(Host) Commentator Willem Lange remembers fondly the days of the corner saloon, which in his village was the scene of a wonderful New Year’s celebration.
(Lange) I was raised to believe that we’re most vulnerable to the devil’s wiles when we’re at our most foolish; and with a paper cone strapped to your head by a rubber band, a drink in your hand, and a paper snake stuck into your mouth, it’s pretty hard to look or act anything but your most foolish. So there never was much bloom on the rose of my New Year’s celebration; and in recent years it’s gone downhill from there.
But there was a time – almost fifty years ago now – when New Year’s Eve was the social event of the year in the little village where I lived.
Tucked into the valley of a rushing river in the Adirondack Mountains, the village was supported largely by its summer residents. Men worked as carpenters, painters, highway crew, masons, and guides; women at the school, the tiny hospital, or the grocery store. Summers, the cash flowed freely. Winters, like the stream of a glacial river, it slowed to a trickle: cheeseburgers, gas or car repairs for passing motorists; small year-round checks for property caretakers.
The center of the village social scene was the Spread Eagle Inn. Folks in most of New England don’t appreciate the extent to which the corner saloon was an institution in the state just west of Lake Champlain. There was little or no stigma associated with moderate regular attendance. The owner and his wife were pillars of stability, and knew more about the private life of the village than anybody else. New parents brought their infants to be held by Mary, and to have their chins chucked by Benny. It was a happy place, and its habitu s a large, genial family.
The great event of the winter was New Year’s. The invitation was tacit; and all the regulars showed up. The juke box played for free, smoke cloaked everybody from the waist up, and the noise level was definitely higher and jollier. Then about one o’clock in the morning came the long-awaited moment — Mary’s Famous Free Buffet! Deviled eggs, sliced ham, potato salad, pickles, chips, and her famous gas-free baked beans, whose recipe, I presume, has been lost. Afterward, we sat around, talking and drinking coffee, before tackling the road home.
Somebody I don’t know owns the place now, and the name’s been changed. More summer folks stay year ’round these days, so the gentility is up a notch or two. Most of the old regulars have gone to their rewards, where maybe they still can order rye and water for fifty cents; but I doubt it. If there are baked beans there — and how could there be a Heaven without ’em? — I’ll bet they’re made by Mary’s recipe. I can wait to find out. But what a thing to look forward to!
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.