Felix Carroll: A countywide search to accentuate the positive from 2017

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Come, all ye who are beleaguered. Let us journey together up, down, across and sideways through Berkshire County and shake a random, unsuspecting resident down for something positive to say about 2017.

That's 30 towns, two cities and many people saying at first, "Sorry, I got nothing."

Think, think, think! They've all got something.

We begin high atop Mount Washington to the south and end high atop the town of Florida to the north. Let's do this.

Dianne Salamon of Mount Washington says: "This is a toughie. Wait — we have broadband! Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! Our town pulled itself up by the bootstraps. Mount Washington is in this generation now!"

She says: "It's snowing out. I'm making soups and stews, and I'm able to watch movies that I never could before. I'm able to catch up with `Game of Thrones.' It's so addictive. I have options now beyond just listening to news that upsets me."

Down the hill in Egremont, Terry Moore, owner of the Old Mill restaurant, says: "The one thing I always tell people is, we are living in a little pocket of sanity here in the Berkshires. You just have to open The New York Times and see what's happening in the world and say, `Thank goodness I'm up here.'"

In Sheffield, Ted Dobson, owner of Equinox Farm, says: "It was an excellent growing season for greens, and speaking of greens, we, the people of Massachusetts, legalized recreational marijuana and hemp sales. ... That's good news for you." He's referring to the November 2016 vote, but excitement has been growing all year in anticipation of sales.

At Anthony's and Cary's Barber Shop in Great Barrington, barber German Vargas, a Hispanic immigrant, says that despite all the harsh words spoken about immigrants from a certain stripe of politician this past year, "When people enter this door, they want to get to know me and I want to get to know them. There are many, many good people in this country."

In Sandisfield, at When Pigs Fly Farm, Sandra Snyder says: "We didn't have a drought in 2017 and didn't have to shower at the lake and do our dishes at the firehouse like we did two summers before, when our well went dry. This summer, we were flushing toilets in August, and that was a relief."

In New Marlborough, R. Heinz, shoveling his driveway on Route 57, says: "Well, 2017 is coming to an end. That's positive." He adds: "Here's another thing: I heard someone say this, that God's country may be in Montana or out that ways, but he actually vacations here in the Berkshires."

In Monterey, Stephen Moore, editor of the monthly Monterey News, says: "April 22, we had a grand opening for our Monterey Community Center, which was 12 years in the making. Joe Baker would hide behind a tree if he saw his name in print, but he did a huge amount of work along with a bunch of other people. It was a huge effort, and now there's programming — weekly card games, knitting and spinning, fiber arts, chair yoga."

In Otis, Sonia Morrison says: "This past year saw our townspeople embrace the future and the past. We have a wind turbine. We voted to take possession of an extraordinary gift: St. Paul's Chapel, an Otis icon and the sister church to the Old North Church in Boston."

Back over in Alford, here's something positive: Each day, beginning at 5 p.m., Mel Greenberg makes daily telephone calls asking the elderly and infirm in town, "Are you OK?" It's a free service."It was a great year. I love calling them," Greenberg says, "and I love to hear them say they're OK."

In Stockbridge, Warren Iacobacci, opening his mail on the bench in front of the Elm Street Market, says: "Well, OK, I'm still breathing. What else? I bought a bicycle from my neighbor, a Mongoose with big, fat tires. I got a good deal on it."

At Loeb's Foodtown in Lenox, something "really awesome" occurred just a couple of hours before we checked in.

"A customer waiting in line at the register found a $100 bill on the floor and asked around if anyone had dropped it," says Beth Parsons, the front end manager. "No one claimed it. The bill was wrapped up, and so the customer unwrapped it and found a fortune cookie message inside that said, `Generosity will repay itself sooner than you imagine.' Someone left it there on purpose for someone to find.

"I'm tearing up just thinking about it," Parsons says. "It's a great reminder there are generous people in the world. I got chills."

In West Stockbridge, Tony Erricketto, a clerk at A.W. Baldwin Hardware, says: "I've got five grandchildren, and that's been the greatest. I spent a lot of time with them this year. It's so much less pressure being a grandparent than a parent."

At the Richmond Post Office, clerk April Griswold says: "We have our jobs, the love of our customers, and my father is still alive."

In Lee, at Valley Roll-Off Dumpster Services, Sharon Keenan says: "This is easy. My husband, Tom, is cancer-free at the moment, and that is number one. And I'm so thankful for my newest employee, Julie Minkler, because she is very professional, she sings, she dances and tells stupid, raunchy jokes like I do. She's just like me."

"I went through three girls, and then she came along," Keenan continues. "We get the work done, and I'm happier, and my bosses are happy that I'm happy, and if I'm not happy, no one is happy."

In Tyringham, emerging from the Appalachian Trail during a morning walk in a light snow, Andrea Chisholm says: "Every day in 2017 has had something positive. It's 10:52 a.m., and look: My boot prints are the only ones you see all along the trail. In the Berkshires, you can get away from everything if you choose, and I recommend everyone do that or the world will make you insane."

At the Becket General Store, owner Heather Anello-Spencer says that, on Dec. 10, a customer overheard employee Gabe Moro talking about financial troubles and not being in the Christmas spirit.

"Later in the day, this gentleman then shows up and drops off a Christmas tree for Gabe," says Anello-Spencer. "Gabe brought it home, wrapped some lights around it and put his one Christmas ornament on it. It perked him up. We're feeling uplifted."

