Times Past: Finding a home away from home in New Hampshire
|Published: 05-03-2019 4:01 PM
As another winter skiing season finds itself winding down, and we turn our focus toward spring and summer plans, I wanted to share a favorite place where I was lucky enough to spend time many years ago. To this day, I have memories that will be forever hard to beat.
In the late 1960s, I was seeking new horizons in my life, kind of where the wild goose goes. I had been working a few years as a dental assistant in the lower Pioneer Valley, but also spent time in the summer on Cape Cod. While at the cape, I met and made friends with those who had summer hotel jobs. While some went north in the winter to work at ski resorts, others returned from colleges to work at places near the beaches and oceanfronts.
Their compelling stories and enthusiasm for that lifestyle struck home, and all of a sudden I found myself yearning to try a hand at it myself.
I filed job applications with some resorts in ski country. Then I got a green light from a hotel in Mount Washington Valley — the New England Inn & Lodge in Intervale, N.H. — where I would be serving at the front desk and operating the switchboard. This opportunity came about strictly through correspondence and a resume. I had also opted for the second shift, which would allow me to have free time for skiing until 3 p.m.
I gave my notice to the dental office, packed my bags and guitar into the back seat of my Volkswagon Beetle, put my skis on the rack, and I was ready to go. My dear mother decided to ride up with me and we booked a room at a bed and breakfast in North Conway, N.H. We stayed together for a couple of nights before she took a bus back to Springfield.
What glorious country I was to discover. Mount Washington loomed in the background over this charming valley, along with the Presidential Range and Cathedral Ledge. These mountains seemed like awesome friends, a backdrop to the picturesque town of North Conway with its friendly stores and people. The Carroll Reed Ski Shop, the Oxen Yoke Inn & Motel, and many quaint little churches and eateries surrounded the mountains, filled with happy people and upbeat vibrations.
Meanwhile, back at the inn, I began working under Innkeeper Malcolm Jennings a congenial New Hampshire native who extended his hospitality to the hotel guests from near and far. The inn was owned by attorney Bill Paine and his lovely wife, Gail, who lived nearby. The Paines had three young children at the time, “Decky,” Betsy and Stephanie, while the Jennings couple had two pre-schoolers, Page and Christopher, all of whom were learning to ski.
Page was about 3 and was her own person even at that age, while Chris was a bit more shy. I was called on to join Betty (Mrs. Jennings) and the children to go skiing and help keep an eye on them. Page used to like to be carried around and would likely ask her mother or me to “carra her.” She did not hesitate to bicker over ski poles with Chris, and needed intervention to settle these disputes.
I came to feel like part of the family of this closely knit staff consisting of many locals that had been there for ages. My roommate Debby Appleton had practically grown up on skis in Gorham N.H., and she knew all the locals and all the guys.
I had only been skiing for about one year, having taken lessons at Mount Tom, so I had a ways to go. I was terrified of riding chair lifts, due to the heights, but as luck would have it, I met an instructor at Attitash Mountain Ski Area (George “Terry” Terriault). He took it upon himself to get me past my fear of heights.
In so many ways, there was ever-present camaraderie in this close-knit community. In one case, my roommate, Debby, was suddenly stricken with a ruptured appendix and spent quite a while recovering in the local hospital. We all missed her at the inn, where the staff collected money for a gift that I chose — an adorable “Dr. Mouse” statue.
Then there was the après- ski life, which was full of entertainment. One swinging spot, the Ravine Room, was located right there at the inn. If I had the night off, I would visit the bar where young pianist Frank Bennett would play.
Those days went by so quickly, and upon my return to the real world, college and a professional career, I did not manage to get back that way even though I longed to.
Suddenly, one day about 20 years later, some tragic and shocking news from the Washington Post reached me. The Jennings couple had been found murdered in their cottage in Jackson N.H. Soon, there emerged a tale of a family in torment.
It appeared that Page, who had grown to be a tall, handsome young woman and a champion javelin thrower, as well as a high school honors student, had dropped out of Simmons College and headed for Alaska. She must have felt that same urge to find new horizons, as I had felt, but did not hear the same sweet music as I did.
She fell in love with a man with eight aliases, who her family hated and had served three prison terms for burglary and car theft.
In the fall of 1984 after a year’s on and off romance between Page and this Glyde Earl Meek, the Jennings reportedly told Page, “It’s either him or us.” Page was 21 at the time, the same age as I was when I went to work at the inn.
The story continued in October 1986, when the remains of Page Jennings and Glyde Earl Meek were found in Gainesville, Fla., along with an eight-page suicide note written by Meek.
“Our time has come,” the note reportedly began. “We can’t live with this, so we’ve decided to live the only way we can together.” Chris Jennings, who I’ve heard is alive and well with a family of his own, was quoted as saying he was confident in the findings and identification of his sister, thus ending the horror and mystery once and for all.
Thinking about it today, I am at a loss for words except to say that if Page had only found the rewards of life in her own backyard, and not left her caring parents and brother among the New Hampshire mountains and valleys, her answer might have been found “blowin’ in the wind.”
Eleanor Small, known to her friends as “Ellie,” is a native of South Hadley and a former social worker. She has contributed to the Equine Journal and Driving Digest Magazine.