On April 10, 2024

Our friend Ann Wallen, ‘Only in Vermont!’

My brother Billie met Ann Wallen when he attended Colton ski camp. Ann was helping out in the kitchen and knew we’d become friends, too. That was the week Dad bought our land under 6 feet of snow from Oren Bates. It was 1958 when Killington was just beginning. When we arrived to begin our adventure building Dad’s Dream ski lodge in Vermont, Billie introduced us to Wallen who felt like family right away.

Ann became my art mentor and friend, Mom’s confidant, and our family’s Vermont resource. Since Ann was a transplant from Brooklyn, New York, she’d come to understand Vermonters’ ways which could seem perplexing to out-of-staters. Ann was our translator, often declaring, “Only in Vermont!” Her favorite expression was so true in a state filled with idiosyncrasies that could be frustrating yet also endearing.

Although we were in Killington to build our dream house, Ann kept us abreast of fun goingson. Without Ann, we’d have only worked. She enticed us with church suppers and sales in Woodstock and Bridgewater, with strawberry festivals at Plymouth State Park and at Sue and Morris Prior’s summer kids’ camp where a big bonfire burned into the night. Ann drove Mom and me to a wool factory outlet where I bought woven tweed and sewed a poncho and skirt while learning to operate Mom’s Singer sewing machine. Ann introduced us to the Vermont State Fair to see farm animals, eat sausage and peppers, sugar-coated fried dough and tree-tappers’ maple leaf candy. I gawked at gigantic 4-H vegetables and was intrigued by members’ creative farm projects.

It didn’t take much to convince Mom and me to go to whatever Wallen came up with. Dad was a much harder sell. On occasion, he agreed to go. Once Ann introduced us to Vermont auctions, Dad found his soft spot and was hooked. He loved finding bargains and bidding on treasures like useful old tools, Griswold iron skillets, vintage fishing gear, and antique crocks. He was fond of all shapes and sizes, plain grey or two toned with blue or brown letters or numbers. The ones with birds or flowers were coveted. Several still grace our ski lodge.

Mom was a connoisseur of glasses and dishes—etched crystal champagne flutes, mismatched and full dish sets with floral designs like the dainty rose tea cups and dessert plates that seemed out of place in a rustic ski lodge. But we girls felt (and still feel) special sipping tea from from such delicate vessels. Mom assembled a slew of silver cutlery for future grand gatherings she envisioned. She savored bidding on embroidered linens, elegant doilies, knickknacks and whatnots. They were so plentiful that lots came in boxes. Some proved useful in both our houses like batter bowls and hand carved salad servers. Others were purely for arts’ sake like the humongous Coca Cola clock (that may have told time when Mom’s bid first won it).

My favorite item at auctions and church sales was antique beaded purses. When Wallen gave me two truly unique ones—a long, silver and ruby red bag with a silver ring in the middle, and a delicate, petite powder blue purse—they inspired me to start collecting at auctions and other sales, myself. I sought dolls in colorful ethnic costumes and boxes of jewels like treasure chests. I found vintage Spanish damascene earrings with delicate gold inlay on a black background and fragile Victorian shell trinkets and necklaces at Fernando’s antique-junque shop. It sat on the hill above the junction of Killington Road and Route100 (five decades before the condos were built). After it closed, we found Fernando’s sign at the old dump and kept in our wood shed.

Fun breaks from “slave labor camp in the frozen North” as Mom (somewhat) lovingly called it, helped us get to know the local scene. We made new friends on those outings with Ann, and gained a sense of belonging in Vermont where my heart still feels most at home.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between Vermont and Florida. She can be reached at email: jilldyestudio@aol.com.

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