Upon meeting Priscilla Goss, some three-plus years ago, it would have been easy to peg her as a member of the demographic that returns to the Adirondacks after having a first life and career somewhere else and then decides that these mountains are a fine place to call second home.
When one digs a bit deeper however, there is a tale with roots that run all the way back to Priscilla's childhood (and even before). After hearing her stories during our time together, it brings to mind a new definition for that term "Adirondack native."
Upon meeting Priscilla in her humble home overlooking the marshland fringing Oseetah Lake, she is positively glowing this January afternoon as she vacuum seals cuts of beef to be housed in the freezer until the dinner bell rings during this North Country winter.
(Photo — Michael Williams)
"One of the best investments I ever made," she said.
One gathers an immediate sense that this is a person who knows how to take care of herself and can handle life here in the mountains.
After finishing up the organizing of evening meals for the next couple of weeks, it is time to sit and unravel the how, when and why of her life here. Priscilla begins where all of our stories start, with her parents meeting, subsequently falling in love and eventually committing to each other.
This particular parental pairing is of interest as it took place right here in the heart of the High Peaks. In the early 1930s, with TB afflicting so many, Priscilla's father Louis Mackay, received treatment for it here in Saranac Lake.
During these years of rehabilitation, Louis met many people who became lifelong friends. One of these folks (whose name was Priscilla) had a close friend from New Jersey who made the trip up one weekend in 1931.
For Louis, this friend named Helen Jensen became his "love at first sight," and after a long distance courtship and eventual recovery from the tuberculosis, the two were married in 1936.
Their only child, a baby girl, came along a few years later, and when it came time to choose a name, it was an easy call and Priscilla Mackay met the world.
"I always say that I was here before I was born," Priscilla said.
Annual summer trips to the Adirondacks became a staple of Priscilla's childhood. Memories of visits to Whiteface Mountain, Santa's Workshop, swimming in Lake Flower and spending time sorting through 45s at her father's good friend Duke Huntington's warehouse on Dorsey Street are imprinted in Priscilla's memory bank.
These trips came to an unfortunate end as Priscilla's mother engaged in and ultimately lost a four-year battle with cancer. Priscilla finished her adolescence and early adulthood in New Jersey with those summer trips to the mountains slowly becoming distant memories.
From that point, the story fast forwards to 1981, and Priscilla managing a career with Merck Pharmaceuticals in New Jersey. A serendipitous collection of circumstances brought her into an interview for an executive position with a company by the name of American Management Association. Priscilla did not exactly know just how profoundly this moment would affect her life going forward, but she states emphatically that she knew when she walked into that interview that she experienced an overwhelming sense of wanting this position.
"I still can't say what it was exactly, but I just knew that I should have this job and felt such a sense of ease that I knew after the interview that I had gotten the job," Priscilla said.
As the story goes, Priscilla did get that job, and shortly after, discovered that AMA had a substantial branch of the company located right here in Saranac Lake, ironically headquartered in the previously named Trudeau Sanatorium, in which her Dad received treatments some 50 years prior.
It was upon her first visit back to Saranac Lake that those memories, long ago boxed up and stored away, came back to Priscilla in a New York minute. Aside from administering to her duties as the company's head of human resources, she made time to reconnect with the group of folks who had been such a part of her childhood spent here in the mountains.
Emotional reunions began another set of lifelong memories for Priscilla. What followed from this first trip back to Saranac Lake was a 21-year career at AMA, which included frequent business trips, from the heart of New York City to the Saranac Lake area to administer to any number of company issues.
"Sometimes I'd get a bit creative in finding reasons to visit this branch," Priscilla said.
As the HR representative, she got to know almost everyone in the company and instantly broke down any barriers with her stories from a childhood spent here in the mountains.
Priscilla now fully understands that profoundly powerful feeling experienced so many years ago, entering an office in downtown New York City and knowing that this was the right path to take. That career choice not only provided Priscilla and her husband Bill with a comfortable quality of life, it led them back to this place that had always felt like home (coincidentally, Bill had his own set of memories from the Adirondacks to tap into as well).
When it came time to retire and make the move from the ever expanding New Jersey suburbs, it was a "no brainer" as to where to locate that next life. A brief search led them to their property in Ray Brook and Priscilla's "Adirondack Story: Chapter Next" began full time in 2002.
As many of us have experienced, life giveth and life taketh away, and it was just after a full year of beginning to create a life here that Bill discovered he had terminal cancer.
The couple was determined to fill any and all remaining time with Adirondack experiences and Priscilla takes comfort knowing they did just that.
While Bill's passing affected Priscilla profoundly, she did not consider, even for a moment, moving from her house or this area.
"People who I worked with in New York City, who only knew me in that professional capacity, thought there was no way I'd stay up here in the woods all by myself," Priscilla said. "To me, this is the safest, most peaceful place I've been in it's God's world, what else can I say."
Priscilla, present day, has filled her life with friendships and fulfilling work. Upon arriving in Saranac Lake, she felt the need to find a church to fulfill her spiritual needs. The moment she walked into the First Presbyterian Church in Saranac Lake, she said she knew she'd found her spot. Since that point, Priscilla has taken a position at the church as the "world's most overqualified office administrator."
She prepares the Sunday bulletin, publishes the church newsletter, manages rental of the Great Hall, keeps records up to date and assists the various committees. She values greatly this part time but still professional role and notes that it allows for an expression of the values instilled by her parents of giving back to those in need.
Priscilla's social circle includes the healthy mix of neighbors here on the road, people at the church and the sizeable group of employees from AMA, whom she had befriended over the course of her career.
Priscilla smiles as she recalls walking about town with friends visiting from out of town and having so many random folks pass on the street and greet her with a hello and how ya doing, her guests marveling at the number of people she knew.
"I know more people here in this little concentrated area than I have in any other place that I have been in and that includes New York City," Priscilla notes with delight.
Nowadays, Priscilla's outdoor protocol consists of paddling her lightweight canoe along the waterways in the summer and fall, and snow-shoeing the trails located near her Ray Brook home during these North Country winters. Beyond her work at the church, she has recently become a board member for Historic Saranac Lake, which seems to connect to her passion for discovering new facts on the history of the region.
As the interview draws to its finish, Priscilla is asked to note her most enduring Adirondack moment. After only the slightest hesitation, she brings forward the fact that she caught her first fish, with her dad back in 1950, at the Ray Brook pond near the railroad trestle.
She marvels as she notes that she is here, some 60 years later, living in the heart of this place that she spent the best times of her childhood and less than 2 miles from the place she caught her first fish.
"It's amazing to me to think how my life has come full circle and brought me back here brought me back home," Priscilla says with such satisfaction.
This article based on an interview with Michael Williams who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.