Camp Compo: Stories From Higley Hill

“Let us not be too particular. It is better to have old second-hand
diamonds than none at all.”
~Mark Twain, Following the Equator

It was as if he tucked his wallet in his back pocket, zipped up his ski jacket, and walked out the front door, never to return again. His snowmobile suit still hung in the closet and his clothes filled the dresser drawers. The liquor cabinet was well stocked, the ice cube trays full, and the fridge was loaded with mixers. “Can I make you a cocktail?”, Rich asked the first night we slept in the house.

Vermont House 2

His name was Richard, too. Richard Compoletero. It sings like some of the names in Moonstruck, and reminds me of the scene when Rita Cappomaggi answers the door and says “It’s Johnny Cammareri” in a lilting voice.

Compo passed away five years ago but his personality still fills the rooms of the funky little house we bought, more like a summer camp by a lake or an old ski chalet decorated in the style of 1970’s Italian trattoria meets the gothic vibe of Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows.

Italian Trattatoria

His three sons inherited the house, and I suppose like many of us, their busy lives interfered with their plans to use the place as a vacation getaway. As the years passed by, they continued to keep up with the bills and the real estate taxes but their kids grew up and the wives most likely tired of the place, so they visited less and less often, until one day they hung a For Sale by Owner sign by the front door, behind a pine tree, barely visible from the road. And so the house sat empty for a couple of years, until the day my husband’s good friend since first grade, whose name is also Rich and lives up the hill from Camp Compo, happened to notice the sign and a realtor he knew in the driveway.

Vermont Rich called us right away and gave us the phone number. My Rich reached the youngest son. “What a coincidence,” he said, referring to the unexpected phone call, not the fact that his name is also Richard. Fortunately, for the sake of this story, he goes by Randy. “We’re about to give the house over to a realtor.”

“I know,” Rich said, and explained about his friend driving by, and how we worked at an inn in Connecticut but were looking to buy a house in the area. “It would benefit both of us if we bypassed the realtor.”

Randy needed to talk to his brothers but soon got back to us. They were all eager to sell so he told us where they hid the key. It was a slow time of year at the Inn so the next morning we hopped in the car and drove up to inspect the place.

We’d seen a lot of wet basements in Vermont, crazy septic situations, deteriorating roofs, and other home improvement situations that were daunting. Camp Compo was clean, the roof was in good condition, and the pool table kind of sealed the deal. That and the Defiant wood stove. We knew old houses well. Our home in New Hampshire was built in 1728, and although we didn’t want to repeat that never-ending DIY project, we thought we could manage this if we could settle on the right price. Because of course, there was the not so small problem of a tumbling basement foundation that needed immediate attention. But our friend Vermont Rich is a stonemason, so we had that going for us.


Rich & Rich playing pool

We called Randy and made an offer that after a bit of back and forth he and his brothers agreed upon.

“I checked that Inn you guys work at and you seem like really nice people. Those are some great reviews you have. I feel good selling the place to you,” Randy told us. I guess it’s true what they say. What goes around comes around.

Compo was quite the improvisor. He also recycled long before it became the environmentally correct thing to do. The original house was a traveling bank. Some time back in the late ’60’s/early 70’s, he owned a crane operating business so had the equipment to also move a “pop-up” bank around to several locations in and around Stamford, Connecticut. Once one permanent bank branch was built he’d move the unit to another location, and when the project was completed he moved the modular unit to this ten acre chunk of land he owned in Vermont, where we now live. Two years later he built an addition; a great room with a west facing view of Haystack Mountain and some amazing sunsets.

Sunset in Vermont

Haystack Mountain at Sunset

He also worked on a house that needed a new entry way and when he tore down the existing structure, he saved some of the posts and the shed-like roof, and used them in the front entrance to the great room. Randy told us he and his father had a hell of a time taking the thing down. It was full of hornets nests and both of them got gang stung dismantling it. They kept one of the nests and tucked it in an eave as a personal sort of shared heroic memory. We’ve left it there for now because someone who recently stopped by to visit told us he saw people were shellacking them and selling them for a couple of hundred dollars on-line. The things some people collect never ceases to amaze me.

The fully stocked liquor cabinet was actually an improvised wall in the kitchen cabinet made with a piece of cardboard duck-taped to the shelves, separating the booze from a set of gold, green and brown plates, bowls, and coffee mugs. On the shelves with the Sambuca, Gordons London Dry Gin, Tito’s Vodka, Johnny Walker Red, and Cointreau was a container of I Love My Carpet and an unopened package containing something called a toilet flapper, so I’m not quite sure why Compo separated the improvised liquor cabinet from the dinnerware.

He certainly enjoyed his creature comforts and once he settled in to putting up his feet and relaxing, it appears he did not like to get up to answer the phone. I got rid of a dozen old phones, rotary and push button. They were set on little tables throughout the house along with a pen and a pad of paper nearby.

He also had a gadget for everything. In the drawers we found one of those wooden tongs that grabs toast from a toaster, an apple slicer, a tool to make watermelon balls, a garlic press, an electric can opener, a Vermont bullshit meter, a back scratcher, and something called The Giant Destroyer, two gas cartridges that kill gophers, moles, rats, ground hogs, skunks, squirrels, and ominously, Others. I’m glad we found this on a shelf along the stairs to the basement, not the liquor cabinet.

Once the foundation is fixed, we still have work to do but most of it’s cosmetic. We do have to rebuild the front entrance, for now we’re walking the plank, and a big priority is rebuilding the sunset view deck. Eventually, we plan to replace the wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors. Paint the walls. Do something about the bathroom. We’re not planning on getting in over our heads here. We’re off the grid, living a simple life, making our wants few except for that biggest of all desires. Time to live life. Time for me to write. Because if not now, when?

At some point, Compo’s personality will fade from the house and ours will take over this humble abode. We’ve already hung our pictures and moved our furniture in. Some of Compo’s worldly possessions, like the couch and the dining room table, now reside in an apartment in Providence where my youngest daughter will be living off Broadway when she returns from studying in Germany. But we did promise Rich aka Randy his Dad would remain here in spirit. By the pool table Compo left us we are going to hang the homemade sign that hung by the front door above For Sale by Owner. Every once in awhile we will make a cocktail, an old-fashioned real drink, raise our glasses and toast Mr. Richard Compolatero, in a lilting sing-song Moonstruck sort of way, for this beautiful spot on the planet where his simple vision and endless ingenuity will always reside.



2 thoughts on “Camp Compo: Stories From Higley Hill

  1. Another winning tale.
    I loved how Randy checked your reviews and felt good selling his family retreat to nice people like you. Loved it.
    Here’s to many years of living and writing.
    What, no Jack Daniels?

    Liked by 1 person

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