Stepping into Bruce and Joanne Smith's home in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, is like stepping into another country. Or should I say countries? You're treated to a display that would make a travel agent proud – pictures, mementos, books, and artifacts from their numerous trips around the world.
A map and comfortable pair of walking shoes are optional for the tour. "The upstairs bathroom is China and the dining room is India," said Joanne, who stops to tell a story about every picture and trinket. The Smiths will happily pull out one of their many photo albums that chronicle their trips from start to finish. "When we both completely retire, we're going to read all our books," said Bruce with a smile.
Besides their love for travel, Bruce, who grew up in Jaffrey, and Joanne, a Keene native, have many other things in common. Both of their families had dairy farms, they are both hard workers who love interacting with people, and each had a long and distinguished career in the teaching profession.
Bruce, who played on the first soccer team at Conant High, left school early to join the military. Stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, he completed his GED and organized a team for the U.S. Army. After returning to New Hampshire in 1960, Bruce met his future wife at Keene Teachers College. "She trapped me," said a smiling Smith. "Joanne happened to be right behind me when I was signing up for courses, and she made sure she signed up for one of the same ones. I never had a chance."
"Joanne happened to be right behind me when I was signing up for courses, and she made sure she signed up for one of the same ones. I never had a chance."
The two married at the end of the year and, after the births of daughter Darcy and son Kerry, alternated between work and school to make ends meet. Bruce, an education major who played a couple of seasons on the Keene State soccer team, received his degree in 1964. Joanne, an art major, earned her diploma two years later in 1966.
Teaching jobs were bountiful at the time, and superintendents from all over New England filled the old Spaulding gymnasium looking for recruits. After working up north, they came back to Alstead, Joanne taking a job in the Fall Mountain school district and Bruce, after returning to KSC for his master's degree, eventually landing at Brattleboro High, where he worked in the resource room and began the first girls' soccer team.
Bruce also had another love – farming. While Joanne continued to teach, Bruce began a new chapter in his life, cultivating High Hopes Orchard in Westmoreland. In addition to a thriving pick-your-own blueberry, raspberry, and apple business, the Smiths also built a country store. Years later they added small petting animals and amusement rides for the kids.
Their next venture started with Bruce's mother's recipe for pie. Bruce and Joanne started a wholesale pie business that stretched as far south as Philadelphia. "It was trial and error," said Joanne. "We threw out a lot of pies at first." Expanding to accommodate the business, the Smiths bought ovens that could bake 80 pies at a time. In addition to the standards like blueberry, apple, and peach, they also baked holiday favorites like pecan, pumpkin, and mincemeat. According to Joanne, apple was the big seller. (She recommends using Cortlands because they don't cook down to mush.)
Bruce and Joanne started a wholesale pie business that stretched as far south as Philadelphia. "It was trial and error," said Joanne. "We threw out a lot of pies at first."
The Smiths decided to scale back their operation in 2005, maintaining just their wholesale fruit and pick-your-own business. With newfound time on their hands, they decided to pack their bags and see the world.
Favoring warm weather locales, the Smith's travel odyssey has taken them from Central America to Greece, China, and the Middle East – at last count, almost 20 countries. But Bruce and Joanne don't just visit a country; they try to immerse themselves in its culture. "We're not interested going to a place just to look at historical sites," said Bruce.
Most of the Smiths' trips are booked through Overseas Adventure Travel, an agency known for its small groups, adventure, value, and discovery on the road less traveled. "You have to be physically fit. Sometimes we'll hike three to six miles a day," said Bruce.
"We almost feel like ambassadors," said Joanne. "Because we're off the beaten path, we sometimes interact with people who've never met Americans. Once they get to know you, it can change their perception."
Bruce and Joanne, who left late in January for their latest excursion to Vietnam and Cambodia, each have a favorite destination to date. Joanne especially enjoyed the mummies and pyramids of Egypt, while Bruce was fascinated by the variety of attractions in China, including walking along the Great Wall or taking a ride down the Yangtze River.
As far as the Smiths are concerned, variety makes for interesting travel and interesting lives.