At Your Service: Sept. 9, 2009

His smile is of the contagious variety; the accompanying twinkle in his eyes gives you the sense, that for just this moment, the world is populated by only you two. She seems to be clairvoyant; before you ask she is handing you what you wanted from behind the counter. He’s only six, but he can tell passersby how to get from his house to the local tourist venue. It may sound like an excerpt from the latest television reality series, but it’s what I found on an impromptu Catskill Mountain tour this holiday weekend.
Some friends wanted to see some parts of the area that they had never visited. As the tenured full-time resident, I took on the role of tour guide for our little adventure. There were some pleasant surprises in store for us all.
From the passenger seat, I was afforded views I had not appreciated before. I spotted a few new-to-me barns, saw houses newly erected on once vacant lands and mostly saw the old familiar places with a fresh eye. When you consider the vistas as a context for life in these mountains, it makes perfect sense that people would be friendly and carefree. The reality is that life is very hard for most people here and is made more difficult by tough economic conditions around the world. It is a testament to the prevailing local spirit that difficulty seems to have pushed people to be more compassionate to their neighbors, those they know and those they don’t.
The above-mentioned gentleman took the time to chat and shook hands as we departed with cheese and eggs from his farm stand. At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice another sign of the times – the tin can for money has been replaced by a slotted lock box at most unmanned farm stands and fewer were unattended. People may have warmed up, but they haven’t gone stupid.
Shopkeepers were genuinely grateful for purchases that were smaller than they might have been in previous years. With fewer customers, there was more attention to spread around; idle chitchat led to real conversation. One friend purchased an item more expensive than his budget; an understanding of its origins and how it was made by a local artisan increased its value. It seemed that those on both sides of the transaction were satisfied with the purchase.
When a familiar route abruptly ended with a detour sign, our meanderings took us to a multi-family yard sale. The young green-eyed purveyor of the freshest lemonade I have ever enjoyed seems destined for a political career. He gave us a history lesson on his family farm, highlighting the livestock he had raised, and then directed us toward local venues that might be of interest to travelers. His favorite event is ice cutting at Hanford Mills; he encouraged us to return for the winter festival and told us exactly how to get there.
The trip was a full-fledged reminder that this is one of the most beautiful parts of the country and that despite, or perhaps even because of hard times, the people some of the wealthiest.