I have been off the grid and without Internet for about three weeks. So the first new edition of Inspection provides lighter fare’: an “appreciation” of how towns we grow up in, and grow up visiting, change…
When Bill Carman retired and returned to his childhood home, the Central Adirondacks, in 1972 his son, Ken, was already living here. I asked him…
“Dad, you’ve seen so many advances since you were born in 1915. Was it amazing?”
“No, Ken, the changes kind of creep in, unnoticed, a little at a time.”
I don’t think any teen realizes all the changes that are ahead. Or even notices them as they happen. This column, first published in fall of 1972 right after I left the Central Adirondacks for college was composed back then on an old 40s German typewriter my mother gave me in the mid-60s, complete with umlaut. I’m sure it belonged to her father, or even my great grandfather. The keys required long, stiff, strokes. So I developed a bang on the keys, 3 finger, style that, to this day, gets an occasional disapproving look when I compose in public libraries and such. Now I compose mostly on a laptop the size of a big book; a bit outdated these days; a device that probably has more computing power than all the computers at MVCC where I went after graduating from Town of Webb.
Did I notice the change? No, not really. And I still tend to bang on the keyboard.
I am leaving the Central Adirondacks again. I never want to leave. I didn’t want to leave when I left for college in 1972, so I planned ahead. Become an English teacher, come back to Old Forge and hopefully replace a gratefully retiring Mr. Lindsay. My senior year he loaned me his tie and coat because I hadn’t known class pictures were being taken that day. Years later I planned to thank him for that, and more, by letting him relax while I tried to fill some very, very big shoes.
Plans never work the way we think they will, do they? But I did get to come back after I had already spent over 20 years working at filling some other large shoes: clown like-shoes. My children’s shows have brought me back to Old Forge every year since about 2006, thanks to fellow Town of Webb student Chip Kiefer. But of course, since I bought my retirement shack the year before, the other town I fell in love with in the mid-60s had me passing through anyway: Beaver River Station.
Yes, I am leaving Beaver River Station, where I plan to retire, and heading back to Nashville where I have lived since 1978. Like my father’s time in New York City, Nashville was a place I went to to become more than I was, and for work. I regretted leaving and always planned to come back.
When Millie, my wife, and I return in early October for our 34th anniversary: married at Big Moose Chapel, there will be more changes, both in Old Forge and Beaver River… leaves. Leaves painting the beatific Central Adirondacks so artfully Monet might be jealous. We will drink in the magnificent foliage; always far more impressive than the slower tree by tree changes in Tennessee where I have been since 1978… though I have considered the Central Adirondacks home almost all my life.
I was told the day a certain local policeman decided to leave Old Forge, uncle Daryl found out they were opening a McDonalds in Old Forge. I wonder if he would have thought the decision a bit rash if he had spent the past few years, like I have, promoting my Saturday shows where the farmer’s market meets on Fridays behind Cohen’s Hardware… sorry, I still call it that… passing by the empty shell that was Mc D’s. Where not even ghosts of employees working for the guy with big shoes and makeup still serve up Big Macs or Egg McMuffins. Though, occasionally, I have wondered if it might be haunted when I pass by and hear the sad honk of a ghostly clown nose.
Many in my family felt the same about other changes in Old Forge: Water Safari, the far more intense bumper to bumper traffic that never seems to end after about 9, or 8:30, huge self serve convenience gas stations instead of Murphy’s Service or Thendara’s Brussel’s. Brussel’s: where they still used can oil pushed into a metal oil dispenser before being dispensed. If I wanted, I could grump about the house built in the field behind the old Ritz house where I lived until Dad moved back… where I road my Harley Rapido. I could grumble about the new houses and development on the south side of the Joy Tract… houses along the mighty Moose River where friends and I used to walk by nothing but woods.
But I don’t feel that way about such changes, though I do find our other residents, the deer, quite odd. Oh, I enjoy the deer, but I find their overt friendliness a tad disturbing. My grandfather and grandmother watched over Bisby Gate for many years, long before the South Shore entrance was built. Gran used to marvel how usually timid deer could be coaxed into feeding from a baby bottle. That was with the encouragement of Grandpa’s slightly incorrect, and I’m sure illegal, salt lick. Hey, it was the fifties. Now they put you in reeducation camp for that, I suppose.
Considering a salt lick is a bad idea: not good for the deer, being less tolerant of them is a change I appreciate.
But the deer have changed too. You sure don’t need a salt lick anymore to attract deer. As Marianne Christy said, one day while visiting Adirondack Weekly, “Now they stop cars and wash your windshields.” And probably demand tips. Sirloin. And only from The Knotty Pine.
Would that be akin to cannibalism? I discovered in the 80s, when a deer decided to jump out in front of my mighty MG Midget, Mr. Magoo, that deer, when hurt, moo like a cow. Are they distant relatives? I also discovered in the 80s, probably due to differences in diet, that Tennessee deer aren’t as delicious as the one deer Grandpa got every year at the Gate. Gramps would sit on the small screened in front porch and wait. Every year Gran had to patch another bullet hole in the screen door from the discharge. He never bothered to open it.
