The superstars of narrative literary journalism tend to be stylists and specialists—it’s not hard to notice the byline after you’ve read a piece by Joan Didion, Ron Rosenbaum, or Jeanne Marie Laskas. But we’re here to praise the generalist, that rare, invaluable species that flourished in newspapers and magazines through the 1980s and ’90s. A generalist is a writer without a signature style or beat, but one who tries just about everything. They don’t want to be tied down, and it’s this mix of restlessness, curiosity, and searching that helped guide Marguerite Del Giudice, a premier generalist, through a versatile and productive fifteen-year career as a staff writer for The Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nothing about Del Giudice’s prose calls attention to itself. Though she has an eye for cinematic detail, her writing style is all about story and character. As a feature writer, Del Giudice investigated a UFO encounter over Alaska, filed dispatches from Central America, spent a year chronicling the lives of a typical American family, had drinks with mafia hitmen in Atlantic City, ate breakfast with Senator Ted Kennedy, and danced with Guy Lombardo.
Subsequently, she wrote cover stories for the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic that sent her around the world. Throughout her work, varied as it is, Del Giudice is steadfast in her devotion to her subjects—especially the people she writes about. There is a sense of respect and dignity she grants the people she writes about—even when she’s being circumspect—and it’s this space that makes them more than just fodder for the morning news. In a quiet but forceful manner, Del Giudice’s stories are interested in the gray, complicated areas of life. In “A Death in Vermont,” written on deadline in a very brief period of time, Del Giudice fleshes out what could be a rote story about a small-town murder into something evocative, conscientious, and understated. It’s a gift—telling the story without becoming part of the story—and one that is often overlooked. Del Giudice has this gift and wears it lightly, the consummate pro, and a natural-born generalist.
Alex Belth: Did you grow up wanting to be a writer?
Marguerite Del Giudice: No. I think of myself as an accidental journalist. I was born with some skills that are a natural for a reporter. I could always write, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I was very curious by nature. If something didn’t add up I would keep asking questions until I got an answer or realized the person either didn’t know or they weren’t going to tell me. People always talked to me too for some reason.
I didn’t go to college to study journalism. It was a miracle that I went to college at all. I grew up in Madison, New Jersey, as a second-generation Italian girl from a somewhat insular family with old-world values. Fifty years ago, college was not automatic in the Italian culture, especially for girls. Madison is an upscale bedroom community for New York City, but I lived my early years in the Little Italy section of town. Growing up, I remember my father pounding the kitchen table, saying he’d mortgage his house to make sure his son, my older brother, got an education. The day I told him I was going to Northeastern University, he pounded the table and said, “I forbid you to go!” I went anyway. We made up, life went on, and I made my way out of the fold. He was just trying to be protective. He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that the baby of the family, his little girl, was going off alone to Boston. It may as well have been Calcutta!
AB: What made you break out of that mold?
MDG: Well, I guess I’m independent by nature, I think I was my own person from an early age. But the pivotal actual event would have to be Joe Potts, who was my English teacher senior year in high school. I was in the business course, because that was a common path for bright Italian girls at the time. They’d become executive secretaries for Allied Chemical or Chubb & Son, which had their New York headquarters near Madison, and they’d go there and more or less run departments without having the titles or the money. Madison High was like a secretarial feeder school for them. That’s where I was headed, taking typing and Gregg shorthand, both of which happen to be skills that ended up serving me well as a reporter because I could type and take notes like the wind.
One day Mr. Potts called me in after school. He was kind of a scary teacher and I had always thought he didn’t like me because of how he’d tear my essays apart on the overhead projector. He was grading papers at his desk and never looked up. “I understand you’re not going to college,” he said. “All of your friends are going to college, and you’re sharper than all of your friends, so why aren’t you going to college?” I hadn’t even thought about college. I was a bored B-minus student, more interested in sports and student leadership than academics. School was numbing, I never studied. No one had ever spoken to me like Mr. Potts, no one had suggested a future for me beyond Madison. I was tongue-tied. I remember him at the end, peering up at me over the rims of his glasses. “And don’t tell anyone we had this conversation because I will deny it.” The next day I walked into the Guidance Department and switched from Business to College Prep.
