Photo provided by Homer Fitts
Snowbirds from around central Vermont meet March 6 in Florida for the annual Barre Away Day.
South Barre is in Barre Town, but “Barre South” is an awfully long way from Williamstown, according to Homer Fitts, who has been making like a duck for more winters than he cares to remember.
Fitts is an 86-year-old “snowbird,” who is currently sunning himself in Florida with his wife, Margaret. However, he is also a Vermonter, and Vermonters like traditions — especially in March.
That’s why, Fitts will tell you, he and Roland Lajeunesse — both Green Mountain boys — decided to start one while on separate extended vacations in the Sunshine State 16 years ago. It’s still going strong.
The first Tuesday in March may be Town Meeting Day in Vermont, but Fitts says the first Wednesday in March has become “Barre Area Day” in Florida.
“It’s a fun time,” he said. “You can see people you haven’t seen for years.”
Sort of like town meeting, except, Fitts said Friday, turnout is never a problem, tempers never flare, and there is no need for a moderator at what might best be described as an “out-of-community reunion.”
Seems there’s a whole flock of “snowbirds” with Barre-area roots in Florida this time of year – a fact that prompted Fitts and Lajeunesse to try and round them all up at the first informal get-together 16 years ago.
“It seemed like a good idea,” said Fitts, who is pretty pleased it wasn’t a one-time deal.
Over the years as many as 350 people have attended the B.Y.O.P. — bring your own picnic — affair, and there were close to 200 on hand for last Wednesday’s gathering at North Jetty Park on Nokomis Beach.
All have some connection to Barre and many, like Fitts and his wife, are still residents of the community, though they prefer to spend part or all of their winters in a place that isn’t so cold.
Still, there’s no place like home and if you aren’t there it sure does feel good to be surrounded by familiar faces.
That wasn’t a problem last week, according to Fitts, who said the crowd included a Rouleau (Cyndy, her husband, Raymond had a golf date), two Gosselins (Gus and Clara), a couple of Dessereaus (Henri and Pat), a Chouinard (Josephine), and two Galfettis (Geno and Harriet).
There were also a fistful of Fittses, including, Homer, his brother Stanley and their wives, as well as their older brother’s three sons, Donald and David, both Sarasota residents, and Steve, who lives with his wife, Sue, in Maine.
Mary Casey sang, her husband, Bill accompanied her on the keyboard, and Ron Parnigoni played along on his bass fiddle. The only thing missing was a heaping helping of chicken and mostaccioli, though Fitts can’t swear nobody brought some along in their picnic basket.
“You never know,” he said.
No, you never do, and if you don’t believe him Fitts’ said you can ask his wife who was floored to come across a man – Tom Covey – she hadn’t seen since he was a young child and she was a farm girl working her way through high school living at his family’s Liberty Street home.
Covey now lives in Ohio — one of at least eight states that were represented at the annual picnic.
“It’s a small world,” he said.
Florida is a big state and people traveled from as far north as Mount Dora and as far south as Naples to attend last week’s Barre-ified picnic. Palm Beach and Boynton Beach and Venice were all represented, according to Fitts, who said the crowd seems to be getting younger every year.
Fitts said that’s a good thing, and not just because it briefly looked like the annual tradition might be coming to an end two years ago, when Perry Browing, who had run it for several years arrived with a sign that said: “Wave goodbye to Barre Day.”
Not quite. In stepped Lajeunesse and Fitts’, 84-year-old brother, Stan, who has since taken over as chairman of an event that Browning, and his wife, Nancy, both attended this year.
“They kept it going,” Fitts said of an event that has always been held on the first Wednesday in March and will be again next year because his brother has already made the necessary reservations.
“I hope it never stops,” said Fitts, who, despite last week’s healthy out-of-state dose of Barre, is already looking forward to returning home later this month.
“It will be good to be home,” he said.
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