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Entries in Roxbury (5)

Friday
Mar162012

Teetotaling, Language-Loving, Rule-Making, Prank-Pulling Esther Snyder

Esther Snyder is just one of the people I love to write about. Full of contradictions and character, she has glamour, style, taste – and a sense of humor. She grew up on a 500 acre dairy farm -- before the advent of milking machines. Or at least before her parents got them. I got to write a profile of her for the local paper the Catskill Mountain News when she retired recently. She was their copy-chief but also their standards-bearer,  and adjudicator in all sorts of matters.

 

Read on:

 

“Restroom.” That word drives Esther Snyder crazy. So does “school teacher” when it’s spelled as one word or “fundraising” minus the hyphen. She also can be impecunious where dashes are concerned. Last week the Catskill Mountain News lost its “conscience,” as editor Dick Sanford describes her.


Esther Snyder retired. She was not only the paper’s typist and proofreader but she also kept the publication on the straight and narrow (and I have to say it’s thanks to her memory that I remembered to use a “not only… but also” construction in that sentence). “There was no swearing around her, and her presence created respect,” Sanford says.

THREE GENERATIONS


Over her tenure, she worked for three generations of Sanfords at the paper. She first started there just after WWII and returned in 1986. She shakes her head, recounting her first stint serving as vacation cover for Clarke Sanford’s secretary. “I don’t know how he picked me. I didn’t know him. I was still in school when he called and asked me to work for him.”


She recalls how farmers would come in and visit with him in the office, and true to what a stickler and pack rat she is, she still has her pay stubs from that time. Now at a desk downstairs in the paper’s office, she laughs about them. Her hair is up in a net and pinned back in a swirl, and she still looks as she might have when she started at the paper in the ’40s. She wears a pleated skirt and bowed blouse with red dots under a pale blue cardigan, the same ocean shade as her eyes.


In 1946 when she graduated Roxbury Central School as Valedictorian, Snyder had no plans to stay in Denver. Let alone work at the Catskill Mountain News “My sister wanted to be a nurse,” she explains, “and my ambition was to work in a five-and-dime as a cashier.” She went to Kingston and got a job at Newbury’s, but got cold feet. She didn’t want to move to the city.


“I was a homebody,” she says and credits her change of heart to God. “I have a great faith in God and prayer, and He worked it out for me to come back.” Talk of religion peppers her conversation. She often says, “You’re not ready to live till you’re ready to die,” and she was relieved to be home because her father died soon after of appendicitis. She wanted to be home to help.


After the News, she went to work at Roxbury Central School as a secretary and clerk and even bus driver. She puts her hand to her mouth as she describes her first time driving. She was a substitute and it was in the rain.

“The principal came with me,” she shakes her head. “I had a desire to drive the school bus, so I took the exam. I couldn’t drive a bus now though,” she laughs. “There’s no way I could wake that early anymore, but I used to drive the Gilboa route.”

Snyder grew up in Denver on a 500-acre farm. “We didn’t have milking machines,” she recalls, “and my sister and me and mother and father and grandparents and the hired man, we’d all do the milking.”She tells stories of haying and threshing oats and skiing down the pastures in winter. She also credits milking with helping her learn French.“I’d pin the vocabulary words to my overalls to learn the words while I milked.”

That dedication to language shows her early promise for her duties at the paper. In 1986 she retired from RCS and returned to the News as typist and proofreader. True to form she can recall the exact date: October 22. A perfectionist and teetotaler, she served as the guardian of language and mores. About the proofreading she says it wasn’t “a natural skill” for her. “I worked myself into it.”

SHE WROTE THE BOOK

She has left behind not only fond memories but also a 20-page manual of words that are often misused like that “restroom” spelled as one word or the hyphen-free “fundraising.” She reports that it should only be used that way when it’s a verb, not a noun.


Sanford pays great homage to her and her abilities. At her retirement luncheon on Tuesday he said, “The world would be a better place with more people like her in it. She created a respectful atmosphere. She also represents the end of an era in newspapers. Everyone just uses spell check today. Even the great New York Times is now full of typos. We will miss her.” Sanford added, “We’re all living in mortal fear that next Wednesday or Thursday she’s going to come walking in the door with a marked-up copy of the paper, and all of the typos we missed will be highlighted in red ink.”

Wednesday
Aug102011

Give us your tired, your hungry, your zucchini.... 

 

In this week's Catskill Mountain News, local gardeners coming to the rescue of hurtin' food pantries.

 

Roxbury resident Jill Ribich is a woman who likes a mission, who with her Texas determination, sees a problem and sets out to fix it. Here: helping the hungry and finding a home for the excess produce from local gardens. She organized the Catskills Community Garden Club to donate homegrown goods to local food pantries. With its 30-some odd members they’ve come together just when area food pantries are the most desperate.

People often think of winter as a time to help the hungry, but right now the need is dire. The 14 community food pantries in the county, flung across towns from Grand Gorge to East Branch and including Roxbury, Andes and Margaretville, are in trouble. Normally they get their supplies from the Hamden-based Delaware Opportunities, which until June acted as a countywide distributor to the smaller community pantries. But, the organization lost its grant to provide the service though they are continuing to stock their own Hamden-based food bank.

When they realized they might not get funded to distribute to the local pantries, Delaware Opportunities encouraged all of them to apply for grants from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham. Only five applied, and Sue Dapkins, the group’s community services director explains. “I believe all five got funded, though I’m not sure to what degree.”

Margaretville received $1,500, which might sound like a pittance, but Dapkins says it’s close to what the village had received via Delaware Opportunities. Only now the Margaretville Food Pantry has to get it directly from Latham. “It gets a tremendous amount of donations nationally from corporations as well as access to donated foods and USDA purchased foods and commodities. By joining, local pantries like Margaretville get the benefit of the Regional Food Bank’s purchasing power.”

Margaretville’s $1,500 grant might go far, but the problems are obvious as Josie Stern stands in the cramped quarters of the Margaretville Food Pantry. She’s worried about the future. The grant won’t kick in until September at the earliest, and then it requires jumping through hoops from state inspections to budgeting and learning to deal with new official paperwork, plus applying for more grants – all of which stretches a small volunteer-run organization.

Participation anonymous The pantry, located in a garage behind Rettew Engineering on Main Street, is run on anonymity and need and respect. The group asks those in need to fill out an application but doesn’t require proof of hardship. One volunteer said that on Friday afternoons when the pantry is open two hours for walk-ins, it will get seven, 10 people coming.

“Each person represents a family, a household, in the area. They’re mostly the elderly and young families,” the volunteer said. “You hear a lot of hard-luck stories. There will be construction workers who are out of work or injured and can’t afford their health care. They often can’t even afford to get to doctors’ appointments.”

Those seven or 10 people on Fridays represent only a fraction of those served. People can only come once every few weeks, and the pantry, whose reach extends from Fleischmanns to Roxbury as well as the Margaretville area, also schedules appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays.

While there’s still food on the shelves in Margaretville, all the local pantries are going to be squeezed. Dapkins says, “They’re going to be hurting and hard pressed at the moment.” The head of the Andes pantry, Joe Sicinski, said in the Watershed Post that he was nervous about how they’ll manage. So too is Stern about the prospects in Margaretville.

“Come the middle of the month when people have used up their food stamps, our shelves will be bare.” Bonnie Grocholl says the Roxbury Food Bank has weathered the cutbacks okay for now – but only thanks to the local gardeners.

The Catskill Community Garden Club has set up Quarltere’s Garden and Market Place on Route 30 just north of Halcottsville as the drop off location for food and vegetables. Anyone can donate, whether or not they’re a member, and they can give produce, canned goods, checks or cash to benefit the food banks. Ribich explains that the group’s larger purpose is to pick projects that help communities, like planting flowers in Kirkside Park this year, but the members wanted to do something more.

“And right now gardens are just becoming flush,” Lauren Quarltere says. “We’ve already collected hundreds of pounds of vegetables and distributed them to Roxbury and Margaretville. It’s good to see how people in the community come together.”

Ribich adds in her Texas drawl, “That joke about how in summer you need to keep your windows up or else you’ll come back to a car full of zucchini, now keep them rolled down and just drive straight to Quarltere’s.”

 

Wednesday
Aug032011

Getting Hitched in a Barn

 



Seems that everyone now wants to get hitched where horses and other livestock once were (and not that long ago either). Locavores, farm-to-tablers, back-to-the-landers and Brooklynites one and all... From this week's article in the Catskill Mountain News.

This weekend someone will be getting married in Roxbury. It doesn’t matter which weekend it is, but the odds are that if it’s summer and a weekend, a wedding is under way. Over the past few years the Catskills have become a popular location for nuptials. The trend coincides with the rise of CSA-box-buying, locavore-eating, farm-to-table back-to-the-landers. It’s the staycation meets the destination wedding because it’s so easy to get here, and the Western Catskills ticks all the above boxes.  And, the most popular location? A barn. Not just any barn either. According to local wedding planner and photographer Jill Ribich it has to have a certain je ne sais quoi. Plus parking, a view, landscaped grounds, and it must be finished, well maintained and safe. Bathrooms, however, are optional, so too until this summer was electricity.

Recently on a Friday afternoon in Roxbury, a bride-to-be stood in shorts and sneakers in Roger Ross Williams’ barn. She and her friends were filling cut-down wine bottles with ferns and moss to make terrariums for centerpieces. Just outside, a debate was taking place about whether or not it was possible to buy blocks of ice – the sort used in ice houses 70 or so years ago.  The blocks were to be arrayed in an old aluminum canoe to cool the beer. Mere bags of cubes were not stylish or quaint enough, and it’s that quaint quotient which is high here and which attracts weddings to the area with people using hay bales for seating and where the flowers are arranged in mason jars, antique pitchers or old medicine bottles. It’s that certain rustic quality that an old aluminum canoe embodies.

This June a wedding was put on at Stone Tavern Farm by someone who worked on the Clinton wedding. For this the planners trucked in everything from plates to flowers causing gridlock on Upper Meeker Hollow. “They had 70 workers here for days beforehand,” John Burrows, owner of Stone Tavern Farms explains. There was one whole semi for the flowers. “The smell was about enough to knock you on your back after the blooms has been locked up so long,” he says and was more shocked though at the price of the plates. Each one cost over $500. That’s the plate itself, not what was on it or a set of them or the cost of the catering but one dish. A dish used in a barn. Clearly barn weddings are bringing big money to Delaware County. 

Most of the weddings aren’t so upscale. They’re more the hand-made crafty sorts like the woman who was creating the terrariums-as-centerpieces. She’d been working on them since Christmas, scoring and sanding wine bottles her friends collected for her. Roger Williams explains, “It’s very specific type – all local, organic, bohemian from Brooklyn.” Just as that borough is often discussed with wide-eyed wonder in the New York Times for its home-butchering and handmade spirit, it’s that vibe that brings couples to the Catskills. 

“They all want Lucky Dog and Harpersfield cheese,” Williams says as if the weddings are about bringing the Round Barn to the bridal party. Another thing brides like? Bonfires. “Everyone wants one,” he explains, “and those paper bags with candles leading to the bonfire.” Few couples, though, want traditional cakes anymore, opting instead for cobblers and pie buffets. Marybeth Mills of the Peekamoose explains, “It takes a lot of work to make it not look polished. I’ve dyed tags in tealeaves, and the handwriting –” she sighs about trying to make it not look too calligraphic.

“These are not your hokey pokey dancing weddings,” Mills adds. “They’re forsaking tradition, and getting married itself is more laid back. Some are doing their vows when the spirit moves them,” almost like a Quaker meeting. The satin-wrapped ballroom chair that was once a wedding mainstay has been replaced with a hay bale, and not just any hay bale either. The farmer gets them back at the end, ostensibly just renting them out for the festivities. Because of the popularity of the Catskills for weddings Jill Ribich and Lydia Castiglia of The Flower Shop, formed a company in 2008 as wedding planners supplementing the work they were already doing as photographer and florist.

The weddings-in-a-barn business all started as a fluke of sorts five years ago. That’s when both Williams and Burrows hosted their first weddings. Williams’ neighbors, JP and Amanda-Rey Danko, wanted to get married in his barn. Danko said he’d fix it up and went to work on it with friends transforming the former chicken coop, then in July the wedding. That wedding led to three more the next year including two editors from Timeout NY and a costume designer for the Sopranos, and that was enough to make Williams’ barn hip.

Marybeth Mills catered the first wedding at Stone Tavern Farm. The reception was in a working barn, their indoor riding ring. It was a 5,000-square-foot space, and Mills and others blocked it off with hay bales to make it more intimate. Burrows hosed the dirt floor down and put hay on top, but everyone was breathing that dust for days. It was everywhere, Mills recalls. For his first four years Williams had no electricity. He was running extension cords to the house and only wired the barn this year, about the same time Stone Tavern Farm finished the floor and added toilets.

The upgrades and investments have been worth it. “Weddings,” Burrows says emphatically, “have gone from the smallest part of our business to the largest.”

Few people see, however, the impact they’re having on the region. They’re part of why the Hidden Inn’s reopened and are driving traffic to many inns and B&Bs. Williams explains that a wedding has countless knock-on benefits keeping dozens employed part time. “There are the fiddlers, either Jeanne Palmer and Connie Mohar from Roxbury or Hilt Kelley from Pine Hill. Neil Driscoll from Patria gardens does the grounds. Cindy Whitney mows, and the neighbor boy Drew Underwood makes sure the Adirondack saplings are all in the right place on the bridge. Shawn Farnum, from the Tree Amigos, sets up the bonfires. Dave Dumond does trash (each wedding requires a separate pickup) and the rentals and tables and chairs often come from Mike Finberg. There’s Uncle Bob for the port-a-lets and Shephard Hills for the golf carts because people rent them for the day to get around. Everyone also rents school buses and vans to shuttle guests back and forth, so no one drives drunk and then there’s hair and makeup with Karen Neblung, and often the train for the rehearsal dinner.”

If that’s happening 22 times a summer (and this summer it is between the two barns in Roxbury alone) that’s an economic boon that few are discussing. Based on their weddings last year alone, Stone Tavern Farm estimates, “Our weddings brought almost 3,000 people to Roxbury for two nights each last year. That’s approximately 2,500 rooms at $150 each making $375,000 in room revenue. Each person has two dinners, one lunch, and two breakfasts for 15,000 meals served at $20 each, averaging $300,000 for food, and that doesn’t count other items like gas, entertainment and gifts and shopping.” Even if the figures are high – and they do seem to be since many breakfasts will be included in the lodging – that’s still a great deal of money and it doesn’t even count the actual wedding. Ribich says the least expensive wedding starts at $10,000 and a well-planned affair can go upwards of $30,000 – something Burrows himself can attest with his gridlock and $500 plates.

Mills at the Peekamoose gets at least a call a day about a wedding, and now that gay marriage is legal, Ribich says the market will only continue to grow. “According to the New York Daily News, same-sex marriages could increase New York State tourism revenue by $400 million over the next three years. If we bring just 2% of those weddings here, it will pump $8 million into our economy.” Her photography business Catskill Images has already booked more weddings for 2012 than all of 2011, and she and Castiglia, her partner in Catskill Weddings, have started advertising on same sex marriage websites to promote not only their business but the Catskills in general as a wedding destination.

Weddings though have another added boon to the area. They’re how many people get introduced to the region. If a handful of guests return and keep returning, that’s more and more people visiting and supporting the local economy. In this though there is one problem everyone named. Lodging. The area needs more rooms for more guests.

That bride in her shorts at Roger Williams’ place? She was bussing in her guests from Schoharie.

 

Tuesday
Jul262011

The Kids Are Alright.

I've been blogging with the kids working on the Roxbury Community Garden. You can read their first posts here

In our first session we talked: Snakes, corn, unidentified melons and stories of glass houses. That might sum up my morning with Robbie, Collin (“with two Ls,” he told me proudly) and Nick-from-
New-York-City.
All three garden in Roxbury. I was there talking to them about
writing and blogging (and at some point even the differences between the third and
first person. Never too young for grammar, I say.)

Robbie started working on the garden at 5 in kindergarten and has the tales to
prove it. Including trying to kill a snake last week. This snake was a harmless garter
snake, but I think this qualifies as a boys-will-be-boys moment. What went from
Robbie’s talking about trying to pick it up, quickly (with two-L Collin’s arrival)
advanced into the truth. Robbie had tried to kill it. Or, as he put it “Lightly Remove
Its Head.”
He is writing about that this week.

Read on at the Roxbury Central School Garden Club blog

 

Monday
Aug302010

From the Horses Mouth

Here in the sticks there is little graffiti. When Obama was running, we had a spate of Hopes and stenciled Barack heads ala Shep Fairey. (That’s when I knew Barack would win…). But, through it all one piece has endured up here. Not TJ + Rhonda. Or Tim hearts Tammy, but “Mr Ed” – big, white and spray-painted with dripping Krylon. You can find this wonky masterpiece on a boulder on the way into Bovina Center. It’s been there ever since I can remember – which for the record is 2004. (I’m no rural old timer, I admit it.)
 
Turns out that this Mr. Ed isn’t some kind of rural slander but homage. The talking horse hails from here. Yes 1960s famous TV talking horse is a Catskills’ creation. He comes from Walter R Brooks’s story “Ed Takes the Pledge.”  Long before another New Yorker contributor was living in Maine and writing about anthropomorphic animals was Brooks. He left his life as a former ad man and big-city NYC resident and moved to Roxbury NY. So, while Bovina is a full 18 miles over New Kingston Mountain Road (up here this counts as close) Brooks’ creation Mr. Ed endures as does his original home on Main Street in Roxbury.