AB: Was he the one who suggested journalism?
MDG: I actually went to college wanting to be a doctor, then I immediately flunked biology. I was figuring out what to do when a girl walked into my dorm room and said, “Hi, I’m Jan. I’m a journalism major,” and something in me lit up. I hadn’t ever thought of journalism, I didn’t read newspapers. The only ones in our house were the Madison Eagle and the Newark Star-Ledger, neither of which interested me. Years later, after my father died, I remember my mother cancelling her subscriptions. “It’s all the same story over and over. They just change the names.”
AB: What made you choose Northeastern?
MDG: I can’t say it was much of a conscious decision. It was a place I could get into. Northeastern also had a cooperative work program, where you’d alternate semesters of school with semesters working at jobs in your field. The program took five years and allowed me to get a degree, and get first-hand experience, and also work my way through school.
My first co-op job was as a dictationist at United Press International in Washington. This was 1972. I was twenty. Reporters would call in from their beats—the White House, the State Department— and dictate their stories to the dictationists. I also took over the switchboard when the regular was at lunch, one of those panels you’d plug electrical cords into to connect people who called the bureau. On my days off, I’d tag along with reporters on their beats, and on weekends they’d let me work the desk and do some reporting.
The first story I covered was the panda arrival at Andrews Air Force Base—the gift pandas China sent to Richard Nixon. Hsing- Hsing and Ling-Ling. I think I got that assignment because nobody else wanted to be at Andrew’s Air Force Base at five o’clock in the morning. It was my first bylined story, and it ran on the A-wire. The editor rolled it into my manual typewriter so that when I went into the office there it was. I still have it somewhere.
My next co-op job was as a Northeastern intern for The Boston Globe. They paid you first year scale and I was a general assignment reporter. For the next three years, I alternated semesters working full-time at the Globe and going to school full-time, but even when I was going to school full-time I worked three shifts a week at the paper. So from the time I was twenty I was working.
I remember one time being dispatched to some dance hall in Dedham where Guy Lombardo was appearing with his famous swing band. It was near the end of his career. So I’m standing around, people are dancing, a mirrored disco ball is twirling on the ceiling. I didn’t know what I was going to write. So I introduced myself to Guy Lombardo. “Mr. Lombardo, I’m a reporter, but I don’t have a story. But if you dance with me, I’ll have a story.” He had the band play “Little Coquette,” and we started dancing, but then it was like he wasn’t really dancing. “Mr. Lombardo,” I said, “you can’t dance!” He said, “That’s the secret to our music. You don’t have to know how to dance. You just shift back and forth.” Which when you think about it is some kind of mantra for living life. The paper ran a picture of us dancing on Page 3. He died a few years later, and it may have been his last interview. The picture of us is in a frame on my bookshelf.
AB: What was the atmosphere of the newsroom like at that time?
MDG: When I got into the business, journalism was more of a trade than a profession. I straddled the time it was making that transition. A lot of the men I worked with, the crusty old-timers, had not gone to college. They had working-class values, a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. The newsroom reflected a grittier time. When I started, there were still manual typewriters, then electrics. Everybody smoked. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes. The assistant city editor, a woman, smoked a pipe. It was not unusual for someone to pull a flask out of his drawer after deadline. It was smoky and it was loud. Clacking typewriters, the scratching of the wire service machines spitting out copy, bells going off when breaking news came in, the whooshing of pneumatic tubes shooting copy from the newsroom to typesetting. Looking back, it was fantastic. I loved it. Newsrooms got quieter and quieter as the years went on. More corporate, more elite. Last time I was in a newsroom, and this was some years ago, already you could hear a pin drop.
AB: Did you read the famous journalists of the time—Didion, Halberstam, Talese, Wolfe?
