I used to camp with my friends on top of Ski Hill…
There wasn’t a lot to do as a young boy growing up in a small Central Adirondack town like Old Forge back then. Some nights I swear a meteor could shoot down Main Street; stop to chat with a quasar, have tea with a pulsar and leave town without anyone noticing.
Now if it’s a giraffe that escaped from the Enchanted Forest, my uncle… a local policeman… had lots to talk about.
Carmans always seem to have some story to tell, though my regular readers might not guess that.
I am, and am not, a hometown boy here. My father was offered a job on Park Avenue in New York City during the Depression when he was working on a camp. So he gave birth to me in Nyack, NY. This miracle has yet to make the Guinness Book of Records.
My Mother complained for weeks…
“Hey, that’s my job!”
(Actually, I’ll bet most women would love if men had to find out what giving birth was like.)
My great Grandfather was one of the best friends; perhaps the only friend, our most famous hermit ever had… Adirondack French Louie. Carmans have been here many, many years; since some time in the 1800s. So it was natural when my mother died that many of us moved back to where the rest of our family had been for over 100 years. I moved first and graduated with a class of 32; the largest class they had ever had. My father’s class was the largest in 33: at a whopping 17. I heard they just had 38.
When he moved back many years later I’ll bet he was amazed at how Old Forge had grown, yet retained its character. Unlike many tourist meccas I know, Old Forge seems to keep that wonderful hometown sense that we both loved.
The last Carmans left when my father died in 88 and my Uncle drove off in his motorhome saying…
“A McDonalds in Old Forge? It’s just not right!”
Actually I’m sure the words were far more “colorful” than that.
Old Forge never seemed to develop the Laconia or Meredith, NH, Lake Placid, or Gatlinburg mystique. I have toured through many of those tourist havens and find them lacking: lacking local flare, local color and, finally, soul. Where are the local riff raff? Why are all the buildings so new? Where would I ever find a shoehorn big enough to pry the neon signs apart in Gatlinburg?
Old Forge was always an adventure. I used to hate hardwares when I was young, but a trip to Old Forge Hardware; better known as Cohens, was always exciting even at 5 or six with my Dad. So much to see in this large amazing, colorful maze. Now its even bigger and more interesting.
Ah, to be five again and look up at all those shelves taller than me…
For the fourth year, this year, I performed in Old Forge, thanks to an old classmate: Chip Kiefer. I started at Byrne Dairy which rests in the old parking lot for The Knotty Pine, where I worked for three years as a dishwasher for Old Forge restauranteur: Betty Schultz. Oh, the Pine is still there, it was just cordial enough to share the strip along Route 28.
I commented to one local…
“Yup, the gates of hell are about to open at 9. Car after car…”
He smiled and said…
“Yeah, but the best thing is that a lot of them will be gone by Sunday.”
Then I sat outside Chip’s store; Souvenir Village: across from the old haberdashery shared now by Wrap City N’ Glue… who made the poster for the show. While in there I noticed they had a picture up on the wall of Berkowitz’s old store. It reminded me of the post office across from the old family homestead where they have a picture up of Burdicks, where we used to shop before going to Myra Spinnings: our rental cabin on Woodhull. There’s just something wonderful about honoring those who have gone before.
Back to the show…
As I sat outside Souvenir Village, I had my flower puppet named “Rose’ who likes to harass shoppers with her Bronx/Brooklyn construction worker-ese. Singing…
“Where have all the flowers gone… Hey, I’m right here!”
“Welcome to Old Forge. Buy lotsa stuff!!!”
Mr. Ritz, son to one of the finest grandmothers I’ve ever met, pulled up in front of the store, got out and sat beside me. I felt honored, but… work is work. Back to Rose and the banter.
Then I performed in front of about 40 people: young children with parents in tow. The show: The Snozard of Odd, my 1992 production.
As I left and headed back to Beaver River Station, I realized Old Forge has kept its soul. Yes, there are new business; mostly changes in store fronts. Paul Bunyan doesn’t seem to mind the screams of joy from the new water park. The drive-in ice cream parlor, The Pied Piper, is still there. They’ve even built a park to honor the old building on the triangle I remember from the 60s: dead center downtown… where Chip’s father once had his store in back.
Only the “new” McDonalds has really changed. Ronald departed quite a few years ago. Somehow I doubt many locals went to the wake. His house looks so empty and lonely across from the beach on Old Forge Pond. Some days, when I pass by, I swear I hear the honk of his clown nose as he sniffs back a tear.
Thank you, again, Chip for one of many chances to return to Old Forge and share what few talents I have. Nice to know that the wonderful small town I loved has not changed too much, just grown up a bit.
As have we all.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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