The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Our Town in the Time of Pandemic

March 18th, 2020 · 4 Comments · Posted in Blog

Seven years ago we left our busy lives in the nation’s capital and moved to a small livestock farm outside this quiet town of 2,132 souls in upstate New York for some rural repose. But like everyone else lately we’ve been riveted to news of a global pandemic, watching cities, universities, entire countries fold up and fall like dominoes as markets tank. While we don’t have a huge economy to crash in this Grandma Moses landscape of knobby hills, Holstein dairy farms and sugar maple groves, life in our cozy corner of Trump country 200 miles north of Broadway is rapidly changing, even though only a few cases of the virus have been confirmed and none closer than 20 miles away in Bennington,Vermont.
First to go, of course, were the hand sanitizer, wipes and toilet paper. The shelves are all bare of those items at the Cambridge Market and the Walgreens. The 7 a.m. opening hour at the nearest supermarket, the Hannaford in Greenwich eight miles away, is normally ghostly quiet on a Sunday. These days there’s already a stream of shoppers filling their carts, a tittering swarm gathered in the paper products aisle when a small delivery of bathroom tissue arrives.
Cambridge Central School closed last week to its 868 K through 12 pupils, a real blow to the girls basketball team–the Indians–who were vying to repeat last year’s stunning march to a Class C state championship. It was also a bitter pill for kids in the drama club, who’ve been rehearsing for weeks for this year’s spring musical, “The Adams Family.”
Afraid of bringing the virus home to my wife, a Type I diabetic, I stopped attending strength training classes at the Greenwich YMCA  last week. Shortly thereafter, all classes aimed at seniors were canceled. Then came news that all of the YMCA branches in our region would close at least until the end of the month.
Likewise, we received notice via a local online bulletin–the daily Front Porch Forum–that the Cambridge library, an important gathering place for folks who don’t have computers or internet access at home, was shuttering until further notice. The library opened Monday with extended hours for people who wanted to check out books before the hiatus took hold. (I got a copy of “Moby Dick.”) But beginning Tuesday the doors would close with only one public computer to be made available “if a patron has important documents that need to be printed.” This, the notice added, “will be done on a case by case basis and the computer will be disinfected before and after use.”
Same story at Hubbard Hall, Main Street’s theater and culture center anchored by a 19th Century opera house where Susan B. Anthony–who spent part of her childhood in the area–once lectured on women’s suffrage. All classes and events–a cancer benefit for a local Irish step dancer, a performance of “Jack in the Beanstalk!” by Opera Saratoga, a Chopin piano concert, an LGBTQ potluck–have been canceled or postponed. In a video emailed to patrons, the hall’s executive director, David Snyder, stressed, “We will get through this as a community and come roaring back in late April or May.” The center, he said, will try to make performances and workshop demonstrations available electronically.
Roundhouse Bakery–our version of an upscale cafe with home-baked pastries, Friday night pizza and fixed-price Saturday dinners–announced that it was adapting to the pandemic by switching to take-out service only. Customers could order from a menu posted on Facebook, with deliveries made to the curb outside the cafe’s front door. Same with Argyle Brewery, the pub in residence in the newly renovated train depot, as well as The Bog, the tavern and popular hangout across from Walgreens at the town’s lone traffic signal.
At Loaves & Fishes, the local food pantry located in a former roadhouse next to the Napa Auto Parts store, the area’s needy normally are invited inside to help themselves from shelves of fresh produce, breads and canned goods. Now, food allotments are pre-packed and distributed at the door to maintain some semblance of social distancing.
Mass is canceled at St. Patrick’s church, as are Lenten luncheons and the popular Friday night fish fries that usually herald Easter. There was no Monday night bingo at American Legion Captain Maxson Post #634 and the bar was closed.
In a few other corners, life goes on pretty much as usual–at least for now.
Cambridge Food Co-op, the best source for bulk trail mix, vegan cheeses and olive oil, still flies an “Open” banner outside its storefront next to the railroad tracks.   The King Bakery family were still rolling out their antique donut wagon Sunday mornings to serve a town hungry for apple fritters, crullers and maple-glazed donuts with or without bacon. Men in overalls and work hats still gathered around morning coffee at the Stewart’s filling station and convenience store. Ace Hardware was still ringing up sales. At Black Dog Wine & Spirits, we snagged a bottle of 190-proof Everclear grain alcohol to make our own hand sanitizer.
(We’ve become sanitizing fanatics. We now rinse all the packaged goods we bring home from the grocery store with a bleach solution.)

