Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Autumn In New England

We're headed toward Northern Ohio for Christmas In The Woods.

After the close of The Big E, I was so happy at the prospect of spending a few extra days in Massachusetts -- seems like my whole life I've heard about "Autumn in New England!" This year, autumn was a little different: extreme record-setting heat delayed the leaves' changing color. Despite the lack of color and the peculiar haze in the air (due to the unseasonal heat), the scenes were really beautiful.

The only activity we permitted ourselves during the last week was visiting with the good friends we've made in Western Massachusetts over the past few years. One evening I got the grand tour of the area from my friend Peggy. We drove through her hometown of Holyoke, and through Easthampton, Southampton (everywhere a Hampton, Hampton), and had a spectacular sunset dinner at Tavern On The Hill, in Easthampton. We talked and laughed for hours!

We also spent some time at Collins Tavern, which Greg and I had discovered on our very first trip to the area, five years ago. Collins caught Greg's eye as we were tooling around in a totally unfamiliar area, trying to find materials for our Big E display. "West Springfield's Best Kept Secret," he mused, "Looks like a friendly place. Let's stop in after we've finished our errands."

It was a little after lunch time when we got back to Collins. The menu, hand lettered on a dry-erase board, boasted items such as Sausage Grinder -- $2 ... Meatloaf Sandwich -- $1.75 ... Pot Roast Soup -- $1.75 ... and at the bottom of the board, the phrase I Can't Believe It Myself. I tried the soup, and I couldn't believe it, either. It was goood! We made several stops there before the fair, and on some nights, stopped in after the fair closed. It was a great refuge from the busy-ness of the fair, a great place to grab a bite of non-"fair food." And, gradually, we made friends. Over the years since, we've made even more.

At Collins everybody knows your name ... like "Cheers" of TV fame, without the dysfunction! On one of the front windows is painted the slogan, "You're a stranger but once" and it's the truth. Bob LeDoux, the hard-working but ever-smiling owner, is the soup chef and chief cook, and he genuinely likes to see people well-fed and happy. His daughter, Melissa Cauley, is another one of the hardest-working people I've ever known. Melissa's vision for Collins has brought a grill and fryer and some delicious new temptations on the menu, like the Philly Cheesesteak, sweet potato fries, and the oddly-named but delicious Buzzy's Big-Ass Kielbasa Sandwich, but the prices remain unbelievably low.

Here's a public "thank-you" to Melissa and her husband, John, for all they've given us over the years: storing our display set-up in their basement, accepting shipments of merchandise for us, finding interesting places for us to have dinner; most of all, smiles and encouragement and good friendship. And thanks to Bob for the gorgeous jacket, embroidered with a Collins Tavern logo, that he gave to Greg. Hey, Bob, you wondered if Greg would ever be able to use a heavy lined windbreaker down in Florida -- you gave it to him less than a week ago, and he's already wearing it here in New York! What a perfectly well-timed gift! I Can't Believe It Myself!

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