August 1, 2006. 3 AM.
Sirens resonated along the desolate road leading towards the town of Brant Lake; the wailing of a fire engine under a phosphorescent red sky. It had been a dry summer, the danger of a forest fire always imminent. No one wished to consider the other possibility, a house with flames scorching the wooden beams on a windy night. I went back to sleep. In the morning I would hear the news.
As dawn broke I left my house, the smell of smoke lingering in the air, and drove to Daby’s General Store. Someone at the store, the fulcrum for Brant Lake life, would know the details of the fire.
But on that day Daby’s General Store was only charred remains, smoldering ashes and fire hoses from the neighboring firehouse extinguishing the last of the residue. The hallowed store, built by the sons of Judson Barton in 1895, had burned. Roger Daby had finally sold the store several years before and, according to the story, because of an argument in the new owner’s family, the store was burned to the ground. Arson.
”Well,” an old timer said, “we can always go to Chestertown and buy what we need.” Another reflected, ”Someone will come along and build another store.” But no one came. There was talk of a government grant but even if the store could be rebuilt there are not many people who would choose to be a proprietor for a traditional general store.
A bike shop has opened on the other side of the Mill Pond and up the road the Lazy Moose has erected a sign, “General Store,” but, as time has passed, those of us who grew up at Brant Lake realize something special is gone. Forever. A place that was and always would be—or so we thought. It was so much more than weathered clapboards, more than the signs of former owners— Barton’s, Cronin’s, Daby’s. So much more. Now, all that is left, hovering over the forlorn space, are remembrances of more than a hundred years of history. There is an emptiness where Daby’s General Store once stood—and, I must admit, there is an emptiness in the deepest recesses of my heart.
But memories never die. No, the flame of memory can never be extinguished and, whenever I pass the site that once was Daby’s, I pause. I reflect. I remember. And, for a moment, Daby’s is reborn.
As I reminisce and revisit the store that once was, I ask myself, did I realize the importance of the general store , how deeply it had infused the fabric of my being? Then again, is it possible that, too often, we fail to realize how deeply we love a person—or even a general store— until it is too late?
I hope not.