Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

3 July

Billy Webster, Cambridge, N.Y., Vol. Fire Department: Community Lives In Rural Volunteer Fire Departments

by Jon Katz

I drove past Billy Webster this afternoon as I was coming home from the farmer’s market, and I didn’t know his name then but saw him washing every inch of the Cambridge Fire Department Engine 58-TA-221.

I pulled over and asked him if I could take a photo of him and the fire engine and he said sure, as firemen often do. They are very proud of what they do and for good reason.

In the country, they are eager to talk to people in their communities, as they desperately need support. The hard-pressed volunteer companies remain, in many ways, the heart and soul of communities like ours. In our town, they are the very symbol of community and trust.

 

As a child and as a reporter, I was always drawn to firemen, a rare and proud and often heroic breed of man, and now women. When I was eight, I trekked to the nearby firehouse and was allowed to sit in the cab and if I was patient, even turn on the siren.

They would never let me come along on fires, but I did fantasize about being one and was welcome to hang around the station.  I have never forgotten their kindness.

Billy Webster sure looked the part, I might have tagged him as a fireman anywhere, and I sat that as a compliment. He was rubbing and brushing and sweating, and the engine looked as if it had just rolled off of the production line.

I’ve never seen a dirty fire engine outside of a firehouse in the country. Billy was larger than life.

If I am ever trapped in a fire in the upper reaches of our farmhouse, Billy is the person I would most want to see coming up the ladder to rescue me and or Maria (and the dogs too, no doubt.)

We are a divided and polarized country, but the idea hasn’t yet poisoned or filtered down to the volunteers of the Cambridge Fire Department or the thousands of volunteer companies like them that dot the country. There is no polarism in this firehouse, if you call for help, they come running.

Alone among government and bureaucracies, if you call the firemen, you know for sure they will come as quickly as they can. The volunteers are our neighbors and friends. They always show up, and often at great risk to themselves.

They are the original first responders and they are equal opportunity rescuers.

They don’t stop and ask who you voted for or what political party you joined. I don’t care what anybody says, the idea of community is alive in the small towns of America. If you ever doubt it, just walk into any firehouse while the volunteers are scrubbing their engines, as they do obsessively several times a week.

Volunteer companies are one of the things that rarely, if ever, exist in urban communities. They give us something important to share. I had no hesitation writing a check to the fire company for their new building.

I really like knowing they are there, and I realized today, that a photo of a volunteer engine being washed is an iconic American photo.

I caught Billy cleaning the engine because he is going to drive it in a parade in nearby Hoosick Falls. Our town doesn’t have a Fourth of July Parade, so he’s happy to help out the other towns, the volunteers love to parade their engines down Main Streets, sirens and horns blaring and honking.

I had a really nice talk with Billy. I loved his openness, enthusiasm, and dedication to helping people in trouble. He is one of the big men in trucks that make life work up here and binds us together.

He knew of the blog and said he had seen me crawling around the country with a camera, he’s been a fireman a long time and loves this work. You can feel his commitment to the fire company and to this way of helping his town.

Our town is tough on school budgets but loves its fire company. Recently, the town raised nearly $4 million to build a beautiful new firehouse. They deserve it. As you can see in the photo, the old municipal building was built for horses, and it was and is a white knuckle matter.

The new station opens in July. “Stop by,” Billy said, “we’d love to show you around.” Deal.

3 July

My Town: Alice And Melissa, At Lunch

by Jon Katz

As I was getting into my car and leaving the farmer’s market this morning, Maria pointed out this beautiful and iconic tableau right across the grass.

Two beautiful and remarkable women, a mother and daughter – their names were Melissa and her two-year-old daughter Alice – were having lunch together under a beautiful old tree.

I could see the mother preparing to go.

I got out of the car and ran across the grass as they began to get up. This is the country, so I shouted, “Hey, sit down, please; I want to take your picture.” I couldn’t do that in New York City; I’d get arrested.

No one up here ever says no if I ask politely. There is something special about not having to live in fear of your neighbors.

We still trust each other here.

It was beautiful to see Melissa and her daughter building sweet memories for the future. I sometimes forget that Melissa was in one of my writing classes six or seven years ago. I remember her well for being friendly, bright, and honest.

She now works from home for the town food Co-op. It was sweet to see them together at their private and cozy lunch.

My town is not paradise, but it is my town, and I would not wish to live anywhere else. I love living in a place like this, where there are a thousand safe and beautiful places for a mother or father to sit down and have lunch with their kid.

I don’t remember being able to do this easily with my daughter.

3 July

See What The Army Of Good Did: Alex Is Safe In America.

by Jon Katz

I had the best surprise today at the farmer’s market in our town of Cambridge, N.Y., this morning. We went to get vegetables and other food supplies for the holiday weekend.