Some St. Patrick’s Day traditions were being observed. At Yushack’s, a small grocery in the nearby hamlet of Shushan, known in these parts for its prime meats and wide variety of store-made sausages, the butcher was offering two different kinds of corned beef. We made a special trip for the one marinated in a dry rub of assertive seasonings. With our brisket and some Irish bangers, we crossed the street to Trip’s antique store to browse and talk politics with Angela Sturgis, the left-leaning owner who has not changed her routine.

Out on Rte. 22, a two-lane highway that runs through Cambridge on its 250- mile stretch along the state’s eastern border,  Amy McLenithan was doing a brisk business from the kitchen trailer and small dining cabin she recently installed next to one of the area’s largest businesses: the livestock auction barn. Eggs, bacon, pancakes for breakfast. Burgers, fries, grilled cheese for lunch. She expects things to slow a bit as the virus makes its presence more forcefully known here. But until then she plans to be open late on Thursdays as usual to serve dinner.
One of our friends here is social critic and author James Howard Kunstler, known for his abiding disdain of suburbia, automobile culture and big box retail, along with his predictions of civil unraveling under such titles as “The Long Emergency.” His more recent series of dystopian novels–titled “World Made by Hand”–is set in these very same Cambridge environs after government and the economy have collapsed. At one point, a religious cult takes up residence in the abandoned central school.
Kunstler, who also plays fiddle and guitar in local musical groups, told readers in his most recent blog post: “Even those of us who signed up for this trip–that is, who expected a long  emergency–may be a little bit in cosmic awe at just how much shit is flying into the ol’ fan. I know I am. The gods must have glugged down a mighty draft of Dulcolax.”
Asked if he considers himself prescient, he replied: “Well, I’m not going to take any premature victory laps for now.”
 The looming crisis prompts a dose of kindness and community spirit as well.
Connie Brooks, owner of the local independent book store–Battenkill Books, named for the pastoral river and trout fishing mecca that meanders through this community on its way to the Hudson–told customers she would happily start home deliveries of books and other merchandise to those shut it by the pandemic.
Two doors away on Main Street, owners of the town’s diner–Country Gals–who serve the area’s best Philly cheese steak omelet, announced $3 lunches for kids while school is closed. Soon after, the owners posted on Facebook that a generous customer had donated enough to pay for 33 meals. An hour later, a second customer matched the first donation. And within another hour, they had collected enough to provide 133 free meals.
That’s just how our town rolls.
Note: Round House Bakery has now closed until further notice.

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  • carol rich

    I loved your little story

  • Cheryl Benson

    And 5 miles south of the village, Benson’s restaurant who has employed several of its staff for over 32 years , had to let them go for the first time. We too have suffered the same kind of loss as these many businesses mentioned.
    I love the idea of your story and enjoy your site. Perhaps I’m a little more sensitive at this time but we are always forgotten when articles are done about our area. We’ve been there a long time serving our community, supporting our community and suffering along with them.

  • Ed Bruske

    Sorry for your woes, Cheryl, and we are hoping for the best for all our friends in the hospitality industry. My article was really a collection of notes from our travels close to the village. Sorry if you felt left out.

  • Susan Sardi

    First let me welcome you to Cambridge.
    I am one of the originals…born and raised here and returned to renovate my home in Coila.
    Where do you live in Cambridge?