Over forty years have passed since I met Frank Avery. He lived in Mendon, the tiny central Vermont hill town where I grew up, and stopped by my shop in Rutland hoping to get his tractor’s tow bar welded. He spoke with a Vermont accent which even in 1973 was rare to hear. His broken part involved an easy fix and Frank was soon on his way, five dollars poorer. A week later he showed up again, not for business this time, just to visit.
He told me he lived on Journey’s End Road in Mendon with his wife. I was quite familiar with that country road and replied that I had grown up less than a mile away from where he lived and knew the area well. Avery’s house had been built after I had moved on from my parent’s home and wasn’t there when I had roamed those hills as a kid, but I knew where it was. We talked and talked. Frank, who was approaching eighty said he was retired and occupied himself making pine furniture in his garage and, setting the hook, that he had discovered a technique to keep bark attached to the edges of the boards. “Without glue” he boasted, “it’s my own process”. We chatted on until a customer interrupted.
Frank came by many times that summer always ready to tell another story of the old days. He had worked at many diverse jobs and could relate to almost any subject that came up, logging and farming in particular. He never forgot to mention his pine furniture. By autumn that year the thought of a Christmas gift for my wife flickered through my busy brain. We had recently moved into our first house so naturally I thought of Frank’s pine furniture. The next time he stopped in to visit I asked him if he could make a coffee table and two end tables for me in time for Christmas. Well, the guy took off like a shot and I didn’t see him again for a month. The subject of price was never mentioned…
The new furniture arrived just in time for Christmas and turned out to be not only very well made but had a craftsman’s flair. Frank’s bill was so reasonable that I felt embarrassed and questioned him about it but he assured me that he wanted what he wanted and was quite happy to sell me his creations. My wife was as delighted as I can remember her ever being over a surprise present. The three handsome pine tables stood up to years of use and the secret bark retention method worked.
That isn’t the end of the story.
I hadn’t seen Mr. Avery for a couple years when he came by my shop one morning. We caught up on our lives and as he went to leave he said something that has been ringing in my ears ever since.
Frank asked me in all sincerity:
“Bob, did you always live in Vermont”?
I told him, “Yes, my parents moved here when I was only three”.
Looking over his shoulder as he went out the door Frank replied with a grin,
“I knew there was something about you!”
What can you say to that?
There is one undeniable rule of life in Vermont:
If you’re not born here you can’t be a true Vermonter.
Sad but true.