Steve Woodard died on January 13. Cancer snatched him. He was 54.
Steve was our local veterinarian. He lived on the Woodard Farm on Woodard Road, a 100-yard stretch of dirt that ends at the milk house. Waterbury has always been his home.
Steve Woodard’s memorial service was held at Harwood high school’s auditorium. The 600 seats were full and there was standing room only in the back and along the walls. On the left wall, facing the stage, were members of the Harwood hockey team. They had on their game jerseys and listened to their coach David Morse reminisce about Steve’s passion for hockey. Interspersed here and there, in standing room only, were a smattering of locals, many of them dressed as I was—in wool pants, a raggedy down jacket soiled from outdoor work, an old pair of Sorel boots with liners, a capilene hood pulled down over my neck. The temperature that Saturday moseyed up and down between 10 and 15 before it dropped to below zero in the evening. Seated were many older couples—the town people. They were shop owners, insurance agents, bankers, craftsmen and some worked for the State of Vermont. Their faces were pale from too much time spent inside, behind a desk or a counter. The farmers, and there are not many left, dressed in black suits and wore skinny ties from a passed era. Their wives looked as they always do when going out in the public—neat, a bit prim, respectable and with that indescribable aura of women who share farm work with their husbands. The men’s faces were ruddy, the woman’s were rosy. There were others, in elegant more gentrified clothes, earth color jackets , grey sweaters or well fitted suits. Some had the relaxed dignity of retired folk who had moved from out of state. A few have already traded in their SUVs for eco cars with a hefty price tag. All in all, it was a pluralistic crowd, so typical of this region of Vermont.
Steve was an empirical veterinarian, but he also taught himself homeopathic medicine, using the cows on the family farm to test his prescriptions. The Woodard farm and several others he converted to organic. He was ahead of his time.
Will Steve be best remembered as a caring vet, or because of passion for hockey? He was a formidable goalie. He helped create the town’s hockey rink. He coached his children and their friends. To give a youngster a passion to play hockey, to learn to skate, handle the puck, to become part of a team, and to understand strategy and responsibility, to always improve, to give them a top notch rink to play in, my, that is a wonderful gift to pass on.
A foursome of country musicians, friends to the brothers Woodard, played with the purity of clover in bloom. Nancy McDowell sang with such a pure voice. Her last song was Bringing The Heifers Back Home.
In closing the minister, David Peterson, hoped that Steve’s life would give all of us more compassion and understanding for one another.
That night I went to bed early and picked up the book I am reading, The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, a New York Times foreign correspondent. It is a painful collection of short stories about what happened to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, to American soldiers, and to our countries after we invaded Iraq. Filkins is a modern day Hemingway, but the stories are factual, the people are real, and the explosions, the killing, the fear, terror, hatred, retribution, destruction, the amorality, the uselessness of it all, the squeezing dry of morality—it is not fiction. It happened.
I think of Steve, and the cows he treated on our hillside farms…of haying, and of Steve’s brother George, one of the three dairy farmers left in town, and of Ella and Dee and Val, dogs that were friends of mine which Steve helped, and of the gentle life we have here… Filkins’ stories crush a mass of guilt on me and my pleasant Vermont life.
Are we a Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde country? I pass to a troubled sleep.