MDG: I did, of course, but not at the beginning. Later into my twenties, when I started doing longer stories, I became more of a student of the craft, learning how to use scene, action, and dialogue to structure and propel a narrative. But at the start, I was working and going to school full-time. I was busy, and my learning was experiential. Hands-on first, books second.
AB: Sounds like you had an old-fashioned newspaper education. What happened after you graduated college?
MDG: My last semester at Northeastern, United Press in Boston offered me a staff position. I was still going to school during the day, so for the first few months I worked the overnight shift. The lobster shift, it’s called in Boston. At UPI you did everything: you ran the desk, you wrote radio copy, you reported. Ten months later, the Globe offered me a full-time staff position. I was told I was the youngest person ever hired on staff—that was at that time. I was twenty-four.
I had covered school desegregation and court-ordered busing while I was still in college—I was at South Boston High School opening day, a hotbed of protest. When I came back to the paper on staff, I was assigned to the education beat. I remember the Metro editor calling me in and saying, “You’re covering education.” He didn’t ask. That’s how things were done then. I really didn’t like having a beat. I’m a generalist by nature. I get bored. I like going into unfamiliar situations and immersing myself until I figure it out. Later somebody called this “immersion journalism.” But once I figure things out, I don’t really want to stick around. Then I do an automatic dump, otherwise run out of RAM. I look at my old articles and often don’t remember writing them.
After that, I was a roving New England reporter, then a staff writer at the Globe Sunday magazine, then a feature writer in the Washington bureau, before the Philadelphia Inquirer poached me in 1982.
AB: What about this Vermont murder story. Do you remember how you got onto it?
MDG: Do I remember from forty-something years ago? I can guess. At that time, there were often these little one-paragraph stories tucked at the ends of news columns where they had a little space. It was probably one of those that caught my eye.
AB: What about it in particular would interest you though?
MDG: The drama of it, of course. The humanity. The potential insight into the mysteries of human nature. How could something like this happen? Why would someone do this? The other thing about murders is that they provide a built-in underlying story structure. There’s a beginning, a middle, an end, a protagonist, a victim, a history, a background culture. There’s a clear through-line. It’s all there.
In longer pieces, figuring out the architecture is always a puzzle— how to tell a story in a way that’s understandable and easily followed, with depth and insight, and so compelling that the reader forgets they’re reading it. Reporting these types of stories is a nightmare because you never know exactly what you’re going to need, and so you have to record for future possible use every single thing you see, hear, read, or sense. You’re using facts to create what somebody called “a fictive dream.” But until you sit down to write, you don’t know if you’ll be referring to those yellow dotted Swiss curtains, or if that casual overheard exchange in the general store will come in handy. That’s why you write everything down. I’m constantly focused on getting it all down right. Then you have a ridiculous amount of notes that have to be studied and organized and only maybe 10 percent of which will actually come into play. I’ll tell you, I hate it, I hate the note-taking part of reporting for narrative nonfiction. It’s tedious and exhausting. It’s only after I have the first draft down that I start to enjoy the process. Then it’s like eating popcorn. Moving this up, taking that out, shrinking this passage, speeding up the pace. Taking out any phrasing so pretty that it might actually stop the reader and interrupt the dream. You know, “kill the little darlings.”
AB: There is absorbing atmosphere and detail in the “Death in Vermont” story. People seemed willing to talk to you.
MDG: That’s the job, that’s the work. Can I capture for the reader the feeling of a place, the feeling of the people? You know, like they were there with me. Can I get people to trust me enough to tell me what I need to know? There are also larger things at stake on a personal level, in terms of how I show up as a human being, on this story and others. And I think some part of me felt humble a lot of the time. Humbled by other people’s willingness to let me into their lives, to bare their souls. I felt I was invading—I think a lot of journalists feel this, photographers too—I’m invading somebody’s private life, and they trust me. I like to think it’s because I am trustworthy. But that means, I need to be trustworthy. I struggle with that, striking that balance between telling the whole story truthfully and being fair and caring to people that gave me their time and trusted me.
