A Lakewood Lens: A Real Jamestown Day

It was that day last Wednesday when I woke up to find my car had disappeared to that place where things go in winter storms — when outside things are there but not there — obscured by white and blurred by wind.

I lost my little dog in a snow bank and the only way he could get back to the porch was by bounding like a reindeer through the snow and I laughed so hard my tears froze.

I was due at Peterson Farm Market to interview Mr. Peterson for a project I’m working on, and I didn’t want to cancel because he’s a farmer and not likely to be put off by a little snow, and in my eyes he’s somewhat of a legend, and I was thrilled that he had agreed to talk to me.

The Native Americans worshipped their corn god, and Mr. Peterson is mine.

If there’s one skill in life I’m proud of is that I can drive in the snow, or at the very least, I think I can drive in the snow and that’s half the battle.

There was no one at Peterson’s on such a blustery day and it’s the first time in my life that I had the whole place to myself. I dove right into the Swedish fish and pondered different kinds of korv alone. I felt as if I was in some kind of magic market deep in the snowy climes of Sweden somewhere. It’s different at the market in winter-a little cozier, a little more intimate.

Mr. Peterson is a humble man, the kind of humble that comes from hard work and from not tooting his own horn too much in the wake of his success. This family is a part of a million memories, after all. Their corn has boiled on a million stoves in a million cottages for generations, and their korv has graced a million Christmas tables. His family fed my great-grandparents, and my grandparents, and my parents and me and my children. In a world where businesses come and go, that is no small feat. It takes a smart and dedicated farmer to continually adapt to the forces of nature, ever-changing government regulations and the way the world does business.

He tells me his father would be most surprised if he came back to life for a day and saw the credit card machine on the counter. But he also explains that technology has improved the way farms are run, and that improved yields keeps food cheap and accessible to the world.

Peterson went to The New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University which impresses me, because we often believe the knowledge of farming is passed down through the generations. It is, but imagine a young Peterson setting off for Ithaca to learn the science behind agriculture, and studying the ways man has learned to work with nature and even coax it into giving us the gift of a pumpkin or a yellow squash.

He shares a few memories about growing up on the farm, about selling produce on the side of the road as a kid. You can tell he’s had a good life being a Chautauqua County farmer, and that he’s proud his granddaughter is going to follow in his footsteps.

She’s making korv when I get to the store and I tell her my grandmother used to put a few pounds of their korv on the Greyhound bus at Christmastime — a special delivery from Jamestown to Buffalo where I grew up.

And Mr. Peterson tells me that nearly everyday, someone comes into the store from far away to relive a memory and buy something from their childhood they’ve been coveting. And that’s what I love about this market-how they’ve been a special part of so many people’s lives. We all come back for the Swedish cookies, or the corn or because it’s part of what we do and who we are.

I left there to meet my handsome cousin Randy Sprague at the Allen Street Diner, and it was a pleasure to sit inside that cozy restaurant while it howled outside, sipping tea and singing “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” with the owner while he scrambled us some eggs.

They know their customers by name at the diner and you feel right at home when you walk in the door. It’s my cousin’s favorite place to grab a cup of coffee and talk about the weather.

It was a real Jamestown day, last Wednesday, made up of leaps and bounds of fluffy snow, and little dogs lost in snowbanks, and a good chat with an iconic farmer who loves where he lives and what he does.

And the afternoon ended sitting with family in a warm diner on a snowy day, chatting with the good people of Jamestown.

It’s one of the reasons I came back. There’s something good about this place that you just can’t find anywhere else.

That’s one thing I know for sure.