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In the Beginning, There Was the General Store (Genesis Chapter 1)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Dan Wolk – guest author

Orginally published on February 7, 2016 in the blog titled Tales of Finding - Wit and Wisdom from Brant Lake

Parts 1 and 2 of a four-part series

Part 1
In the Beginning, There Was the General Store (Genesis Chapter 1)

Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/General Store_Brant Lake.jpgIn the beginning, God created heaven and earth. Then, even before he created man and woman, he created the general store—perhaps so Adam and Eve would have a place to shop after they went East of Eden. I do not have any first-hand knowledge of the inventory of that first general store, possibly a variety of fig leaves, animal crackers and Polaroid photos of the tree of good and evil. That is only speculation.

But of this I am certain. Since earliest times villages have had a general store, especially in the North Country. And, in the depths of winter, I am warmed by memories of the general store at Brant Lake as a community gathered around the wood burning stove. I remember stories from the first facility owned by Judson Barton at the end of the 19th-century. In my early years at Brant Lake the proprietors were the Cronins. In addition to housing the post office the store was noted for donkey basketball games on the second floor. Quite a challenge to entice a donkey to climb a flight of stairs! I wonder if there was a shot called the donkey dunk!

However, the era of the Brant Lake store with which I am most familiar comprises the years of Daby’s General Store. On opening day Roger and Jane Daby counted among their inventory an old case of Wheaties and penny loafers that came apart  on their first wearing—inherited from the previous owner.

However, what Roger and Jane did stock in great supply was a friendly and caring attitude towards the people of Brant Lake–a quality on which no price could be placed.

Every morning, between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., Roger, who lived above the store, would appear, sweep off the front porch and arrange the daily newspapers  on the rack next to the front door. Then, at precisely 7 a.m., not a minute earlier, not a minute later, Roger would open the door for the early morning coffee cluster. Antique tools, an ax, an awl, a hammer, hung from the wall above nails, bolts and all the small appliances needed by the local contractors. 

The aroma of a $.29 cigar, chewing tobacco, a remnant of pine tar on the floor and smoke from the embers in the stove created a pleasing and unique atmosphere.

A glass case displayed penny candy, red gummy fish, Tootsie Rolls, a mint and, amazingly, impervious to inflation, they really only cost a penny. Of course, the jumbo eggs were new, laid by chickens that occasionally crossed Route 8, and the milk was pasteurized, but to enter  Daby’s was to enter another era. To symbolize this vestige of an age long gone, every summer, women from the Women’s Auxiliary sat at a table on the sagging front porch, selling raffles for a quilt with squares telling the history of Brant Lake. One image displayed a red one room schoolhouse located on Duell Hill Road. A second area of the quilt featured children on wooden skates gliding across the lake and a cow in the far meadow being milked by a woman wearing a broad brimmed calico hat.

In many ways, Daby’s may have been a portrait of a place where time stood still but inside there were changes over the years and, outside, cyclists wearing Velo sunglasses, dressed in bright yellow and blue spandex outfits with a corporate logo, paused briefly, tied their $7000 Trek bikes to a  railing where once horses were tethered and purchased a Coke from the machine on the porch. However, they departed quickly, hurtling into the future at high speeds. No time to linger. No desire to muse on what was. In today’s constantly changing world, permanence is an antiquated word, to be hung on the wall next to an old hammer or awl.

So, God’s creation moves on and, I suppose, that is the way life should be, but occasionally I am comforted by a remembrance of the past and I pause, if only for a moment, to reminisce fondly on the Brant Lake General  Store–a store that, sadly, is no more.

But that is for another story.

