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A Celebration of Small Town USA. Happy Birthday, Rita Moreno, 90 today.

Susan hands me today’s New York Times. She points to such inspiring headlines as “Where The Despairing Learn Ways to Die” and “Inflation Gut-Punches Millennials.”  In search of better news, I flip online to The Washington Post where I read in the business section, “Long covid is destroying careers, leaving economic distress in its wake.”

They’re not my world. This morning I played tennis indoors at the Old Chatham Tennis Club. I had breakfast at Main Street Goodness in Chatham and then visited the Spencertown Post Office, where locals were mailing presents to their grandkids. Everyone knew everyone and greeted each other with enthusiasm and happiness — suggesting that none had read the morning newspapers. Good on them. Kate Pulver, Spencertown postmistress, is there. Smiling, helpful. She greets everyone by their first name, including me.  That’s nice.

The air up here is remarkable. It’s clean. I haven’t had a cold, even the slightest sniffle since  I’ve been up here — 21 months now.

Meanwhile, WMHT, our local classical radio station is playing music from Christmas movies and being ultra-cheery in between pitches for money. “Being on the air depends on your support.” I sent them money.

I’m normally  turned off money begs (think distant, thieving Washington politicians). But for the local Chatham Rescue Squad, the Spencertown and Tri-Village Fire Departments, I’m all open checkbook.

My giving brings me happiness.

Small Town USA is a wonderful place. Our Town Supervisor, Rob Lagonia, is a Republican. But everyone voted for him — Democrats and Republicans — for one simple reason. He does a really fine job. We have so many new things in town, courtesy Mr. Lagonia — a playground for the kids, a tennis court for me, a beautiful new Town Hall — and roads, that while not perfect, sport fewer potholes. He’s also totally accessible. He responds to emails. The mayor responds to emails. Wow.

Locals have discovered the thrill of local community ventures.

Thirty years ago, Francis Greenburger created a sculpture park in Ghent called Art Omi. Now the park attracts 50,000 visitors a year. My grandkids attend Art Omi’s art classes in the Spring and love it.

Until he died recently,  Ellsworth Kelly, our resident world famous artist, helped with the community. Now his heirs, led by Jack Shear, use his foundation to fund the new Shaker Museum, our local town hall, the local cinema, and education initiatives at local high schools.

What’s warming about Small Town USA is that we know each other. We employ each other. We help each other. We support each other’s charities. I give money to a school in Uganda, because my tennis partner, Mark Johnson, supports it and I know that the school gets everything I give it (minus the snippet Western Union gets).

All this translates into small courtesies and sanity.  I hate the constant honking in New York City. It’s wearing on the soul. Up here, there’s no honking and the only threat to the soul is over-eating. That’s meant to be joke — until I look at my bulging tummy.

Our towns — Spencertown, Chatham, Ghent and Old Chatham — have dirt roads and lousy cell phone service. But we have great car mechanics, like Jack, his son, Ron and wife Phyllis, at Fredericks Performance in Ghent. We have great contractors like Bill Stratton and Aaron Gaylord, who would build the Taj Mahal up here for you — if you could afford it and they could find the labor.

Bill built Susan and me our Taj Mahal up here in Spencertown. Fifteen years later it’s still standing. In the old days, when I visited on weekends, I sported New York City mentality. I’d drive up the hill and be surprised that our house was still there. Someone hadn’t stolen it.

It is still here and providing the sanity (and serenity) I got from watching last night’s sunset from the patio.

Thank you for small towns.

Spielberg’s West Side Story opened last night

And Rita Moreno turned 90 today. She played Anita in the original 1961 West Side Story movie. She was brilliant. Here are three clips of her from the original movie, which you can rent today on (where else?) Amazon Prime.

Go see the new West Side Story this weekend at your local cinema. Here’s the trailer:

Apologies for interrupting your weekend reveries.

If you missed Friday’s blog, click here.

See you Monday. —  Harry Newton