Everyone has stories of brushes with greatness, moments when you’re close enough to touch someone who has changed the world, for better or worse. When my mother was a child, she met Marilyn Monroe on Fire Island, and my father encountered Jesse Owens, long after his historic Olympic victories, on a New York elevator. I once sat ten feet from Henry Kissinger at the Russian Tea Room, within spitting distance, as they say. And we had a couple of guys from Metallica here in Oakland Yard just last month.
But I learned this year that my greatest brush has been hiding quietly in my childhood home in rural New York. Around 1970, just before I was born, my parents bought six acres of land, with three barns and a two-story farmhouse, built in 1812. They spent years outfitting it with plumbing and electricity, uncovering near-antiques and old farming equipment at every turn of the earth. By the time I was in school, it was a cozy ‘modern’ home, with a wooden spiral staircase and two wood burning stoves. One of our old closets downstairs had a hidden door in the back that led straight to the basement, and my brother and I grew up wondering, knowing some of our local history and proximity to Canada, if our house was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
I believe our suspicions were confirmed this year by the Farmington town historian after my mother sent her some old photos from the previous tenants. She told us that from 1819 until 1912, the house belonged to the Hathaway family of Quaker settlers. Joseph Hathaway was an abolitionist with strong beliefs in anti-slavery and women’s-rights reform, and his sister, Phoebe Hathaway, who lived her entire life in our house, established the first female Western New York Anti Slavery Society chapter, right there in Farmington. She was very close with Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, and the historian believes they were both entertained as guests in our home. I think that trumps the Kissinger sighting.
I have no idea who you’ll rub elbows with this week at the Oakland Yard wine tasting flights - it won’t be Phoebe, who’s not only long dead but also a founding member of the temperance society – but elbows will be rubbed, and unless your house has benevolent ghosts, like mine, you’ll have to leave it now and then to brush with greatness.
TONIGHT: Thursday Night Flights. ALL FRENCH REDS or WHITES. $12 tasting flights from 4-8.
SATURDAY 10/27: LAMBRUSCO TASTING! Sparkling Reds from Emilia-Romagna $15 flights from 2-6 and wines by the glass until 9.
SUNDAY 10/28: CALIFORNIA REDS $15 flights from 2-6 and wines by the glass until 8pm.