15 miles from Woodstock, the author finds her beautiful life.

By Martha Frankel

Photography by Ashley Miiles

In the late 1970s my husband Steve and I stumbled on an unspoiled Caribbean Island. It had everything we wanted: no tall buildings, no gambling, no golf, no tennis. No cruise ships. No crowds. It did have unspoiled beaches, where we’d often be the only people all day long. It had a 12-room hotel run by an eccentric Bostonian, who chain-smoked and made sure all the guests got along. It was filled with people from all over the world, who seemed to get more and more interesting as the week rolled on. It had space and light and soothed me in ways I didn’t know I needed.

We went back every winter for 15 years, sometimes staying a week, sometimes a month or more. We knew the locals and went salsa dancing with them on Thursday nights—“Little Friday” they called it—where women would strut around in hair rollers, getting ready for real Friday.

We cooked with the grandmas, partied with their grandkids, went to weddings and funerals. We felt
totally at home there. When people asked us what it was like, we’d say “gamey.”

This is the way I treat the small town I’ve lived in for close to half a century. When people ask where I’m from, I say Woodstock, because they come at that town with their own preconceived notions. They talk about music, or they talk about the festival. They ask if we knew Michael Lang and we nod. They ask if we were ever at The Barn when Levon played, and we nod again. We offer nothing more than that. They ask if things have changed a lot and we give noncommittal shrugs of our shoulders. 

I live in the Town of Olive, 15 miles from Woodstock, and, frankly, it’s another world entirely. When I moved here in 1974, people would appear slack-jawed when I mentioned I was a Jew. When I became a firefighter, people sneered and assumed the work would be too hard. But I held my ground and gained their respect.

Years ago, when Steve’s shop burned to the ground, and my neighbors found out we didn’t have insurance, they flocked to help. Some dropped off casseroles. Others brought $50 or a new hammer. A man we had never met came to offer his services as a mason. We took him up on it and built a gorgeous concrete block building. Others came to help when we needed to set the roof joists. And others helped pour the concrete floor. I knew then I was never leaving this town. I was right.

In the mid ’80s, when I started writing celebrity cover stories for national magazines, I spent a lot of time on airplanes. I’d go to Los Angeles mostly, but also Miami and Nashville and European capitals, too. I loved seeing new places, but I was homesick. I missed my honey and my dogs, but mostly I missed running into my neighbors.  

My stories in Redbook and McCall’s and Cosmopolitan would be on the racks in my local supermarket. People would say, “Oh my, your life is so fabulous!” And I’d always correct them. “That’s my work,” I’d say. “This, this is my life.” And I’d move my hand around to encompass this special place I’m lucky enough to call home.

The day after the 2016 presidential election, I cooked a huge pot of stew and some cranberry sauce. I put it lovingly into containers and then drove around town and gave it to those of my neighbors I knew had voted the other way than I had. “We’ll all be here long after he’s gone,” I said to a few. They hugged me and I held on tight. I breathed them in and it’s that scent that kept me going. It’s that scent that keeps the gamey away.

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