I suppose on yet another level, doing this kind of work is an interesting way to live. Not that I was consciously thinking this at the time, but here I was, always learning new things. Depending on where I was at in my life, what spiritual journey, on some level I thought of my work as interacting with other souls and of how we’re all connected in some way, that these meetings are not an accident. Maybe they’re here to teach me something, and maybe I’m here to teach them something. I’m not saying that out loud to anybody but it’s in my mind. Consciously, unconsciously—it’s working on me. I think having that feeling, that vibration, changes the interaction and makes it more authentic. I hate that word. Whatever “authenticity” means. Not showy. Not sensational. Humane and present.
AB: What is the secret that makes for a really good reporter?
MDG: I think that depends on how you define what that is. For me, I was genuinely curious, I wasn’t judgmental, I really wanted to understand. So my approach has always been to go in and figure things out without a preexisting agenda, without a political agenda, just do my best to figure out what was going on and then explain it to the reader. Not to start with a conclusion but to really try and sincerely listen to everybody on all sides of an issue with the idea of giving people the information they need to form their own opinions. And when I approach people that way, people pick up on that. So that’s my way, largely because it’s in my nature.
Sometimes people were so open with me that I would remind them that I was a journalist and that we weren’t off the record. And I’m not talking here about public figures, who have to be held accountable in a different way and who are savvy about the reporting process. I’m talking about ordinary people.
AB: So you tried to hold yourself to account to both the reader and the subject?
MDG: As best I could. I was always striking that balance between exactly what does the public have a right to know and what’s fair to that person. And when I did reveal sensitive things I knew could be hurtful, and because I knew it was so hard to be written about, I went out of my way to try and get it right, get it in context. These are human beings—we’re complicated! My goal in those cases would be they’d read it and say, “Well, I wish she didn’t write this. But she got it right. It’s true, it’s fair.”
AB: How do you get people to really open up to you?
MDG: I’m just genuinely interested in understanding people and in getting at the truth, and I think people sense that. I also really feel people, maybe you know what I mean. If somebody is opening up to me, I can feel that. Physically, emotionally. I’m so humbled by that. A little scared in a way. I hope it kept me honest.
I mean, everybody has a story, and they like to tell their stories because humans like to feel known. I know I do. There’s nothing like when somebody else “gets” you, you know? So if I had the time to do it, really no matter what the story was, I would start with, “Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Who were you in high school? What did your parents do? Do you have siblings?” You can find out so much about a person in a half-an-hour just by being interested in them. And sometimes they would ask me questions and by the time we got to what I was there for—I learned this by accident—we were totally on the same page and we were just talking. And I had a sense that the information I was getting was true. As true as possible. And in the end, that’s my job.
AB: You weren’t setting them up.
MDG: The idea of setting people up, to “get” them, asking gotcha questions, it’s such a waste of time, it’s such a bore. It accomplishes nothing. I aimed to be as transparent as possible and bring them into the process by, you know, informed consent. I’ll say, “I’m talking to you now, then I’m going to be talking to this person and that person, and they may tell me something different and I may come back to you but only if I need to so you may read the story and it might not be the story you expect. What I learned is that what upset people most when they got upset wasn’t so much what was written, it was that they felt blindsided. It’s a sickening feeling when a neighbor or a colleague or family member calls. “Did you see what so-and-so said about you?” To the degree that it was possible, I aimed to spare people of that.
AB: How long did the Vermont story take? What was your reporting process?
MGD: Oh, my memory is that it was done pretty quickly. I would guess I was up in Vermont for no more than three or four days, then maybe a week to ten days to write. I almost never used a tape recorder at the time. I took copious notes and had my own system on the pad for recording things like a description of a room or location, what’s on a person’s desk or hanging on the wall, how a person maybe crossed her legs while saying a certain thing or lit a cigarette, or any dialogue between people I was observing. At the end of the day I would type up all my notes and put down what material might work best in the lead or as an ending or other ideas about possible structures. I had this glossy black manual typewriter I lugged around in a carrying case, a Royal portable from the 1930s. I still have it.
