How much can one person pack into a lifetime? Ask Audrey Miller. She has packed an astounding array of careers into her "travel-trunk," and traveled she has. Her latest avocation, however, involves unpacking.
The day I first met her, Audrey had just made an exciting discovery while unpacking an old faded cardboard box. It was a beautifully dressed, 12-inch, antique doll with carefully sculpted wax face and hands.
Continuing to search through more boxes of crumbling yellowed newspaper, she next unwrapped a second doll, elegantly dressed and made of porcelain. Upon researching these finds, she learned that the wax-faced doll dated from 1874, the porcelain one from 1890 and that a further discovery, an 8-by-5-foot flag of the Progressive Party, dated from 1912. These valuable objects were soon sold to eager collectors willing to pay a good price for such items.
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
Audrey owns Seven Gables, a charming antique and camp supply store in Onchiota, originally built in 1927 as a gas station. She bought it in 2003 and is as enthusiastic about her antiques business as she was about each of her other careers.
Her days are filled to overflowing as she divides her attention between the antique business, her husband Glenn, 10 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, five sons and daughters, other family members and numerous foster children. Audrey is a returnee to the area. She grew up on Lake Street in Saranac Lake and attended St. Bernard's and St. Pius X High School but as a teenager, like so many, couldn't wait to leave and see the "real world." Later, at age fifty, with experience under her belt, she couldn't wait to return. She missed the mountains, the proximity of family, and seeing friends and neighbors when walking down the street.
Her life has not been easy but because of all her moves she says, "I've done things I never thought I would do, been places I never thought I'd go, experienced things I never thought I'd experience, and eaten things I never thought I would eat. I don't regret any of it."
So how did she come to leave? She met her future husband, a Paul Smith's College student, at the Friday night dance at Saranac Lake's Teen Canteen. The relationship bloomed and they married in July, 1966 when Audrey was almost 18 and Glenn 21. A graduate of Paul Smith's culinary program, Glenn worked that summer as a chef at the Wawbeek Resort while Audrey taught swimming to children, one of whom came from the city and was terrified, not of the deep water but of the "baccarudas" (sharks) in Upper Saranac Lake.
In the fall of 1966, they moved to Mt. Holly, New Jersey where Glenn took a job as executive chef for Harry M. Stevens, a caterer at large horse competitions. Following the shows meant constantly relocating from New York to New Jersey to Florida to Kentucky. It was the beginning of a working life which would require the family to move 17 times over a span of some 20 years, but not always with the same company.
After the birth of two children, Glenn and Audrey felt the need to settle in one place for the sake of schooling. Long an amateur herpetologist, Glenn opened a snake house which didn't work out, then worked in construction but, injuring his back, soon had to stop. After that, they moved to Ohio where Glenn became executive chef for the Springfield Greater Dayton, Ohio Holiday Inns.
Audrey and Glenn eventually had five children: Scott, Todd, Mark, Jennifer and David.
It was during this time that Todd suffered two anaphylactic shocks, both as a result of bee stings. It was terrifying and Audrey told a physician friend, Dr. Allison, that she wanted to learn CPR so she would know what to do if it happened again.
He replied, "You need to become a respiratory therapist."
"Ok," she said, having absolutely no idea what that was.
And so, in 1978, she enrolled in Kettering College of Medical Arts outside Dayton, learned CPR and everything else that a respiratory therapist does, graduated, then worked for several years in area hospitals.
While Audrey was still at Kettering, Glenn was misdiagnosed as having multple sclerosis. Fortunately, it turned out to have been a back problem which was somewhat relieved by surgery.
By this time, she and Glenn had started their own family restaurant, The Old South. Glenn supplemented their income by teaching chef training at Clark Junior College in Springfield. Due to his back problems, physical work became increasingly difficult for him and they sold the restaurant.
A short time later, while vacationing here in the Adirondacks, Glenn was invited to teach at his alma mater, Paul Smith's College. In 1980 they moved again, this time to Saranac Lake.
Glenn taught culinary skills, managed the Hotel Saranac and eventually became dean of the college. Audrey worked at the Adirondack Medical Center until 1985 when she bought a Lake Placid antique shop, naming it "The Scotch in Me," which she later moved to Saranac Lake and renamed Audrey's Attic.
Ten years later, in 1990, Glenn was hired as regional director and later vice-president of Coverall, a large nationally franchised janitorial company. He and Audrey moved to the Chicago area.
The year of 1999 was a heartbreaking one. In the span of a few months, Audrey lost her father, her sister, five other family members and close friends. Much as she loved her job, returning to hospital work with terminal patients was too raw an experience. She took a break from the work. Homesick for the pleasures of her youth at the family's platform camp on Moose Pond, she longed to have a similar place where she could escape for a little rest and relaxation from a hectic life.
With Audrey' 50th birthday approaching, Glenn asked Adirondack family and friends to keep their eyes open for a camp. They found one on Oregon Pond. She and Glenn saw photos of it, then Glenn bought it, sight unseen, for her birthday.
Still living in Illinois and unable to remain idle for long, Audrey took a job working for a florist, helping to successfully revive the business. Next thing she knew, her husband had bought the flower shop and she was off and running in yet another new career. She grew the business, expanding it to two shops with a total of 13 employees.
Of the business, she said, "I never had a day when I didn't want to go to work," even though she worked 7 days a week and sometimes 24 hours straight during holidays. On Valentine's Day alone, her shops made arrangements using more than 10,000 roses.
In 2000, Coverall headquarters moved to Florida, with Glenn and Audrey moving there too.
Today, Glenn is retired. Both he and Audrey, lovers of the Adirondacks, have turned their camp into a beloved home, not leaving for their Florida residence until December.
In April, they return north again, Audrey opening Seven Gables for the summer/fall season. Her antique shop, Audrey points out, serves as a kind of memory lane for many of her customers. It has been a continual joy to run except for one nightmare event when a man drove his truck through the front wall. Thousands of dollars of antiques were smashed.
But even that has not slowed Audrey down. She is still packing and unpacking.
About her life, she says, "I haven't exactly been sitting in a rocking chair." With her kind of energy, it doesn't look like she ever will either.