I don't have a favorite, book, song or movie, but I do have a favorite poem. It's A.E. Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young."
Since I first heard it, 50 years ago, I've read it hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I've never tired of it, and I recall lines from it frequently. So it was no surprise that, when I learned Dew Drop Morgan died, one of its stanzas immediately came to mind:
"Today, the road all runners come,
Forrest 'Dew Drop' Morgan was a big fan of the New York Yankees.
(Enterprise file photo)
"Shoulder-high we bring you home,
"And set you at your threshold down,
"Townsmen of a stiller town."
The poem is elegiac, as you'd expect of something as tragic as the death of a young man, but that wasn't why I was reminded of Dew. There's nothing tragic about Dew's passing away after a long life, well lived.
Instead, it was that last line - "townsmen of a stiller town." Because when Dew was in his prime, he helped make the town a helluva noisier place. Not only was Dew one of the great town characters, but he surrounded himself with them as well.
You want an example? OK. It was when I first became aware of Dew Drop, right after the 1958 World Series had just finished. It was considered a great series, with the Yankees, having been down 3-1 after four games, coming back to beat the Braves in an eight-inning seventh game.
But I didn't care about the series, or even about baseball itself. The only thing I cared about was the spectacle that was about to unfold on the bridge by the Dew Drop Inn. For there, a good-size crowd had gathered to watch Chuckie Pandolph (another colorful and beloved town character) pay off his series gambling debt to Dew.
Chuckie didn't pay Dew back in money - that would've been far too dull. Nope, the loser had to jump in the river, which Chuckie all-too-gladly did, to the great merriment of the crowd.
And this wasn't a one-time thing. The bet was ongoing, and every year one or the other of them took the plunge (which was photographed and then written up by Bill McLaughlin, yet one more Character Extraordinaire).
For years, Dew won the bet because the Yankees were the baseball powerhouse and Dew Drop was the most loyal Yankee fan. Later on, while the Yankees' weren't as dominant, Dew was still as loyal.
Dew was a gambler, probably spelled with a capital G. I know only two stories of his gambling, one of which he told me.
We were chatting, and somehow I mentioned Frank Savoca. Frank was a barber; he was also a gambler. He was a first-rate barber, and from what I'd always heard, he was a first-rate gambler, too. I asked Dew how good a gambler Frank was, and his answer was a classic.
"Well," he said, "I won hundreds of dollars from Frank." Then he paused and added, "and Frank won thousands from me."
I heard the second story from a friend. His dad had died, and a few days after the funeral, Dew showed up at the house. He gave my friend his sympathies, and then handed him $28 he'd owed his father.
Food and floor show every night
Of course, I best knew Dew from the Dew Drop Inn. To those of you who moved here after its closing, I can only say you missed one of the best deals in the Adirondacks. And when it came to his pizza, you missed one of the best deals in the world.
I love pizza and am one of those fools who could eat it every day, and sometimes do. I've eaten pizza all over the U.S. and over half the world as well, from Mexico City to New Delhi and throughout Europe, including Italy. And when I say I never had pizza as good as Dew Drop's, it's a statement of fact.
But his pizza didn't just happen by itself, overnight. He'd traveled all over New York state, stopping in every Italian restaurant he could, asking how they made their pizza. His exact quote was, "I'm pretty good at playing the dumb Irishman." And as a result, he said the other restaurateurs gladly shared their recipes, perhaps even "secrets," figuring Dew'd never capitalize on them.
Even then, arriving at this final recipe was no easy matter. He said before he got it right, he threw out 1,000 pizzas and made another 1,000 he should've thrown out. But get it right he did.
At its mildest, the bar at Dew's was lively. At its liveliest, it was not for the faint at heart. This was due to the decibel level, which at least wasn't as loud as an F-85. But since the noise always seemed to revolve around sports, it was enough to keep me at a distant table, from which I could tune in or out as I wanted. Mostly, I tuned out. But I lost nothing, because if anything noteworthy happened at the bar, it came through the village grapevine the next day.
I had my own private pipeline when Mike Nicola tended bar there. Mike's a friend now but was my student in the early '70s (and an excellent one at that). Inevitably he came to class every day with a Dew Drop's saga from the night before. They ran the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime, and were never boring.
One of Mike's ongoing stories was Dew's simultaneous firing/hirings. They weren't nightly occurrences, but they weren't rare, either. And they happened as only they could've at Dew's.
Here's how it went: At some point in the night, Dew'd be in his cups and would fire one or more of the staff. Now keep in mind, Dew Drop's employees were top-notch, so the "reason" for their firing was known only to Dew. The employee would finish their shift, and then when they came in the next day to settle up with Dew's wife, Sheila, she'd tell them to forget it, they weren't fired, and to just come back to work. And they did - time after time.
Mary Weston, who waitressed there for years, told me the ultimate firing story. One night Dew was on a roll and fired several of the employees. Then he went to the end of the bar, faced down Bert Perga and told him he was fired, too.
"B-b-but I don't work here," stammered Bert. "I just came in to pick up my pizza!"
When I sat down to write this, a nagging question arose: How could I ever do justice to Dew Drop, that good-hearted, lovable lug who gave so much and took so little?
The answer is, I can't.
I can only try my best and hope it doesn't fail too badly.