Snowbirds and Sunbirds
The Maple Inn Restaurant opened a 6:00 A.M. There were already a half dozen steaming pickups in the parking lot waiting for
to open the door. The smell of bacon and frying potatoes carried on the steam
which froze at the bottom of the big windows. The early arrivals left heavy coats
and rubber milking boots in the foyer. Doris
gave locals the devil if they brought snow or mud onto her floor. She was more
tolerant of the ski crowd.
Clint Beebe was always at the head table. He had proclaimed himself the unofficial mayor of the Maple Inn, mostly due to indifference of the congregation. He had always talked more than Vermonters need to. Clint’s agenda consisted of two rules…no politics and no religion. Clint was responsible for the daily gossip, local, state and world news comments, and entertainment. Snowbirds made for good, light hearted fun..
them Snowbirds of yours flew the coop, did they”? Clint asked.
“Yup, left yestiddy, with there tails a’ twixt their legs, and that
a’dragging the ground, with snowflakes a’ chasin’ ‘um out the rud!” Troy laughed. He had the
“How do you suppose them Snowbirds know where to stop for the winter?” Bob Lawrence asked, baiting Clint to get on with the game.
Clint began the yearly recitation. “A well, was it me a’ thinking with any sense…he waited for the laughter to subside… I’d go down to Bisbee’s Chevrolet and buy a new truck with 4 wheel drive. Second, I’d outfit it with and one of them big yellow Myers snow plows. Next, I’d go down to Jake’s and buy nice 28 foot travel trailer, pack up my knee pants and head south. When it got warm enough to drive with the windows down, I’d pull into a Wally World parking lot and wait for someone to ask me what that big yellow thing on the front of the truck was for, that’s where I’d starting looking to spend the winter”!
There were chuckles around the table. Clint had told that shaggy Dog story so many times it had become tradition. Not one Snowbird was left to hear it at the Maple Inn that morning, but there was one “Sunbird”. His name was Compton Ramey.
Clint brought attention to the fact Comp was back for the winter to cheers all around. Comp has “reverse engineered” Snow birding according to Clint. Comp left in spring and returned for the winter. The whole town knew Comp and Bessie. They’d lived in the village for some 40 years. He was their machinist and she, a third grade teacher.
The village tolerated Snowbirds and the Ski trade. They were good for the local economy. The summers could be a bit trying. The “social season” was always interesting, as the city folk had an insatiable appetite for tennis, Summer Stock Theater, lawn parties, and a championship croquet greens. They complained when the thermometer got to 80 degrees.
So great were the demands of the wealthy immigrants that catering. And Bed and Breakfasts sprang up as a cottage industry. The local shops had to stock locks and bagels, Coos Coos, Hummus, Perrier water, Caviar or wines and liquors with unpronounceable names. Locals were introduced to the marvels of the charcoal grill at the local Ace Hardware. Snowbird antics were fodder for the breakfast crowd at the Maple Inn. They weren’t bad people, just different. Life was changing in
How had Comp and Bessie found this place? Comp had been a machinist in the Navy, stationed in
at the ship yards there. He had met a girl from Alabama. He was from Georgia. She
had come north during the war, as had other Southern girls, to find work in the
defense plants. At war’s end Comp proposed and Bessie accepted.
Bessie had a job in a steno pool in
Boston. Comp mustered out of the Navy and began
looking for a job. Kthey wouldn’t marry until he was settled. He was sick of Boston, and so was Bessie.
Neither had any stomach for going South after the war. The depression was still
on in most of the South. Jobs were scarce and low paying. A Navy buddy told him
to come visit him in Vermont
and look for work there. With bus ticket in hand, Comp headed for Vermont to seek his
fortune. He never made it to his friend’s house.
The bus stopped for lunch in a small
Vermont town. Comp ordered a sandwich and
picked up a local paper, looking through the want ads. There was an ad for a
mechanic/ machinist/welder in a local repair shop. He had an hour before his
bus left, so with sandwich in hand, he paid, and asked directions. The sign
over big turn of the century brick structure said Gus’s Blacksmith Shop.
