In 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.