A Catskill Catalog: April 22, 2009

“These were men!” That exclamation, almost Shakespearian in its emphatic simplicity, was the oft-repeated refrain of the late Doug Faulkner when talking about the generation that came before his. Doug was the longtime postmaster of New Kingston, a World War II Marine, self-made success as a businessman, logger, trader in real estate and rural artifacts, community leader, and keeper of a general store.
He might have been talking about M.J. Faulkner, no relation to Doug (or, at least, not a close enough relation to recognize in a mountain community where, at one time, everyone seemed to be related, back a few generations, to everyone else). Right after the war, Doug went to work for M.J. in the New Kingston General Store.
Doug Faulkner’s intelligence, work ethic, shrewdness and business acumen were the assets he parlayed into material success. He grew up on the New Kingston farm where he was born, was educated in the local one-room school and graduated from Margaretville High School. He didn’t have any money, he didn’t have a college degree. He had pluck and brains and he figured out how to make a dollar from the resources around him: timber and tomatoes, farms and furniture.
I came to the mountains from a New York City bedroom community, a place where men left the women and children in the morning to ride the train to do things that I, as a child, didn’t really understand: sales manager, vice-president, marketer, account executive. When I got to the Catskills, fresh out of college, I met men, like Doug, who did things I could see and comprehend, men who milked cows, cut trees, hauled trash, trucked coal.
The path to success – whatever that means – in the world of my upbringing was clear and linear: college plus job plus promotions equals career. Here I was in a place where success seemed to depend on looking for an opportunity, making an investment of money or effort or risk, and either reaping the rewards or taking a bath. Seemed kind of, I don’t know, archetypically American.
Our Catskill communities still contain men and women who have parlayed mountain shrewdness, native resourcefulness, and hard work into material and financial success. I won’t embarrass anyone by naming names, only remind them that they are part of a tradition of self-made Catskill Mountain successes. Of the generations that peopled the mountains before us, we can truly say, “These were men! These were women!”
I moved to New Kingston in 1972. By that time, Doug had left the General Store, had moved the post office into a renovated portion of his house. I heard stories about Doug’s abilities as a storekeeper, how he would study commodity future prices to determine how much coffee or frozen orange juice or bacon to buy, stocking up when futures prices were on the rise, so, at the height of price spikes, Doug could undersell the A&P. Or how, on Saturday evenings, he’d drive from farm to farm and house to house selling whatever produce he had that he didn’t want to keep over until Monday.
Doug’s daughter, June, and Barbara Condon each ran the New Kingston General Store for a few years in the ’70s, so I did get a chance to experience that traditional rural institution. They sold milk and butter and eggs, canned goods and groceries, coffee and tea, a little bit of hardware, some cloth and thread, with a gasoline pump out front. Most importantly, they sold neighborhood and community, although there was very little actual profit in that.
The General Store was a place where people hung out, especially men, who often, it seems, find it harder to find something to do at home than women do.
In the New Kingston store, retired farmer Marvin “Hap” Hosier was a mainstay, full of talk and good cheer and lots of gentle kidding of his friends, fellows like Guy “Sharky” Faulkner and Kenny Sanford, who hung out in the general store every day.
Bob “Buck” Russell might stop in on his way to or from work at the creamery in Roxbury or the central school in Margaretville. His brother, Frank, “The Professor,” would tell a story or two. The New Kingston General Store was a lively place.
We miss those kinds of places, places where neighbors gather to talk and kibitz and just be neighbors. That’s why we read of the collaborative effort to save Russell’s Store in Bovina, to make it what it once was – the center of the community.
It just worked a lot better when there was a dollar or two in it for some smart, hard-working mountain guy like the late Doug Faulkner.
©William Birns