I do enjoy some of the changes: Internet at the library, cell phone so good even if I hit a stump on the west end of Stillwater I can call for help. I still remember calling collect to my friends here when I was a lot younger and lived near New York City, asking for a number. “9W,” if I remember right. The operator would never believe there was still a place without dial service, until she patched me through Boonville. Then we have events around the pond that remind me of wooden race boat shows in Meridith, NH; just south of Squam Lake: aka Golden Pond. To me Old Forge has added this and more without some of the glitz that greets me when I tour through the Winnipesaukee region of New Hampshire.
I do miss some things that have changed, gone away. Nationally I miss the common thread we used to have: three news networks, entertainment that left us saying, “Hey, did you see what was on Red Skelton last night?” Now it seems we all have separate heavens: Nirvanas; like our own questionable “news” sources that tell us exactly what we want to hear. That’s not “news,” in my opinion.
Opinion of a sometimes cranky, elderly, curmudgeon, Communications/Mass Media major offered free of cost, of course.
Locally, just seeing Lorenz’s Showboat cruise the Moose is one thing I miss. My father, Bill, installed the CB radio for Don Lorentz, in exchange for free rides for us kids. Calling for help after hitting a stump might be grand, but there was just something about personal contact with an operator you knew before dial up arrived in this part of the North Country. Why is it so many advances take us away from each other?
I miss walking down by Old Forge Pond between The Pied Piper and what used to be just a beach house, instead of town offices and such. I even miss eating inside at The Piper. I’d love to be able to walk, if for just one night, into the Knotty Pine and be greeted by Betty Schultz, Tommy Dice and John Roberts again. I miss just walking into school and seeing old friends and teachers: everything is, by necessity, locked these days. Sometimes I long for the days I could take the trail to Nicks Lake and all that was there was quiet, serene: Nicks Lake. And last time I visited alma mater Town of Webb the pictures near the old study hall of past Senior classes seem to have disappeared. Included was 1933 when my father graduated. It made me feel like I had become part of something far bigger than just me, locally, and for my family.
How much of what we remember is skewed by the sweetness, or the bitterness, of memory? When I moved to the Central Adirondacks things were tough. My mother had died just a year or two before, life was Topsy turvy because Dad was given an option: move to San Francisco or Chicago. He chose, instead, to retire, retire on pretty much nothing, despite having gone from a poor Depression era Old Forge-ite to a Park Avenue exec who invented liquid coffee creamer, amongst other things. I had to support myself. There’s so much more I could list that gave me “the dickens,” and some might say should have made it: “the worst of times,” yet I have golden memories of those days.
I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Nationally we still had Nam, and it was tearing the country apart, we had had a list of assassinated leaders, riots and Watergate was about to splatter us all. Yet I seem to remember more tolerance of differences, less name calling, more ability to work together despite differences. The changes since have been harsh: 9/11, an economy bordering on returning to that very same Depression time that Dad went through, doing anything to put food on the table: like trapping for months at a time miles into the wilderness: Half Moon Pond, off the tracks, west of Fulton Chain: now Thendara.
But, unlike the rest of the world, most of the changes over the years in Old Forge seem gentle to me, kind of like Burdick’s store that is now the post office. Still small, and hanging inside is a picture of Burdick’s, honoring the past.
My brother, Jim, tells me it one of the reason Old Forge still appeals to me is because I partially grew up here, unlike my other two brothers, and I developed a “passion” for Old Forge. I suppose, in part, he’s right.
Yet anyone who claims Old Forge has become too commercial has not compared it to Gatlinburg, sitting on the edge of the foothills of The Smoky Mountains. In the 80s I had a job exchanging Porsches, Audis and Mazdas between dealers…
Oh, the hard, vicious, demeaning jobs we must suffer through in life, right?
…and I drove through Gatlinburg many times, visual cluttered with woodsy commercialism beyond anything town fathers (and mothers) might have ever imagined for Old Forge.
Yes, the hard, vicious, demeaning jobs we must suffer through in life: like judging beer…
This May my wife, Millie, and I drove through Gatlinburg coming back from judging beer in Charlotte, North Carolina. I swore in the 80s it was so commercial there was no more room for expansion. I was wrong. The signs, and the glitz: were inches apart and, commercially, Las Vegas-like, in the 80s. Now, I swear, they’re less than a quarter of an inch apart. No thanks. I was tempted to tell the server at Smoky Mountain Brewhouse where we stopped for lunch what I told toll takers in Jersey once, “If yous guys get des toll booths any closer yall havta start kissin.”
Don’t think they appreciated the humor, or the poor attempt at Jersey-ese.
Many of the buildings are as they were, just expanded, new facades, additions, spiffied up, some different names. Even the big change: park on the triangle, is nice, though I’ll bet Chip misses the old location for Souvenir Village in back of where the Rondaxe Hotel had been, when HoJos was still around. Apologies in advance to the new business owners, but I also have to admit I miss HoJos and The Back Door, though I haven’t had time to stop and check out how well you have filled Howard Johnsons’ “shoes.”.
Have many of the changes crept in, slowly: mostly unnoticed? Sure, though perhaps less in general, and far less harsh, than in the country.. And I still love Old Forge and the Central Adirondacks. I can’t wait to return; especially when I return for the rest of my life.
It’s a family tradition.
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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