AB: After you left the Globe, you were on the staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer and then wrote for the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic. What kinds of things did you do?
MDG: At the Inquirer, I did a lot of articles for the Sunday magazine, including a profile of the Philadelphia/South Jersey mob boss, guy named Nicky Scarfo, and a long takeout for the Sunday paper called “The Me-generation Mob.” Followed mob guys around for a couple months, knocked on their mothers’ doors. I’d call the FBI Organized Crime Strike Force and get the addresses of the candy stores or wherever they’d hang out in South Philly and go there and watch them and try to talk to them. Had drinks one time in Atlantic City with the underboss and a hitman named Nick the Blade, now deceased. I wrote about them kind of culturally. They were familiar to me, like my father, my uncles, in a way, except that my father and uncles weren’t criminals. This would’ve been around 1983. I spent the next year almost living with an Irish-Catholic family, typical middle-class family, the Farleys, and wrote seven magazine-length stories about their lives as it related to the 1984 presidential campaign. Then a stint filing dispatches from Central America. Covered the MOVE bombing in West Philly in 1985. It was a standoff involving a Black nationalist group the city had designated as terrorists. The neighbors didn’t like them either. I was standing there when the police helicopter dropped the bomb that killed eleven people bunkered in their house and led to an entire neighborhood burning down. I couldn’t hear right for the rest of the day.
At the Inquirer magazine, I had worked with Carolyn White, one of the truly great editors of our generation. She left the paper to work at Rolling Stone and around 1986 was tapped to start up a literary travel magazine called TRIPS. It was the brainchild of Mel Ziegler, who started Banana Republic. Banana Republic had been bought by the GAP and now the GAP was bankrolling this magazine. I left the Inquirer to join the start-up as editor-at-large. Carolyn sent me to Hawaii for a month to try and sneak onto the so-called Forbidden Island of Hawaii, a place where only full-blooded Hawaiians were allowed. Then she sent me on a trip around the world, circumnavigating the globe, because I was rereading On the Road and happened to wonder out loud in her presence what it would be like to burn around the world the way Kerouac and his pals burned across the US. My last stop was one of my ancestral villages in southern Italy, Somma Vesuviana, where I discovered my link with antiquity as having descended from the survivors of Pompeii. I returned home and the magazine folded four days later. I got married the next month, got pregnant on my honeymoon, had two sons in three years, and my life changed forever.
AB: Did you ever burn with ambition to write books as well?
MGD: I think at some point I assumed I would transition to books, but I didn’t actively pursue it. Throughout my career, my accidental career, opportunities had always presented themselves. And I guess, on some level, it was okay with me if they didn’t. I was never particularly ambitious for fame and fortune, and all the women writers I knew who were also raising children seemed stressed out and torn and always scrambling. We weren’t rich by any means, but it was enough. I did write a novel based on my trip around the world, but only one agent was interested and then wasn’t sure what it was or how to sell it. It’s in a box in the cellar.
Another thing, looking back, is I was never hungry for “the big story” or being around powerful or famous people. The most mind-numbing thing I could imagine was writing about scripted icons—unless I could somehow strip that away. I didn’t have that kind of ambition. I was preoccupied with working on my craft, rich life experience, helping people where I could, being open, paying attention. It was my own private quest to make sense of the world and figure out what the heck I was doing here. On earth. Spinning through space on a rock. You know? I don’t think I was conscious of this all the time, but looking back, I see that’s what drove me because it’s still driving me.
By the time I hit thirty-seven, thirty-eight, I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I should have been writing books, I suppose, but I also had these two little boys, and a part of me is like, What do I have to say? I’m not just going to just write a book. I would pitch stories to magazines from time to time but never a single time got a gig that way. But then the phone would periodically ring. An offer to write for the New York Times, which turned out to be a cover story about a mafia informant, or features for National Geographic. An Arctic adventure tale, an environmental drama out of Iceland, a psychological profile of the people of Iran. I wrote for them for a couple of years. Tina Brown at Talk, for a reconstruction of a murder and suicide on the Philadelphia Main Line. I was very fortunate in that way.
