that Bell and Charbonneau were friends. Bell was trying to pull a prank to wake Charbonneau up.

“Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” – Gospel of John.

I am not a religious person but I do believe that some biblical quotes are good words to live by.

On Nov. 28, I received a call asking if I would be willing to play “Amazing Grace” at the funeral service for Jeffrey Charbonneau the following day. This was an honor to which saying “no” was not an option. The last, and only, time I had played this song was on Sept. 7, 2005, at the funeral service for my mom, Thyra Laird. That was hard. This was harder.

Over the years Manchester has had its share of tragedies and hard times. We have lost our chief of police, many stalwart citizens and way too many kids. When I was a young teenager, in the summer of 1966, I was on my way to the Dorset Quarry; a great local hangout for kids since the day it filled up with water.

Most of you reading this never knew Buddy Baker. That’s what time does. Time allows for healing.

It had rained in the morning and the sun was just coming out on what was to be a great, summer day. As is customary with young men in their early teens some fooling around ensued. Before too long a spit-fight developed with one kid spitting at another, who spit at another. No one worried too much about a “hawker” landing on their shoulder, because they could just dive in the reasonably cold water and wash it all away. For now, they were all content to spit and get spit on.

One young man decided to take a different tack. He thought it would be a good idea to climb up a tree and spit down on the others from on high. It wasn’t long before that idea took hold and other kids were finding trees to climb. One decided to climb the same tree as the first young man chasing him up the tree in hot pursuit.

The tree in question was a poplar tree. For those of you who don’t know much about the poplar tree it’s a slender, quick growing tree with very smooth bark. For some reason horses love to eat the very thin bark. When it’s wet it’s also quite slippery.

The pursuer came too close and first young man stepped out a little too far on the wet branch with the too thin bark. He lost his balance and fell. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that his was an untimely, careless, senseless death.

There was a lot of discussion during the days that followed as to what might happen. The boy who died was from a family of little means. The people who owned the quarry were pretty well off. Would the parents of the fallen child sue? Would the quarry be closed forever? Questions upon questions. Why did this have to happen? Shouldn’t these kids have known better? There are always plenty of questions; it’s answers that are generally in short supply.

The parents met with the owners of the quarry to tell them that they intended to do nothing. What happened should not have happened, but it did happen. Poor judgment had ruled one day when the young man perished. The parents decided it need not rule other days. That was four and a half decades ago. Most of you reading this never knew Buddy Baker. That’s what time does. Time allows for healing.

Manchester, once again, finds itself in a hard place; a dark place. We have lost one of our favorite sons. In one quick moment of time all things have changed; all bets are off. It’s a different day than yesterday. Questions upon questions are being asked by all of us. Yet the answers are always elusive.

I am in no position to pass judgment nor will I. All positions, opinions and feelings are equally justified and justifiable. Many lives were impacted on Thursday morning. One son is lost forever; one son’s life will never be the same. The people who have made up the Town of Manchester before us, the people who are here today and the people who will be here long after we’re gone will always be the ones who decide what the Town of Manchester will be. Hopefully it will always be the loving and compassionate community in the future that it’s been in the past.

We have experienced a lot over the years, but rarely are we exposed to such profound sadness as we are today. We will all have to deal with our individual emotions in our own way. It is my sincere hope that both families directly involved, as well as all of the rest of us, will one day find peace. As the old saying goes, what does not destroy us will make us stronger.

I offer my heartfelt condolences to both families. As I said at the beginning of this column, I am not a religious man, but I will do my best at praying for all of you. I hope others can do the same.

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