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Living Life With A Sense Of Humor Sharing Memories With Rita Armell
photo by Tim HallockRita and officers Holding court and keeping the peace at the coffee counter at Small City Market for the past eleven years, Rita enjoys keeping all of her customers happy and in line, even if they are officers of the law like Vergennes Police Officer Newton and Chief of Police Merkel.
photo providedStill living her motto of finding joy in life and having fun, Rita Armell celebrated her 80th birthday on a cruise with her daughters and a pirate or two!
photo providedRita grew up loving to dance and loving to be around people. Today both hold true. Seen here in the front right of the photo, Rita, her siblings and neighbors joined together at the Old Town Theater in Middlebury for a holiday party
photo providedDaughters Betty, June, Charlene, Eileen took their mom on a cruise to celebrate being 80 years young and spent the rest of the time keeping up with her!
Tuesday August 27, 2013
By Cookie Steponaitis
There are people we meet in life that simply draw you to them like a magnet and they exude energy, presence or a sense of self that you want to experience. Often they are found off the beaten path tucked into the corners of the fabrics of our busy lives, yet they are as constant as the assurance that tomorrow is a new day. They live life with exuberance and humor. They brighten your day and one of these individuals can be found every morning at 6:30 a.m. at the coffee section of Small City Market. While some think it is her job the regulars know differently and start their day with Rita, who will give them much more than a cup of coffee. She will share with them a smile, a joke, a hug or even if necessary a boot in the posterior to turn their day around. As one regular remarked, “I come here every day and I don’t even like coffee.” Small City Market is where Rita Armell is and the party is starting every morning at 6:30 a.m.
Rita D’Avignon was born seventh in a line of sixteen children and came into this world in 1931 in Weybridge, Vermont. She quickly learned two principles that she still lives her life by. First and foremost is to always try to have fun and a sense of humor because it will take you through most of what life will hand you. Second was that everyone is entitled to one big mistake in their lives but you learn from it because you only get one life. While most Vermonters today would find fifteen siblings daunting or limiting at best, Rita simply lights up when she talks about her years as a child. “We always had fun,” Rita recollected. “Dad went out with us every evening and we played games. Sometimes it was hide and go seek and we played a lot of ball games. It always was boys against girls and of course the girls won because the boys weren’t allowed to hit hard against the girls.”
The D’Avignon family gathered nightly at the table for dinner and the first rule of business was manners. “If you didn’t say please or thank you,” grinned Rita, “You were simply ignored. No food, no conversation - nothing. It didn’t take long for manners to be learned.” Rita’s recollections of her large family also included the work ethic of her parents. On many mornings at dawn, her mother sneaked away from the brood and went fishing and upon returning to the home it was full tilt work from morning to night. “Canning,” paused Rita. “I cannot tell you the hundreds of canned items we had in our pantry. Picking berries and canning. Picking vegetables from our two huge gardens and canning. Basically you worked like hell all summer to survive the winter. Not only did my parents feed us but the house always had someone else living in it.”
If Rita seems light on her feet and nimble, her dancing days and Friday night adventures with her brothers may well account for her spry attitude and abilities of today. “My brother Theodore had an Oldsmobile,” shared Rita. “Every Saturday night we would pool our pennies and buy thirteen cents worth of gas to go to the New Haven Grange for dancing. We would also chip in to buy a package of cigarettes for thirteen cents. We thought we were living dangerously to go to the dance and hang out in the parking lot and smoke a cigarette.” She paused and started laughing before adding, “but the joke was on us because most nights we would run out of gas and the lot of us would have to push the car home. We had more fun.”
Rita’s own family does not include sixteen children but boasts generations including six children, fifteen grandchildren, thirty-two great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren with a third due at any moment. At the heart of her enthusiastic attitude about life is a faith in God and a firm belief that humor keeps things in perspective in your life. “Everyone has a bad day or challenges in their lives,” commented Rita. “Laughter makes your feel better and can get you anywhere.”
Whether it was her twelve years at the Vergennes Laundry or her current eleven years at Small City Market, Rita has become a fixture on the Main Street of the Little City. She possesses a good set of people skills and an uncanny ability to tell when people need a smile and she offers eighteen different flavors of coffee to people each day along with her wit, clowning and desire to have fun. “I absolutely love the customers,” explained Rita, “but the little kids are without a doubt my favorites.” Rita admittedly leaves religion and politics out of most of her conversations but still goes dancing to this day and believes life is for living. When Rita turned eighty her daughters took her on a cruise to the Bahamas and she was in motion from dawn till the wee hours of the morning.
The Valley Voice salutes Rita Armell and celebrates with her the philosophy that keeps her eighty two years young. Stop by and see her in the early morning at Small City, but keep in mind one more fact. “I’ve got the customers trained,” concluded Rita with a smile. “They clean up their own messes. That leaves us more time to talk, laugh and have some fun.”
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