AB: So you don’t miss writing?
MDG: Hm. I started out in the profession very young and had fifteen intense years as a newspaperwoman before freelancing for twenty plus more. Today, if somebody called me with an interesting project and they wanted to pay me, sure. The last thing I wrote was an essay at the start of COVID in which I wondered how COVID might actually be the best thing that could happen to us and the potential for the human spirit. It appeared in the Day of New London, CT. An old friend from my years at the Globe, another Northeastern intern who now runs a string of newspapers, was happy to publish it after a couple of other outlets said no. Apparently, it was thought too positive.
Now if I were inspired in some way, then I would definitely write, and I’m not dead yet so who knows? If for instance I felt driven to write what would be, I don’t know, the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of our time, not necessarily about race, but something meaningful that people needed to hear, that would help us evolve, something in service to humankind, I’d do it for nothing. But in the absence of that inspiration or another phone call out of the blue? No, I don’t have that ambition just to write, I don’t need to be published. I’ve done a lot of that.
AB: That’s fascinating. We are living in a time where so many people share their opinions and thoughts about—everything! It is refreshing to hear a writer talk about not adding to the conversation if you are not compelled to—or need to make a living.
MDG: There’s that famous quote about not speaking unless you can improve on the silence. And I already talk too much. And then there’s Socrates, who said—or is credited with saying; who knows?— “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” I have internalized that idea. The older I get the more I realize how little I know or can know. There have been times, there were certain things I was so sure of, but I didn’t know shit. I mean, what is belief? Belief is the absence of doubt. I can’t say I have an absence of doubt about anything.
AB: How do you reconcile that with the role of a reporter to ferret out “the facts?”
MDG: Not knowing and seeking the truth are not mutually exclusive. So, okay, you’re on a story. You go in and have an idea about something and then you talk to everybody and you realize it’s nothing like what your first impressions were, and you have to have the humility to let go of those impressions. You can’t go into things starting out with the conclusion, because then you’re only going to report information that supports that conclusion and some preexisting narrative that isn’t true, or is only partially true. You end up failing your readers and you fail yourself if you only report what you think are the “right” ideas. That’s activism. And there’s nothing wrong with activism. But it’s not journalism.
In my idea of good independent reporting, the job is you’re calling balls and strikes. You’re trying to understand and present all points of view, figure out what is going on with any particular issue or situation, and then explain it to the reader or the viewer. You’re not trying to tell them what to think or how to think. You’re not picking a side! That sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it?
AB: You’re talking about maintaining objectivity.
MDG: Yes and no. I personally am inclined to listen to everybody, from fringe to fringe, while challenging any and all ideas openly. I believe in inclusive, transparent, and uncensored debate, which there seems to be precious little of these days. I mean, why would you want to limit thought? I want diversity of thought, independent thought. I want the freedom to think for myself and support others in thinking for themselves, and in the end I trust only my own discernment and intuition. It keeps me fresh.
It’s become popular to almost encourage reporting bias and reject the idea of objectivity by saying that objectivity isn’t possible. And there’s some truth to that because the act of observing something always changes it; that’s the basis of the Heisenberg Principle. We all bring conscious and unconscious biases to every table. That said, you can still be fair, you don’t have to frame stories in such a way that you’re actually telling the reader or viewer what to think and who they should and should not listen to. You can at least aim for truth and objectivity, as elusive as it may be. I don’t know how as a society we can have honest conversations about anything— race, climate change, war, immigration, sexual identity, crime, religion, COVID, vaccines—if we’re only exposed to these narrow bands of information from one side or the other. It’s insane and it’s disrespectful of the audience and it’s infantilizing.
AB: So you’re always walking this slippery path between objectivity and doubt, openness and skepticism . . . ?
MDG: Yes! And here is how not-knowing is better than knowing. Because if I think I already know something, if I’m so sure—then I stop looking. The process of inquiry stops because I think I already know. This is the potential problem with relying too much on “experts.” But if I realize I don’t know, then I’m always searching, always questioning. I’m still alive. The important thing is to never stop questioning. Einstein said that.
