Just Across The Street Sharing Memories With George Smith
By Cookie Steponaitis
photo by providedGeorge not only loves the community of Bristol, he has been an active citizen for his whole life. One of his passions is helping people in the Bristol Fire Department.
photo by providedGreat Grand-daughter Delaynah is the third generation of Smith's serving others in the Bristol Fire Department.
photo by providedTo hear George Smith tell it, not only was fate kind to him in his jobs, but it got him the very best wife possible!
photo by providedTo sum up George Smith in one word, it is family! When generations gather he is his happiest and he is delighted when his home is a meeting place for not only his family, but friends and townspeople alike.
photo by providedProud of his service to his nation, George shows the image of himself serving in WWII.
George Smith likes to tell it that he lives just across the street from where he was brought up. While life for this wonderfully social member of the Old Farts Club has revolved around the town of Bristol that he loves so much, fate also took him into service of his country and across the globe. “Someone up above has always looked out for me all my life,” remarked George. Indeed it does seem that at turning points in his life fate intervened. Yet, just a few minutes with this gregarious man often referred to as one of the ‘barometers of life in Bristol’ George credits his family, the town and events of life for shaping his beliefs in people, work and how to celebrate life.
George and his brother Charles lived on East Street because his father who operated a grocery store in town could not see well enough to drive and the family always lived in walking distance to the family store. While the store’s location moved twice during its tenure in Bristol, it never left Main Street and George and Charles grew up with downtown Bristol as their home. “Where Shaw’s is today was the town skating rink,” reminisced Smith. “We didn’t spend a boatload of money on recreation. People simply got together and created places. It was baseball in the summer and skating in the winter. We were outside all seasons of the year.” Smith attended school at Bristol High and shared that his favorite subject was, “summer.” He did admit to a special fondness for his sixth grade teacher Mrs. Stanton. “It was not allowed to chew gum in school, you see,” chuckled George. “Mrs. Stanton picked one day of the year and let us chew all the gum we wanted.”
Smith graduated from high school on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and remembers he was in the pool room and the Barber Shop in town when the radio carried word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I knew the world was going to change that day,” shared Smith with a quieter tone. “I felt such pain for those poor people. They did not stand a chance.” Smith enlisted in Rutland and was asked what job he wanted in the service. He said emergency medic. “They promptly sent me to radio school,” grinned Smith. “I went from Sampson, New York to Indianapolis, Indiana to Norfolk, Virginia and the USS Topeka.” The USS Topeka traveled south through the Panama Canal, stopped in Hawaii and the men went on shore liberty. “We went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to see the beautiful Hawaiian girls,” chuckled Smith. “All we found were U.S. sailors. They had taken over the hotel and not one girl was in sight.”
The USS Topeka moved out into the Pacific with an Admiral of the Fleet on board and provided protection for the aircraft carrier. On the bridge with the signal men, Smith watched firsthand the planes taking off to bomb Japan Once in a while a plane doesn’t make it and hits the ocean. “We never lost a pilot that way,” clarified Smith. During June 20, 1944-June 10, 1946, Smith and his buddies developed the strategy of taking things as they came along and not getting stressed out, because the actions of each sailor was critical to success of the missions. Getting home actually turned out to be a three week process as Smith was sent out on a ship from China to Treasure Island, California which took two weeks. Next Smith boarded a troop train to Boston which put people in very tight seats with no sleeping bunks. and took four days to arrive in Boston where his brother Charles who had been stationed on the USS Arkansas came to meet him to bring him home.
Smith’s famous luck again happened with his arrival back in Vermont and an immediate placement with the Rutland Railroad where he started as a messenger. “The railroad used straight Morse Code and not the Navy’s International Code,” explained Smith. Working his own shifts, other’s vacations and filling in where needed, Smith worked the mainline from Alburgh south and went as far south to work as Bellows Falls and North Bennington. At a dance in New Haven Town Hall, Smith’s luck continued and he met Doris ‘Dot’ D’Avignon. “To this day I am not sure why she married me,” explained Smith. “She was a wonderful dancer and I could not dance. We danced our first dance to the song Three O’Clock In The Morning. Roger Audette had a 1937 Ford that he had lent to Chick Lathrop who was dating Dot’s cousin. We started out to take the girls home. We went down ‘the shoot’ in town and we got off the road. Not only did we go into the ditch but we turned over and she still wanted to go out with me again.”
The couple married on February 16, 1947 and had nine children, Larry, Jane, Micky, Nancy, Stephen, twins Jean and Joan, Terry and Denise and made Bristol their home. “I got the right wife, the right job, the right kids and the right life,” chuckled Smith. “The only classic mistake I made was bringing home an English Bull Dog named Big Mack. I loved that dog. Dot hated him and the feeling was mutual with Mack. When I smartened up and finally gave him to another family, Dot told me what a good decision that was. Dot stayed home with the kids and always managed to have a hot supper on the table when I got home. I worked most of the time, but we always enjoyed our children and all their growing up.”
As his luck would have it, on the very day he was to be forced to move to a Post Office far to the north an opening occurred in Shelburne. Thus began a rural postal delivery position that would last from 1946-1964 and counted for the use of five Subaru’s. Smith would start out in a Volkswagen and then would have to come back to the Post Office for a second load because the car could not hold all of the mail for the 500 customer’s boxes. “I loved getting to know people,” exclaimed Smith. “I learned to value people from my mother. My father died from a ruptured appendix at a young age. My mother took a job at the Vermont Box Shop so that she was home every night with my brother and I. Family came first.”
Whether it was the railroad career, the Post Office career or a twenty-four year stint working as the scale attendant at Bristol Land Fill, George Smith thrived on interaction with people and being involved with the community. As a village trustee and member of the Bristol Fire Department for the past fifty nine years and twenty three of those as their Secreatary/ Treasurer, Smith has looked to people helping people as a way of life. Proud that his granddaughter Karen and great granddaughter Delaynah have followed him into the fire service Smith enjoys being ninety and skunking friends at Cribbage. Smith was recently in the spotlight for his involvement in the Heritage Auto Group commercials and the video How to Live to Be 100 and finds joy in life and in living it. The celebrity phase began when the Mount Mansfield Media owner stopped in at Cubber’s and a meeting of the Old Farts Club and told the owner, “I’m looking for a character.” The name immediately provided was George Smith and the rest is now Addison County history and fun.
If you would like to know the history of any family, building or event in Bristol, George can probably help you out. Grounded in the life of the town, George’s joy comes from the chatter of people, the bustle of life, changes of the seasons and interactions with his nine children, thirteen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and keeping current on the news. “Please bring our boys home,” concluded George Smith. “America first and let’s keep us safe and prosperous before taking over the problems of the world.”
If any resident or visitor would like to meet up with George and other members of the Old Farts Club, stop by Cubber’s Restaurant when the coffee is flowing, the stories are stellar and advice is free. Pull up a chair and get set to be amused, enchanted and to learn more about life in Addison County than any book will ever teach. When you are done, shake hands with each and you will have a new friend, because George Smith never forgets a friend and he is indeed a character.