Good will, ice cream and quirky characters in Richie Davis’ new collection of stories

  • Richie Davis signs a book at the Greenfield Public Library. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Richie Davis talks with Rebecca Weiss and Will Quale of Montague Center about his new book at the Greenfield Public Library. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Richie Davis at the Greenfield Public Library. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • “GOOD WILL & ICE CREAM”

Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2021 8:50:40 AM

Richie Davis has more to share. After spending four decades in journalism and publishing a collection of Greenfield Recorder stories last year, the longtime reporter still has more to tell about the lives and experiences of Franklin County.

Davis, who resides in Montague, retired as senior/regional reporter more than two years ago and has now published his second collection of stories titled “Good Will and Ice Cream,” which can be found on his website and in local bookstores and libraries around Franklin County.

He was initially hesitant about publishing a second book, but Davis said these stories need to be shared because they reflect the charm of the region.

“I just didn’t want them sitting around in a vault somewhere, forgotten,” Davis said in an interview at his home. “The stories to me aren’t stories, they’re people. They’re their experiences and they’re compelling pieces of what makes this area special to me. And they’re memories to me, so I want to keep those memories alive and the people alive.”

Characters of Franklin County

Davis highlighted the “characters” who lived, or still live, in the region and why their personalities invoke Franklin County.

“There’s people who are just very committed to how they live. It connects, I think, with a lot of the traditions here,” Davis said. “Whether it’s carrying on a farming tradition, or sugaring, or from a tradition of nonviolence and tolerance. They just kind of live that tradition that inspires other people.”

It’s stories like “Root Hog or Die” — a pre-Civil War phrase meaning it is solely up to an individual to work to survive — that evoke the traditions of Franklin County. The story, written 40 years after the release of the 1973 documentary of the same name, explores the deep-rooted agricultural traditions of the region. