Last old-timer

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange laments the passing of the old-time storytellers, and never more than during hunting season.

(LANGE) The last of the old-growth Adirondack storytellers died this summer. We buried him down in the Norton Cemetery with
all the other old-timers. The cemetery has a wonderful view of the Great Range. All those old guys spent their lives in the shadow of those mountains, and from the shapes above them, always knew where they were. Now they gaze forever at the great north face of Gothics Mountain, waiting for whatever is coming next.

The old man and I met when he stopped and asked me to help skid a deer out of the woods. We dragged the buck out, and I think he gave me some meat. But what mattered was that from then on I was all right in his book, which meant more to me than anything else.

He was the dean of the local storytellers because he wrote down his stories and shared them with the summer people, who loved them.

But he wasn’t the best. No, that was old Bill. Bill had a gift for the details that pull listeners into a story: the aroma of Teddy Morri- son’s Virginia Rose Hand Cream; what the bottom of a bear’s foot looks like in a flashlight beam at night; the local girl who left a long-ago party to go upstairs and flounced back down the stair- case in red flannel long johns she’d found in a closet. For the rest of her life, I looked upon that old lady with a deeper appreciation.

Bill’s brother Charlie was almost as good. Like many old-timers, Charlie often took the name of God in vain; but devout Catholic that he was, he balked at similar treatment of God’s son. The euphemisms were beautiful. “By the old jingling Jeehopher Jeepers!” was my favorite. Charlie sometimes drew the long bow, but it didn’t matter. Who cares whether a story can be verified? What matters is the story.

There was Jim, who could make a roast or an apple pie, build a tractor from spare parts, repair a dilapidated canoe, and talk to the animals. Deer ate corn bread from his hand in the springtime. He gave me my first drink of whiskey – a porcelain coffee cup more than half full – and then noticed I was having trouble with supper.
I could cut the venison, and eat the mashed potatoes, but I was scooping the peas into my hand when nobody was looking and popping them into my mouth. “Here! Gimme that fork!” he growled, and mixed the peas and potatoes together. “There! Now you can get ’em in there.”

I don’t suppose those old guys knew there was somebody listening and tucking them all away in his memory: But there
was. How I wish I could pass on to the next generation not just
all the stories, but the experience of knowing all those wonderful old-timers.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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