I knew who the young man was the second I saw him; I recognized him from the photos of him I put up on the website five or six times.m I saw the pride and joy in the face of his grandfather. I knew it was Alex.

About a month ago, we responded to a Troy woman’s gofundme page seeking to raise $7,000 to get Alex and his sister (the grandchildren of Aladdin, our friend and Farmer’s Market food supplier) out of Poland, where they had fled from Ukraine with two suitcases, and safely to America.

Two days later, they had raised $10,000.

The family had no money to apply for visas or get out of the Polish refugee camp and to America, where their surviving relatives lived. They were lucky to be alive. They had nothing left but the clothes in their suitcases.

Today, Alex came to the Farmer’s Market with his grandfather, Aladdin, who was practically exploding in joy. They got the vias, made the trip, and live in New York City.

Alex will be living with relatives in Brooklyn, which has a large Ukrainian community.

He was learning English and was helping his grandfather on his visits to different farmer’s markets at this time of year. A quick learner, he was scooping out the food and making changes.

He wanted to work.

Aladdin was overjoyed to be with him; he owns and runs a Slovakian cafe in  Troy, N.Y.

Alex was  serious, gracious, and grateful. He had piercing green eyes that took in everything and missed nothing.

He took my hand and, in faltering English, thanked me and asked me to thank all of the people from the Army of Good who made it possible for him, his sister, and their mother to get to the United States.

He had heard of this group that helped his family escape danger and tragedy and rebuild their lives.

I had a good feeling about Alex; he seemed strong and very bright.

His family’s home and all of their possessions were destroyed, they have no news of their father.

I watched Alex eagerly and skillfully help Aladdin count money and put their food into plastic tins for the customers. He wanted to help, and Aladdin was happy to have the help.

I asked him how he liked Brooklyn.

“Very much,” he said. Then he paused. “It’s dangerous,” he said.

“Worse than Ukraine?” I asked. He smiled for the first time.

I came home to write about this and post some other photos.

As I wrote this, I remembered the money I took out of the bank this morning to take to the farmer’s market. I had $120 left for the week. I decided to bring it to Alex – the market is open until one p.m.

I stuffed the money in an envelope with my address, e-mail address, and name. I licked the envelope closed and quickly drove four or five miles to the market.

Aladdin was sitting in his chair, and Alex was busy neatening the food trays and waiting on the customers when I returned. The place was quieting down; it was shortly before one.

I walked up to Alex, handed him the envelope, and pointed to my e-mail and name. He thanked me, but I realized he didn’t know there was money inside, he just thought I was giving him my e-mail, so I explained there was some money.

Aladdin jumped out of his chair to rush over, thank me, hug me, and shake my hand.

I told Alex again there was money in the envelope. He was bewildered. “Why?” he asked.

“Because you need it,” I said. “Use it in any way you wish; It’s for you.”

And I walked away.

I’m not sure if I will ever see Alex again, but I hope so. Maybe he’ll come up here on weekends to help his grandfather; he seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps he can visit the farm.

I told him my daughter lives in Brooklyn; perhaps we will cross paths someday.

“Let me know if I can ever be of any help,”  I said as I walked back to the car, thinking of how different his life had been from my daughter’s and how much it had changed in the past few months.

The trajectory and emotions of his life had been forever altered.

I tried to imagine the shock and pain he had endured.

It felt right handing him that envelope.

My family was loaded with people who had lost everything to get to America and give their children – me – better lives. I knew how hard it was for them to leave their people, culture, language, and work.

They never quite got over it. But the very young adapted and thrived. I bet that will be Alex’s story. I will pray for that.

The refugee exists at the heart and soul of America; it is what we are about.

We are choking in the grip of a new movement that would cut this heart right out of our great nation.

Alex is one of the reasons they must not prevail.

 

3 July

Happy Holiday. “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way.” – Georgia O’Keefe

by Jon Katz

“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.” – Paul Gaudin.

The July Fourth official colors are Red, White, and Blue. I don’t have an excellent white flower, so I’ll offer Bedlam Farm colors from my garden instead. They lit up my morning.

The first thing I ask when I go out with my camera is, “where is the sun? Where is the light coming from?,” This morning, the sun was right behind the prettiest flowers, guiding me and my camera.

Happy Holiday, I’m working on my portrait of an artist and my photos of artist Matt Chimian in his studio. Color is the language of my dreams; it reminds me again and again of what is beautiful in the world.

Color lifts the spirit.

More later.

 

 

I took these photos with the Leica 2; it soaks up color.

 

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way.” – Georgia O’Keefe.

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