And I’ll tell you. It’s liberating, not-knowing. Doubt is good. Somebody called it “the gift of doubt.” And by doubt I don’t mean disbelieving or being a contrarian. I think of myself as an old-timey skeptic. Today’s skeptics are just disbelievers. That’s not what a skeptic is. A skeptic is somebody who neither believes nor disbelieves but remains open-minded. Doubt is just the inner wisdom that we can’t know, you don’t know. And it’s okay. It’s good to always have a beginner’s mind. The Japanese call it shoshin.
AB: Do you have any practices you rely on to keep your life and the world in perspective?
MDG: One thing is I take a walk every morning, and during that walk I try to keep my attention on the trees. It’s amazing how difficult that is. Or really look at the face of the person passing by, your foot as it hits the pavement. Take ten whole minutes watching that ant crawl across the grass. They are relentless, ants.
So on the walk it’s like the only important thing right now is right now. Okay, I’m going to be here in the present and also I’m going to be grateful. Do you know how freakin’ hard that is? How hard it is not to go right into my head? Start having imaginary arguments with people, imaginary rescues and victories, attack thoughts, defense thoughts, savior thoughts. Thoughts about the past, the future— anything but right here right now, the present moment, which is the only thing we ever really have. It’s almost impossible. So I look at the trees, I fail and go into my head, I become aware I’m in my head, and I go back to the trees. That’s the practice. It’s the only thing you can do.
AB: In what way do you think that enhances your life?
MDG: I feel a little like I’m that ant. I’m just trying to make my way through the grass, you know? It’s never a straight line. And it seems to me that the more present I can be, the more grateful, grateful for anything and everything, the more the world opens up in ways I could never make happen on my own. Something changes. It’s like being grateful and in the present creates a vibration, an energy field, in which unexpected things occur, synchronicities, coincidences, you bump into people you’re supposed to meet, things go your way, you’re called on. Some portal to a divine part of ourselves opens up where miracles arise and the best of who we really are has a chance to come out. One time, not long after the Vermont article, I was hanging around the White House doing a story about the culture of the West Wing, and I conjured up bumping into Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office, I literally bumped into him, and it happened within an hour of my asking for it. But that’s for another day.
The short of it is, anything that’s truly essential originates in this invisible space. That’s what fascinates me.
CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of the book, or read an excerpt from the story below.
Love and Death in Vermont: A True Story about an Extra-Marital Affair in a Small Town
by Marguerite Del Giudice
Little is concealed in Vermont. Lies are of the little white variety; few and far between and usually reserved for nosey strangers who are probably up to no good anyway. Vermonters, for instance, love their Green Mountains, but they won’t tell a stranger that. They’ll say they hardly notice them, or the reassuring smell of new manure on a flowerbed, or the way the fresh air puts them to sleep at night. Don’t move here, their eyes seem to say, but they always smile, and will tell you what you want to know—even, maybe especially, if it has to do with the murder of someone they used to know.
Wealth doesn’t trickle down very far. Poverty is commonplace; livings are earned by hand. Taking care of oneself and minding one’s own business are lessons learned early, although everyone seems to know everyone else’s business anyway. Fools and frauds are soon detected. A stranger’s comings and goings are discreetly monitored. People know what’s going on. In the city, this would be called street sense. You don’t hoodwink anybody up here, and Morrisville is no exception.
Morrisville is a section of Morristown, population 5,000, which is located in the north central Vermont county of Lamoille— comparatively sophisticated, by Vermont standards, because Stowe, the fashionable ski area, is ten miles to the south, along with the Trapp Family Lodge, as in the Sound of Music. As for Morrisville, Christina Foster once gave a pair of handmade dolls representing the town’s first settlers, Indian Joe and Molly, to President Eisenhower, and in 1940, a Boston newspaper described Morrisville as “that celebrated Vermont utopia.” According to Vermont’s Gazetteer the local attraction is Lake Lamoille. Down a dead-end street off the lake road, Cadys Falls Road, by the old condemned bridge with KEEP OUT painted on it in yellow is where the bodies were found.
