Every ski town, every small town (and Vale Perkins near Owl’s Head is most certainly both) has its icons. These outstanding and legedary people that in some way are intrinsically part of the foundation, organicaly part of the very fiber of their community. Orma Jane Jewett was without a shadow of a doubt one of those cherished individuals. Jane was the face of the Jewett’s General Store, she was the first smile that many cottage owners saw as they stopped-in for wine, baked goods, or spectacular hand-carved sirloins on their way to the ski-chalet or their lake-front cabin.
The Jewett Family have owned Jewett’s General Store since the dawn of man (in this case 1944). This iconic building that still sits at the intersection of Chemin Owl’s Head, Chemin Vale Perkins and Chemin Du Lac is exactly what you’d expect when you think of a Norman Rockwell-painted New England general store, except this particular one was situated at the base of the equaly iconic Owl’s Head ski resort, only a few kilometers north of the Canada-US border in a spectacular corner of the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
At Jewett’s Orma Jane was the lead singer and the “girls” (as I once inappropriately referred to them as in the CBC radio piece below) were the band. It was a joy to watch them work together. Such a tremendous feeling of family. While each of them had a job, the winning formula was dealing with the waves of customers while making everyone feel welcome and happy to be at the cottage. The mortar that held the business together between weekends and holidays were the locals… And Jewett’s took its responsibility seriously, it was built to serve locals and was happy to cater to cottagers and tourists. Not the other way around.
In the winter, racer parents like my mom would drop off their kids at the hill, and on the way down the mountain they’d dig deep to conjure up something they might have needed as an excuse to pop in, hoping that it wouldn’t be too busy so they could chat with her or Sandra (her older historian sister) while Carol (the middle sister) prepared your meat and Sue kept traffic moving by (more often than not) cutting to the chase… It was the go-to place to pick up a six-pack and thick pork chops for the pervasive Saturday night impromptu ski bum BBQ.
How many times has one rolled down the road and wanted to stop and chat only to see a dozen cars in front of the store and think “they’re too busy to chat” only to get home and realize you didn’t even get the milk you were asked to bring home. it was an integral part of the Owl’s Head ski experience and I, for one, miss it immensely.
Jewett’s General Store held such an important place in my heart, it was obiquitous to me (and many more) with my home ski resort of Owl’s Head. Even though they were independant of each other, they were symbiotic in many ways…
But much more important to me than the building, much more important than the store itself, was Jane. Jane was my friend, Jane was my confidante, Jane was family to me. I wish I had stopped by more often that last season she was with us… even if the parking lot was full… if only to steal a hug from her and say hello to Carol and Sue.
Jane passed away in June of 2016 and what follows is what I posted on Facebook on the day I learned of her passing. I was honored to be asked to read it by her sister at Jane’s standing-room-only funeral in neighboring Mansonville. One of the most impressive and emotional funerals that I’d ever attended. Virtually everyone from the Owl’s Head ski community was there as well as most everyone for the Township of Potton… and beyond. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking for everyone in attendance. Saying goodbye is never easy, Saying goodbye to an icon such as Jane is like cutting down a century-old oak tree in your front yard… To say that it will leave a void is an understatement.
What follows is what I read at her funeral:
Ma Chère Jane, the news of your passing was so devastating to my heart. I don’t know what to say. I’m stunned. I’m shocked but mostly I’m so incredibly sad. It’s so hard to believe that you’re gone. A better human being, a better friend, a more gentle, compassionate, caring person there will never be. You were always there for me. From my teens to every decade of my adult life including and especially in the fall of 2013 upon my return to the Vale after my many years out west.
I remember it was September of 2013, I was driving my van with my tail between my legs eastbound towards Quebec after leaving Winnipeg earlier that day. I was feeling sad and melancholic having shuttered my ski shops and left behind my many friends… I had stopped somewhere in northern Michigan for snacks and a refuel when right there, pumping gas in the middle of nowhere, I had a momentary thought of seeing you again after almost 20 years. I remember catching myself smiling and that’s when my focus turned towards Owl’s Head, towards where I began my ski career and where I was about to rebuild it… And I looked so forward to seeing your smile when I got back home.
Jane, you have been synonymous with ‘home’ to me for as long as I can remember. You’ve helped me through many a hard time in my life (including the ski season of 13/14)… And I hope that the many many moments of banter and laughter that we shared together meant as much to you as they did to me.
I’m not done telling the world how important you were to me, to Mark, to Jean-François, to Pierre, to Audrey, to Peter, and to thousands more. You were the soul of Vale Perkins. You were the heart of Owl’s Head. You were our mom, our sister, our confidante, our life coach, our best friend. You helped so many people in ways known and unknown. You were my oldest and dearest friend. You were the very definition of ‘family’ to me. I remember introducing girlfriends to you and it meant the world to me when you approved… But even more that you really liked them.
We’re all affected by your departure. All of us in grief still… It never took decades for people to become attached to you, you were that person that folks were drawn to. My girlfriend at the time and I even had a prank all planned out for you the day after your passing: We were going to send her then 8-year-old son into your store alone with a hundred dollar bill to ask you “excuse me, how many cigarettes and fireworks will this buy me?” just to see you laugh out loud. He and I were so looking forward to it. I loved the way you laughed at my silliness, maybe you were just humoring me, maybe you actually found it funny… you were much too kind to let me know either way.
You’ve impacted so many people in your much-too short life and you were so incredibly funny and giving. The art of telling the truth, of calling out our bullshit and poking fun at us while always being so kind and loving about it. From ski bums to local farmers to rich pretentious city folk acting like they owned the Vale, you treated everyone with humor, respect, and frankness. They simply don’t make people like you anymore. You had a sense of duty, of community. You were our monument and we are all richer for having known you and poorer for no longer having you to brighten our lives. But you are free now. To discover the universe, to ski without pain and to no longer have the immense responsibility of being our rock. And that brings me some comfort.
The thought of you not being around anymore still takes my breath away, except not in a good way. The feeling of vacuum that your departure has left is still palpable. Some people simply fade away after their passing but your life and your impact on our lives will not be so easily forgotten.
Dearest Orma Jane, while I’m going to miss you with all of my heart, I’m happy that I took the time to tell you how much you meant to me every time I saw you. I’m happy that the last thing I said to you as I hugged you at the end of our last visit was “I love you”.
I always will.