The General Store, Part 2: A Full Cup

Orginally published on February 10, 2016 in the blog titled Tales of Finding - Wit and Wisdom from Brant Lake

For those of us who were summer residents, Daby’s General Store filled our basic needs: a greeting in the morning after a jog into town for the morning paper, a loaf of Freihofer’s bread, or a jar of peanut butter to satisfy a grandchild’s desire. With the peanut butter came a new mop to clean up the floor after that same grandchild broke the previous bottle of peanut butter! Sometimes we needed a plunger for the toilet, frozen in the subzero weather, but all the necessities of life in the country could be found on shelves, Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Cups.jpgbehind shelves, under shelves at Daby’s General Store.

On visiting day at Brant Lake Camp or Point O’ Pines, a fisherman hitched up the suspenders on his threadbare khaki pants and cast into the Mill Pond as parents gathered in Daby’s for last minute shopping before visiting Teddy or Zack or Binky at camp. “But I promised my child I would bring him smoked salmon and bagels. You can’t say you don’t have them!” one mother lamented as she applied lipstick designed to leave an embarrassing smudge on her son’s cheek. Meanwhile, in the days before cell phones, her husband stood in a scarred wooden phone booth and spoke with his office: “Tell Ryan to buy 1000 shares and when ACM reaches 50 sell. I will talk to you later after Jeff’s ball game ends. Sorry I can’t be at the office–––but you know.”

On camp visiting day Cadillacs, BMWs, Mercedes and Lexus replaced the normal Ford pickup, with a rifle attached to the back of the truck’s window, that usually parked at Daby’s. In fact, one visitor, watching the sleek cars making their way to the camps, called the procession—The March of the Lexi!

But when I recall, with fondness, the inhabitants of Daby’s, I envision a row of coffee mugs hanging on hooks next to the metal cash register where a bell rang when the drawer opened. I think it was an old National Cash Register that, today, might sell for several thousand dollars. And, every morning, when Daby’s opened, the local men would come into the store, take a mug with their name or logo on the side and fill it with coffee. Rob’s light green mug bore an image of his coon hound painted in gold, Ellis had his name in large black letters. These men, who were the permanent residents of Brant Lake, would convene at a table covered with a red and white checked plastic tablecloth, near the wood burning stove. There was Ernie who worked at the Simon’s Place off Grassville Road and Clive, who lost a leg in World War II. Jake shared stories of the fire at old man Smith’s barn or the influx of blackflies that had invaded the ponds in a wet spring. Sometimes nobody spoke, with the exception of an occasional “yup,” which, in the North Country, speaks volumes.

An hour passed. The local residents hung their coffee mugs back on the hooks and scattered off to their jobs lumbering, working on the roads, as caretakers for the summer camps. The cups hung silently, waiting for another day, the last drop of coffee savored by the men.

Yes, those were the villagers of Brant Lake, men who visited Daby’s each morning. And those were the mugs, seemingly empty, except for a stray drop of coffee that waited patiently for their owners’ return. And, on occasion, I envied this quiet friendship unique to the general store. Minute grains of coffee, minute words of conversation, invisible but still nestled in the cups and the lives of those who had gathered together—sharing an unspoken intimacy as another day dawned at Daby’s General Store in the hamlet of Brant Lake.

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Uploaded Image: /vs-uploads/images/Dan Wolk.jpg

Dan Wolk is a writer, photographer and world traveler: he has lived with missionaries in Africa and South America, trekked in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal, and hiked among the hill tribes in Thailand and in the Pyrenees. He spends his summers in rural Provence, harvesting lavender, digging for truffles, and photographing the landscape and the charming local markets.

In recent years, Dan has done archaeological field work in Israel, at Tel Dan on the Lebanese border and Tel Miqne, a Biblical Philistine stronghold. With a longtime interest in international affairs, Dan worked for a period of time at the Carnegie Foundation on a Crises Anticipation project concerning projected problems in West Bank-Israeli relations..

Dan is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregational Emanu-El of Westchester in Rye, NY. He is also the longest tenured teacher at School of the Holy Child, an all-girls Catholic school, where he teaches the Humanities.

Dan spends as much time as he can at his home in Brant Lake, NY, which has inspired this blog. 

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