The Morristown police chief is a burly man with full lips and a smile that tells you he is not so easy to win over, even if he looks that way. His name is etched into an elongated nameplate on his desk that is made of finished gray granite. It looks like a small gravestone and does not include his nickname, which is Bud, LAWRENCE La CLAIR, it says, and the police chief notes that Barre—The Granite Center of the World—is only a county away.
A stranger shouldn’t be fooled by Morrisville’s sleepy demeanor, he says with a knowing smile; he’s got more to say but wants to be coaxed. Agents from the FBI and the IRS were in town at the time. Something to do with counterfeiting, something else to do with a newcomer from Queens who had threatened to bomb the Franklin Bank if it didn’t hand over $25,000 in small bills. A flasher had also been operating in the vicinity of the public library. “It’s like a little Chicago here,” says Chief La Clair, and he figures he and his men did a pretty good job coordinating the murder investigation, too, especially since Morrisville had never had a homicide, let alone two at once. The closest Morrisvillians had come to murder was when two people were strangled in nearby Hardwick a couple of years ago, only a day’s difference from the Camley-Manosh killings on the 26th of March, a Monday. They didn’t know those people the way they knew Earlene Camley, a checkout cashier at the local Grand Union, and Clifford Manosh, a foreman for the telephone company. Earlene and Clifford had been lovers for quite some time.
The accused, Earlene Camley’s thirty-seven-year-old husband, Seth, from whom she was separated, eluded police for two days. The statewide search was conducted on snowmobiles, snowshoes, and cross-country skis, because there were three feet of snow on the ground at the time. It was believed that Camley, a former furniture store manager who had been working at his sister’s farm in Stowe, was hiding in Sterling Valley, where he had hunted all his life. He had quite a reputation as a woodsman in these parts, and investigators were at a distinct disadvantage.
Camley finally turned himself in one o’clock Wednesday afternoon at the home of his parents, Viola and Ralph. Ralph Camley, a retired auto body repairman, had been negotiating with police since the morning after the murders; he was afraid his son would either kill himself or be killed in a shoot-out with police. Seth’s sister had already told investigators her brother told her he would never be taken alive.
Camley spent about thirty days under observation in the state hospital in Waterbury before being remanded to the Chittenden County House of Correction at Burlington. He was held on $100,000 bail for two counts of first-degree murder, each punishable by life imprisonment upon conviction. Shireen Avis Fisher, the public defender representing Camley, has filed a Notice of Intent with the Superior Court to raise an insanity defense. The trial was tentatively scheduled for early August, and in some county other than Lamoille— where the search for Camley had been highly publicized, where the Manosh family is influential in business and politics, and where the defendant and the victims were also neighbors and friends.
“Everything is so close,” says a clerk at Superior Court in Hyde Park, the county seat three miles north. “We’re not used to this.” The building next door to the courthouse is the office of Lamoille County Sheriff Gardner Manosh, Clifford’s brother. He had served Seth Camley’s divorce papers on Earlene. And Philip H. Edwards Furniture across the street is where Seth used to work before he left to manage the store in Montpelier, a job he lost several months before the afternoon of March 26.
There was much more to the story than what had made the papers and the television news. The circumstances of the lovers’ deaths had been respectfully couched in euphemisms, though local knowledge of the details was quite extensive; word travels fast, and matters of life and death make good grist for the town rumor mill.
A familial kind of loyalty peculiar to small towns exists here: of course townspeople know their own business, but this does not mean the world should know as well. A few of them noted that sometimes the truth is better left unexposed, that the retelling of an event that cannot be reversed just enhances the tragedy of it. There are the feelings of Georgiana Manosh, Clifford’s wife, to consider, as well as those of their children, and the children of Seth and Earlene Camley.
Yet, more than a few Morrisvillians obviously couldn’t keep themselves from spilling the town beans. Talk is a mainstay of life here and there is no stopping it once it starts.
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