He walked in to find a few locals in rocking chairs, a couple of cats, and a large middle aged man pulling a rope attached to a huge bellows pumping air into a glowing forge.
“Help you?” he asked, glancing at Comp.
“I saw your ad in the local paper,” said Comp, “I’m looking for work”.
“You a machinist”? “Yes sir, I’m a machinist… Navy trained”, answered Comp.
The man took a long look at Comp before answering. “Where you from?”
“I could tell you’re not from around these parts”, he smiled.
“I’m Gus Jorgensen”, Gus stuck out a hand big as a dinner plate, “and I am looking for someone to run the machine shop”.
“I want to spend my days doing blacksmithing”, he continued, ‘the trade as I know it is dying out. I love making the decorative stuff; iron gates, fences, hinges, door hardware and repairing the antique iron. There’s a lot to be learned from the work of old smithies”. I bought a small machine shop waiting for the day the investment would start to pay off”.
Three hours later, Comp was on his way back to
Boston with a job in a small Vermont village of 340 people.
He and Bessie married and moved into a small bungalow out of town. The house was in good shape. It had no electricity, and no running water, just a hand pump on the porch. Bessie demanded indoor plumbing and electricity before moving to
He and Gus finished the repairs in early fall.
Comp bought a surplus Jeep. It was pretty rough: no heat, canvas top that leaked, no doors and hand windshield wipers. It didn’t take long to put it right. It became his transportation to work, and general runabout for the shop, pulling tractors to the shop, and plowing the parking lot. Comp still had it. Bessie wasn’t enamored with it. It bounced rattled, shook and shimmied, but a ride was a ride, especially in the snow.
Gus became and ornamental iron worker. Comp organized the machine shop and got it up and running. Gus’s son was learning the machinist trade while doing mechanic work. Gus’s wife did the books and secretarial work for the business. The shop became the “go to” repair center for the outlying villages. Bess became a school teacher. Life was getting better.
Christmas was a quiet thing. The village green had a big Spruce tree. It was decorated with garland and decorations made by a couple generations of school kid. A big spotlight lit the scene. School plays, church suppers, dinner with friends and other small town doings made the early darkness a little brighter. There were three small boys in Comp and Bessie household by then…lots to keep up with.
Some 20 years later, Gus retired and sold to Comp. Ten years later Comp sold to Gus’s son and a partner. Comp still helped in the shop when he was needed, but spent most of
his time hiking, fishing and driving to
Atlanta to see grandkids. The drive became
harder to make, and getting the kids to Vermont
was nigh impossible.
The solution was to rent the
place to the Snowbirds, and buy a “lake place” in the North
nearer the grandchildren in Atlanta.
Opening the lake house took a week or so at Easter Vacation. His sons and grandkids came to get the boats in the water, and clean up winter leaves and downed branches. The wives and Bessie made house livable again, unpacking linens and making beds, vacuuming and washing window. The reverse happened just after Thanksgiving in
It just took Bessie’s touch to make there Vermont home a cherry place again. The
renters even left a fire laid on the hearth.
When school was out, the grandkids came to the lake, and stayed and stayed, for “just one more week, Mama, please”. They pretty much spent the summer with Comp and Ma Bess. There were six of them, ages 4 to 10. They learned to swim, fish, paddle a canoe, and generally run the mountain behind the house like “a pack of Indians”.
The kids didn’t beg for company; there were a mob of “lake kids” to run with. Wherever the mob landed at lunchtime, they got fed, watered, and moved on. The younger ones, worn out from the morning rambles, would fall asleep after peanut butter and jelly, and be deposited on couches and beds for naps. The older ones moved on to other adventure.
This flashback went through Comp’s head in about 30 seconds. He came out of his revelry when
Doris brought his
usual two eggs, fried potatoes, and ham. Comp was home amongst friends for
The village green had lost the big tree to old age. A new, smaller one was bedecked with lights that twinkled through the frost on the windows. Snow was falling, and the grandchildren were on the way to
Vermont to be Sunbirds
for a week. The sleds were waiting.