The last time many of us in Philipstown saw Jim Guinan alive, was St. Patrick's Day 2009 at Whistling Willies in Cold Spring, N.Y. Jim had a cold, but he was feeling up, telling stories, singing with his friends.
During a lull in the action, he relayed to me an encounter he'd had at lunch with his daughter Margaret. They'd been dining at one of his favorite haunts, The Depot in Cold Spring when a pair of strangers approached clutching a library copy of "Little Chapel on the River" and asked Jim to sign it.
Turns out, this couple had driven to Garrison from New Jersey on the High Holy Day to share the celebration at Guinan's, only to find it closed. Disappointed, they made their way to The Depot and relayed their tale to the waiter, who then nodded over to where Jim and Margaret were dining. A chance encounter, it was, since Jim was up visiting from Florida where he lived with his youngest daughter, Christine. The delighted couple told Jim how one of their sons was a West Point graduate and asked him to sign their library book. I remember how Jim loved this last touch: the thrill of the forbidden - signing a library's copy for two people he'd never met.
"Can you believe it luv?" he chuckled.
As with so many things "Guinan's," the encounter eventually came full circle. Two weeks ago, I joined by telephone a meeting of the Literature Department of the Pines Lake Woman's Club, in the Township of Wayne, N.J. It's a private lake community in a natural wooded setting dotted with log cabins, cottages.
This club has been a part of the N.J. State Federation of Women's clubs for more than 50 years, according to member Ruth Wallo. That evening's discussion started off with a story from another member: Joan Reilly. She recalled how she and her husband Bob had loved the story of Guinan's so much that they drove to Garrison last St. Patrick's Day and ended up meeting Jim at The Depot after discovering the store was closed. She'd asked him to sign the library book (which they later replaced).
"Can you believe it?" Joan said to me. "That we met him?"
Here in Philipstown, we've been talking a lot about the impact of community gathering spots such as Guinan's over the past few months in an effort to raise funds to keep the building's doors open to the public. Listening to stories from people like the Pine Lake Woman's Club literature members drives home how wide the tentacles of such spots can reach, and how many lives they can touch. Betsy Hays, who painted this image of Guinan's, still recalls the cat "with six toes" who lay on the counter at Guinan's. Joan Reilly has her library book from Jim. We all have our memories, and the shared connections turn strangers into friends.
Many thanks to the eight new friends present at the book club meeting night, including host Barbara Hall, and Nan Walter: Nan, I'll be sending you an audio version of Little Chapel.