On my walk this morning, a few pickup trucks–the official vehicle of choice for most of the hardy residents of Stonington–passed me on the road. I gave the “walkers’ wave,” which is a cheerful smile and an upward flap of the right hand, fully exposing the palm. In return, the drivers of the pickups gave thestandard two-finger wave from the steering wheel, which I call the “Stonington salute.”
The two-finger steering wheel wave isn’t unique to Stonington–not by a long shot. Texas apparently has tried to claim it as a Texas invention; in the Lone Star State it’s evidently called the “hi sign.” Others describe the gesture as a “rural wave.” I like calling it the Stonington salute, even if it wasn’t invented or perfected here, because I’m a fan of alliteration. But I also like and appreciate the friendly thoughts behind the gesture. The drivers want the walkers to know that they see us and are acknowledging our presence, and the walkers want to be sure that the drivers are aware that we’re sharing the road, too.
The Stonington salute is a small-town thing, for sure. When I’m walking down the street in German Village, passing cars don’t give a wave. If big-city motorists waved at every pedestrian, they’d be waving their arms off. And there’s really not the need to do it, either. Pedestrians aren’t walking in the roadway, like they do here; they are on sidewalks, separated from the street by the devil strip and, in the case of German Village, a row of parked cars, too. The safety concerns that are part of the motivation of the Stonington salute and the walkers’ wave just don’t exist.
Of course, another part of the motivation for the salute and the wave is just that people are friendly around here. I like that, too.
We decided to take two days to make our way from Stonington back to Columbus. Since we weren’t trying to make great time on the roads, we avoided the I-95 raceway and took the two-lane roads through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont instead, including lots of time on U.S. 202. My grandmother would have called it the “scenic route.”
It was a lot of fun, and gave us a glimpse of small town America, New England-style, and lots of pretty fall scenery. The towns were charming, and a drive on the “blue highways” shows you how many Americans work at their own businesses from their homes — doing hairdressing, nails, child care, dog grooming, carpentry, and other self-employed work. There were lots of political signs out, and a few roadside demonstrations where the participants were soliciting honks for their candidates. And the fall foliage was beautiful.
We ended up with a drive up the Taconic Parkway and this room at the Beekman Arms Inn in Rhinebeck, New York, which is supposed to be the oldest continuously operated hotel in America, dating back to colonial times. It’s one of those places that says “George Washington slept here.” We had a great meal at the Beekman, donned our masks for a twilight walk around downtown Rhinebeck, and enjoyed a fine end to a day that showed that taking your time is a good way to go.
I worked for a while today at the Stonington Public Library. It’s a nifty little facility with free wireless, a good reading table, and a really excellent book selection for its size. And, like most small town libraries, it’s at the center of it all. While I was there, numerous people stopped by to pick up a book, chat up the friendly librarian, and talk about what’s going on.
Libraries are one of those civic institutions that hold towns together. Stonington has a really good one.
Small towns always seem to be filled with interesting characters and interesting stories. Stonington is no different.
One such story lies behind the “mini-village” of tiny houses and buildings found at one end of town. You can get a sense of their scale from the picture with Betty, below.
The buildings are the handiwork of Everette Knowlton, who began building them in 1947 and placed them on his property. By the time he died in 1978, he had constructed an entire village, complete with church, school, grocery store, barns, gas station, and homes. The purchaser of his property after his death donated the village to the town, and every year townspeople store the buildings for the winter and return them in the spring for everyone to enjoy.
I think the last part, about the citizens of Stonington storing the buildings for decades, is the coolest part of the story. It tells you something about the community.
It’s cold and bleak today, so Kish and I decided to go see a movie. A bleak day seemed to demand a bleak movie, so we went to see Out of the Furnace — which is bleak, indeed.
Out of the Furnace is purportedly the story of two brothers, one of whom avenges the other, but in reality it’s a grim tale of small town and rural America. The brothers, played by Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, live in a mill town. One of the brothers has a job at the mill, the other has served multiple tours in the military only to return to find . . . nothingness. No opportunity, no hope, and no way to shake the demons created by his experience overseas. He turns to bare-fisted fighting, and the fight scenes are brutal.
Without spoiling the plot, the brothers run afoul of Harlan DeGroat, a twisted sadist played with blazing intensity by Woody Harrelson. You realize that DeGroat is as much a victim of the dead-end world in which he lives as are the two brothers — he’s just turned to drug manufacturing, drug pushing, gambling, and other forms of criminal activity because that’s a way to use his talents. Harrelson is astonishingly believable in the role, and his portrayal of DeGroat is harrowing and will probably inspire a nightmare or two. This is not a guy you’d want to encounter even in broad daylight with a policeman nearby.
Out of the Furnace is a riveting ride, but it isn’t a movie for the faint of heart, and not just because the story is a sad one. We left the theater wondering if the tattooed, beer-swilling, snaggletoothed hopelessness depicted in the movie really reflects what is going on in for young people in small town and rural America — and hoping that it wasn’t.