Today I had the pleasure of stopping for a little chat with Bob Kelly at his art gallery on the corner of Caroline and Ann Streets in Key West (definitely worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood). Bob pointed out a group of people off of the Majesty of the Seas who were listening to a tour guide tell a story about the "crazy woman" who lived in the very house on whose front porch we were sitting.
This led our discussion to various incidents that took place around that area, and I was reminded of this story told by Bob Anderson, who lived for a good number of years on the corner of Elizabeth and Dey Streets. It's not a Key West story, but a Vermont story. Bob had worked for NBC in New York for many years. (In fact, he claimed to be the one who "discovered" Andy Rooney; we'll save that story for later.) Eventually, he "burned out" and he and his wife Annie moved to the country, up near Jericho, Vermont, about 20 miles or so east of Burlington on Rt. 15 to settle Bob's jangled urban nerves. It was, and probably still is, an out-of-the-way rural area. They busied themselves making Tiffany-style lamps out of stained glass and selling them by mail order.
Before too long the Andersons got a taste of every Vermonter's nightmare. The old farmhouse up the road was purchased by another New Yorker, who fixed up the place at no small expense. At the end of the summer, as Bob was shutting up his place and getting ready to come back to Key West for the winter, he decided to do the neighborly thing and go over and introduce himself to his new neighbors, and see if they needed anything.
"What most of us seasonal people do," he said, by way of offering some friendly and useful advice, "is, we have a gadget attached to our oil burner. If for some reason the electricity goes off, and the oil burner won't come on, it turns on a little red light out by our mailbox. Then when the RFD postman sees it, he knows to call Silas down at the general store, and he'll come out and relight it, and that way your pipes won't freeze."
"Tell ya what, pal" said the neighbor. "If I ever need any of your advice, I'll come over and ask for it."
Now, Bob was a big, imposing fellow with a stentorian voice, who had run a PT boat in WWII. But underneath all that was a little kid still begging for approval. He knew as well as anybody that Robert Frost had said, "Good fences make good neighbors," but he was hurt by the fact that his neighbor blew him off just the same.
So he "shook the dust off his shoes," and he and Annie packed up their things and headed south to the Keys. When he got back in June, he was surprised to see the New Yorker's farmhouse once again in a state of total disrepair. Here's what happened:
Some time after the Christmas holidays a happy party of New Yorkers set out for Vermont, planning a ski holiday on the slopes up in the nearby Sugarbush Valley. When they got to their friends' farmhouse up in Jericho, they were puzzled that the key wouldn't fit into the lock on the front door. It seemed to be frozen. They went to get a cigarette lighter from the car, in the hope of heating the key and melting the ice that had somehow got into the lock.
Then someone looked in a window. The whole interior of the house was one solid block of ice! Apparently the electricity had gone off at some point, and a pipe up in the attic had cracked just enough to let a trickle of water flow down through the floors. As long as it was flowing a little, it didn't freeze, but when the water set on the floors, it did, and slowly built up a huge ice cone that by January had filled the whole house, encasing everything inside in solid ice, including a grand piano!
It didn't melt completely until the first week of June that year.
Moral of the story?
Well, I'll leave that up to you, but sometimes it seems that it's what we learn after we know it all that counts.