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August 17th, 2012

The unexpected joy

We live about an hour from Sharon Springs, New York. If that sounds familiar to you, you've probably seen The Fabulous Beekman Boys on Planet Green, or saw it on Rachel Ray's show, or picked up one of their books. It is one of a plethora of small towns in New York State that were the homes of mineral springs, which in the nineteenth century became meccas for the well-heeled and health quacks. Like so many of those places, it was on a slow downward spiral.

Then the "artisanal" movement started, and the restoration movement, and suddenly new life was breathed into the town. Now it boasts the American Hotel (very nice, great restaurant--good luck getting a reservation in the summer!); Beekman 1802 (the Fabulous Boys storefront); McGillycuddy Naturals (soap), which is right next door to The Finishing Touch (where I always find myself buying something; The Cobbler Shop (nice, eclectic store that occupies all the rooms of a wonderful two story Victorian); the Village Hall Gallery (contemporary art, photography, ceramics, etc.--I bought a wonderful photograph there), and The Black Cat Cafe (among others, but those are the ones I've been in). They also have a wonderful farmers market on Saturday where I got some of the best goat cheese I ever ate, made on a local farm.

We discovered the town before we knew about the show, and when we saw these huge posters in every store, we asked. Okay. Whatever. (We've since seen the show, and were amused.) More importantly, though, we found the shops. And we found them good.

I am particularly fond of McGillycuddy's (which apparently now has a storefront in Saratoga Springs, too). My skin is notoriously picky, and I can wash using their soaps and don't feel pain (not "tight"--pain, with an itch that lasts for hours, all over). In fact, I feel both clean and comfortable after, and that's a blessing. However, my search for a wooden soap dish (since handmade soaps disappear into slime in regular soap dishes) was becoming frustrating. Well, I thought, they might have one in the store, so I'll just take an afternoon and drive over. Wednesday, that's what I did.

I got lunch at The Black Cat (best croissant I've had in years, but the service was...appalling). Then I went to The Cobblers Shop to get Rowan's Christmas present (that she'd oohed and ahed ove rwhen we were there last--though I couldn't afford the platter from the Gallery that she'd really gone nuts over), then I went to McGillycuddy's. A woman was working behind the counter I'd not seen in there before. I wandered around, found my Lavender Vanilla Oatmeal Olive Oil soap, but couldn't find a soap dish. Finally, having given up (and grumping to myself that I'd have to order one on line after all from somewhere) I spotted what turned out to be the last one in the store. I picked it up triumphantly, and the woman noticed, and looked at me quizzically.
"You don't know how hard these are to find! I drove all the way here, rather than ordering more soap from the website, in hopes you'd have one."

She looked around concerned. "You're right--there aren't any more. Goodness; I'll have to call the woodworker and tell him we're out. Oh, this isn't good."

As she rang me up, we were chatting, and she said she isn't usually in the store, "because usually I'm on the farm making the soap."
"You're the soapmaker? I love your soap," I gushed, going all fangirl, "I buy it for myself, I give it as presents...it's the only soap that doesn't hurt!"  
She blushed, and thanked me. "It's so nice to hear someone appreciates it. Especially when my family talks about how I'm so obsessed with it, and why don't I do something else.....thank you."
So we kept chatting, she asked where I'd driven in from (she seemed to think it a long way to come for soap and a dish), and she rang me up. As I was signing the credit slip she noticed she hadn't rung up the soap dish. "Oh! I never range this in. Well, just take it--you drove all that way."

So, don't be surprised if the next gift you get from me has the name McGillycuddy's Naturals somewhere on the label. ;-)

But this is more than about throwing business their way. I went out Wednesday to get something I needed, and, apparently, in the process, I gave someone what she needed. It wasn't planned, it just came out of talking to a woman I'd never met before, and telling the truth. Her smile and her gratitude are still lighting my spirit two days later. I hope, as she's cutting her bars of soap, my joy in her work buoys her a bit.