The Mayor and Lyme
Growing up, I was a sucker for Disney movies … princesses saved by knights in shining armor. I admit there were times when I daydreamed of being rescued by some brave knight, especially when my parents had sent me to my room as punishment for misbehaving or when I dreaded an upcoming school project or test.
However, throughout these daydreams, not once did the brave knight pull up in an old, beat-up Chevy truck, rusted over and the paint peeling. And I never imagined my hero would be an overweight, fifty-something-year-old man named Butch, sporting a bushy mustache, faded jeans and a t-shirt. But as fate would have it, this man rescued me twice in less than 24 hours.
Butch first appeared as I teetered on the brink of unconsciousness on the front porch of the General Store in Unionville, NY. I felt so ill I could barely stand up from the quaint white rocking chair in which I sat. The following morning I foolishly convinced myself I was fine and only made it 1.5 miles up the trail before realizing my grave error. Two hikers sat with me at a road crossing until my valiant knight came charging up in his truck to save me once again and whisk me away to an urgent care facility in a neighboring town.
The doctor confirmed what I already suspected — Lyme Disease. Flu-like symptoms, dizziness, headaches and exhaustion plagued me. A rash near the site of the tick bite spread across my forearm — the doctors uncertain whether this was poison ivy or related to the Lyme disease. Butch then delivered me to what would be my sanctuary for the next four days. He brought me to the Mayor’s House.
I sat on a wooden stool in the kitchen, in a haze from feeling ill, as Butch recited the rules of the house. “… and watch out for Bill. If you say any word over three syllables around him, you have to give him a quarter,” Butch emphasized. As I pondered who on earth Bill was and perhaps I should have listened to the rules, Bill quickly snapped me back to reality.
“Who the hell is this? Oh shit, is this another dumb ass hiker?” I spun around to see a grouchy, elderly man glaring at me. He had thick glasses resting upon a wide, large nose — wisps of hair peeking out from both his nostrils and ears. The 81 year-old bald man inched closer to me, his eyes narrowing as my eyes grew wider.
“Bill,” Butch interjected, “go easy on her. She’s sick … the one with Lyme disease.” Bill’s eyes softened as he grabbed my hand, patting me on my arm and purred, “make yourself at home, sugar. The bunk beds are in the basement. Why don’t you take a shower, throw in your laundry, and collapse on the couch. Watch whatever you want on TV. And you let me know anything you need, sweetie!” And with that, he slowly shuffled out of the room, his 5’10” frame hunched over, decades of life weighing him down.
As I passed the days at the Mayor’s house, I marveled at the eccentricity of its residents. But out of the chaos of this household, I witnessed humanity at its best. This hostel was nicknamed “The Mayor’s” because it’s the home of a man who was the mayor of Unionville for 12 years. Although the former mayor no longer lived here, he dropped in occasionally to meet the hikers and see how the fellas were managing. He opened his house to the hikers to honor his first wife, who passed away several years ago, and had commented on several occasions that it’d be nice if the hikers had somewhere to go … someone to help them.
After she died, he began allowing hikers to do laundry and shower at his house. But he said, “we were having a brutal heat wave, and I realized that it just didn’t make sense to let them shower and then send them back into the 100 degree heat.” And so he let hikers occasionally sleep on the floor of his house, which eventually grew to become a hostel with bunk beds that he keeps running to honor her memory.
According to Bill, the Mayor met him as he was slowly rotting away in a retirement home. The Mayor opened his home to Bill, inviting him to come live at the house free of charge in exchange for Bill cooking dinner and breakfast for the hikers (Bill ran a mess hall when he was in the Army). And so every morning at 6 am, Bill opened the door leading downstairs to the bunks, yelling, “Get your lazy asses out of bed. If you want breakfast, you better get your ass up here before I throw the food away!”
And so the days passed — a blur of hikers, Bill’s rants and Butch’s rescues (almost every day Butch dashes off to rescue hiker(s) in distress). Looking around the dinner table, I noted what a group of misfits we appeared to be. A table of strangers from an assortment of backgrounds united by the Mayor. But through kindness and generosity, this strange place had become our home. On the fifth day of my time in Unionville, I waved goodbye, thanked them profusely and walked back into the woods … rejuvenated to tackle the rest of the AT.