In Washington, Richard Grillon, who was voted back onto the town's Select Board in the spring after nine years' absence, says a highlight of 2017 was his birthday Jan. 23, which he shares with his daughter. The family all gets together.

"It's always a special time to be with family, and it's always a pleasure to live in Washington," he says.

At the Hinsdale Trading Co. in Hinsdale, owner Mike Ciaburri needed to sleep on it. The next morning, he says: "I was thinking `community': Our community seems to be coming together more. People are taking care of each other. I see a lot of small things: People who are having financial troubles and individuals stepping up and helping out. They pay it forward. Also, I see people making more of an effort to shop at the locally owned stores — like at Carr Hardware or L.P. Adams, instead of big-box stores. That's really important."

In Dalton, at the Dalton General Store, owner Mike Smith says: "We're all alive still. And I'm looking at the boxes filling up with donations to Solder On and for the elderly and the Toys for Tots. It's overwhelming. Even people that don't have much money are giving this year. People still believe in helping. There is goodwill still in man — and woman."

In Pittsfield, John Hayes, a warehouse worker for the madcap gift company Blue Q, points to the day in October when his bosses, Mitch and Seth Nash, told everyone to stop what they were doing at once. The whole company — several dozen employees — formed a caravan and went apple picking at Bartlett's Orchard.

"It's a company where you have to be trained to have fun," he says.

At the Mobil station in Lanesborough, cashier Shayla Gaviorno says: "I got my first car this year. It's not a good car, but it gets me from A to B, and I don't have to share a car anymore with my boyfriend."

In Hancock, the Rev. Charles Mosher, pastor of the Hancock Baptist Church, says: "I retired from my secular job." Retirement, he says, "has allowed me to spend more time in ministry," particularly visiting nursing homes "where so many people don't have anyone visiting them."

In New Ashford, Art Johnson, the town's animal control officer, says: "Well, I'm not dead yet. Close, but not yet." Another thing, he says, is that New Ashford has remained a "don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it" town. "We've got no traffic light. That's the way I like it."

Over in Cheshire, Jim Reynolds of H.D. Reynolds General Merchandise says: "There has been quite a few people who have been working to build a sense of community here in Cheshire. Over the last few years, we've had summer block parties. Relationships have formed. I'm seeing a renewed interest from younger folks, an increase in civic participation like we used to have. That's a big accomplishment."

In Peru, the Rev. Warren Scamman of the First Congregational Church of Peru says his chaplaincy work at the Berkshire County Jail has borne fruit in 2017. "There have been a number of inmates who have changed their lives. Many of them were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and they have been able to overcome their addictions and can go back to being productive members of society. I see them when I'm out on errands. They will say, `Hi, Rev.'"

In Windsor, Madeline Scully, the town clerk, is not in short supply of positive things to say about 2017.

She says: "We had a dinner theater, town softball game, a phenomenal town video produced, held Windsorfest, built a Veteran's Memorial Park, received a Green Communities and a firetruck grant, started a community farmers market, kicked butt in Solarize Mass, well on our way to having townwide broadband, our website won the [Massachusetts Municipal Association] award, and Windsor was featured in the October Boston Globe Real Estate section."

In Savoy, at the Savoy Hollow General Store, owner Michelle Kupiec says: "Something positive? My customers. Yesterday, three of my patrons plowed me out during the day. I didn't ask. I'm here seven days a week, sometimes 13 hours a day, and if I need someone to go do a bank deposit for me, I've got people who will help me out. If I need someone to take bottles and cans to the redemption center because I can't get out, I've got people who help me out, and I'm so grateful for them."

In Adams, Ray Gargan points to that day in June "when about 1,000 Harry Potter fans showed up at Greylock Glen for M.A.G.I.Con to celebrate our town's connection with J.K. Rowling's `Wizarding World.'"

By the way, M.A.G.I.Con stands for Mischievous Appreciation of Greylock and Ilvermorny Convention.

"The performance by the headline band, Harry & The Potters, was outstanding," Gargan says.

In North Adams, at The Hub restaurant, Rebecca Richard says: "I think in 2017 this community really banded together. There were great efforts for children, sports activities, the summer concerts, the Halloween parade on Main Street. A couple years ago my brother-in-law got paralyzed and everyone pitched in. This year, I've seen that sort of thing on a larger scale, a small town banding together to make this a better place to live."

In Williamstown, Erwin Stuebner, president of the Village Ambulance Service, says: "Call after call, the paramedics and EMTs have saved many lives and demonstrate the highest quality of emergency medical service care. I'm also a physician, so I appreciate what they do."

In Clarksburg, Police Chief Michael Williams thinks and thinks and thinks. Finally, he says: "OK, well we repaved a couple of roads in town that were in bad shape — one real bad, a lot of potholes. What else? I went camping in Maine and New Hampshire. Nothing spectacular happened — just the way I like it."

Finally, in the town of Florida, Margo Van Peterson, owner of Rose and Goat Retreat, the highest point on Florida Mountain, says: "I have the sunrise to the east and sunset to the west. I'm at the summit. And the stars at night are incomparable to any other place I've ever been to, like being in a boat out in the middle of the ocean. I'm blessed."

2018, let this be a warning: We're not afraid of you.

Felix Carroll can be reached at felixcarroll5@gmail.com.


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