I received the following from Brian McCrae who was a high school friend back in the 70’s at North Country Union. His dad, Norm McCrae was one of the best teachers at the school (and he didn’t put up with any of the bs that your’s truly delighted in back in those days). I also heard from his dad who is now retired and living in Florida. If anyone would like to email Brian he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments from a Vermonter in Colorado: Brian McCrae
I enjoyed the article on Chamberlain Birch. I remember skiing with Doug Rooney & John Hanley (or “le Castor” as we called him before he got braces) and also the Poutre girls, as well as about every other kid in Newport.
It was so cheap everyone could afford to go. It was the perfect place to hang out with friends during the weekends. It got us outside and kept us fit too.
I remember we took lessons there from Reg Fortin, the French teacher up at North Country Junior High School. It only cost (as John mentioned in the article) 50¢ a day, although that went up to 75¢ when we were in high
school. During the late 60s Frank Britch who later became at 6th grade teacher with my mom at the Hillside school, worked in the “warm-up” shack where they sold candy bars and hot chocolate for a dime. When we were
in high school we used to go there on Thursday nights. I remember Richard Hamilton operated the lift. Some nights there were only half a dozen or so of us there so we created a new trail called “the Honkenheimer” which was basically just turning around at the top of the lift and skiing back down making everbody ditch the lift line!
Growing up in Newport was really great. You had Chambo in the winter and in the summer there was Prouty beach. I also remember the Poutre girls there! Especially Karen in her Orange bikini and Martha in her bright Green bikini, they used to get nice tans in the summer whereas I with my pasty white Scottish complexion would just turn red and peel (my skin curling up like Vermont cob smoked bacon!).
I’ve got to let you know I share your passion for Vermont and its culture. Our family has been in the state since before the Revolution and during the days it was its own Republic. One of my Dad’s ancestors built the 1st house
in St. Johnsbury and Mom’s family settled in Barnet from Scotland in 1775. Its funny but nobody can really do the Vermont accent unless you’re from there. I had a friend out here from St. Jay for a while when I first moved 11 years ago. We were speaking in our woodchuck english on the way back from binging in Denver and the taxi driver thought we were from Mars.
As far as Vermont culture goes, I’m sure you’ve seen the photography books by Richard Brown. He lives in Peacham where my Grandmother grew up and most of his famous work is from the 70’s when I was going to church a lot in Barnet. Most of his portrait subjects are dead now but I remember them well and visiting with them after church and at all the church suppers. The photos and short captions in his books really capture the feel and ideology of that culture. Hard working farmers with marvelously dry senses of humor.
Although he was originally a flatlander Brown has adopted the area as his own and has become an unlikely anthropologist for the Upper-Connecticut River Valley way of life. Another guy you might want to read is Scott
Hastings. He was a teacher with Dad when he worked in Hartford, VT from 1960-65. He wrote at least a couple books I know of “Goodbye Highland Yankee” and “The Last Yankees” about the people and technology developed by the people in the area.
My parents were in their first year of retirement and had a barn that Dad converted into a pretty nice little
summer home in Barnet Center on land that once belonged to my grandfather. One morning early at about 3:30 (even before my parents normally wake up,) my mom woke with a start to the sound of one of the neighbor’s Jersey heifers licking the screen of the bedroom window (and makin’ a horrible racket at that hour!) They woke up to find 13 of them in thier garden eating what was left of the really modest amount of vegetables that were left
there. Dad got on the phone and called down to the neighbors. He said he thought his 13 heifers were in the garden and maybe the neighbor had better come and get them. First the neighbor said: “No they ain’t, there right
out in the pasture where I put ’em last night!” Then after looking out the window he realized a moose had broken down the fence to get after those heifers, and was standing right out in the middle of the field!
Apparently this had happened before. “Darn it.” He said: “You’re right, its that darn moose again!” “How many d’you say there was?” “13” dad said. “Well there was 14 of ’em last night. I wonder where the last of ’ems got to.” Dad said “Well I’d start by checking under that moose!”
I actually have a few of good humorous Vermont stories to relate. One from a family reunion in Barnet back in ’74. I guess the theme here would be good old Vermont thrift:
My Great Uncle Glen showed up with the passenger side door of his pickup completely smashed in so that his wife, Aunt Dorothy had to scoot all the way over to the driver’s side to get out. My Dad asked him if he’d had it
“seen to,” and Glen said: “Ayuh, OI went ovah t’that autobody place in SaintJonsbry. The fellah went ’round addin’ up $50 dolluhs fuh this paaht, $75 dolluhs fuh that. And of co-us, ’round $200 dolluhs fuh labuh. He
sez ‘twould cost ’bout $600 dolluhs, so OI sez no it wunt. OI sez the mo-ah you kept addin,’ the mo-ah I staahted loikin’ the dent!”
The other two other stories are about Thelma Smith. I don’t know if you remember her but she was a teacher at North Country too. She was a good friend of the family and had a great sense of humor. She told me these stories but there are hudreds more I wish I’d remembered.
Thelma used to spend the Summers in her family home in Island Pond where she grew up. Her two older brothers lived there too, Ron who was in his 80s and John who was mostly quiet exept for a few choice words and was in his early 90s. John was into woodworking and had a shop in the house. He made the easel I still paint on to this day. Anyhow, at one time he made a dresser that sat in the hall outside the bedrooms. It was beautifully made and he’d left it unfinished. One day when we were over for a visit John was shuffling down the hall and Thelma said to John: “John, do you ever plan on staining that dresser?” John shuffles on and answers matter of factly: “She don’t need no stainin,’ she’ll daahken deown ovuh toime.”
Another time Thelma called me when I was home in the summer in Newport during college to relay a “fresh” anecdote. Apparently she had a nosey neighbor accross the street, an elderly French Canadian woman. One day
when Thelma was walking home and getting ready to cross the street in front of this woman’s house she said: “Mrs. Smit, you’re a Mrs., watever ‘appen to your ‘usband?” Thelma just glanced back and said curtly: “I’d rather
not talk about it.” Then she continued on. As she was crossing the street the woman yells: “‘e fool around?” Still Thelma walks not looking back. She goes up on to the porch through the screen door and is opening up the door to her apartment when she hears a louder yell: “‘e drink, eh?”
– Brian McCrae
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