TALI GELENIAN | VT FOLK LIFE CENTER, COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | OCTOBER 16, 2019
Folklife is everyday life, and for over 30 years the Vermont Folklife Center has explored the folklife of Vermont–past and present. Our archive holds over 6,000 interviews documenting over a century of collective cultural memory. “Community Voices” brings the voices of your town out from our archive and back to your community. This week from Hinesburg, meet: Gussie Levern. Listen to and read her story below.
“I was born and brought up on a farm in Hinesburg,” Gussie Levern told an interviewer with the Vermont Folklife Center. “There was eight of us. And we didn’t have running water or anything. So Saturday night was bath night. And water was put on the wood stove in the big wash boiler. And it would take the cleanest ones first. Usually the girls first. Then mom would keep adding some warmer water and it would finally get down to the boys.”
The farm had no electricity or indoor plumbing and was about a mile and half walk to the school in town, where Gussie played basketball in the afternoons. A natural born story-teller, Gussie sat down with the Vermont Folklife Center to tell some of those stories. In Saturday Night Bath you can hear Gussie share memories of the childhood pranks that kept her siblings on their toes, including what happened to the last one into that bath on Saturday night.
In Electricity, Gussie tells the story of coming over the top of the hill from school and seeing the barn lit up for the first time. “It was just a spectacular sight,” Gussie said. “Every light was on. I’d run a little ways and then I’d cry. I was so excited.” The story brings home the importance of electricity for farm families who had previously relied solely on the power generated by horses and humans.
Gussie’s tenacity and spirit lead to a rich and meaningful life and career. She graduated from nursing school in 1943 and served in Europe in the Army Nurse Corps. After the war, she was sent to the Czech-Austrian border to care for survivors of the Holocaust. Gussie never forgot her roots and returned to Vermont to live with her husband Leonard “Rosie” Levarn in Bristol. After retiring from her fifty-year career in nursing, Gussie continued to pursue creative projects including the carving of applehead dolls. An increasingly rare North American folk art, Gussie supplemented her craftsmanship of carving the appleheads by sewing their clothing and using a combination of wire and paper mache to create fully functional dolls.
Gussie passed away on December 6, 2007. The Vermont Folklife Center and the Community News Service celebrate her legacy as a storyteller, nurse, artist and woman with a tremendous sense of humor by sharing her voice and story with you.
This story was prepared by UVM Student Tali Gelenian.
Community Voices is a project of the Vermont Folklife Center & the Community News Service. “To hear more voices from the VFC’s archive and current fieldwork subscribe to their podcast: “VT Untapped” at www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/untapped or wherever you listen to podcasts.” To learn more about the Community News Service see www.communitynews.net/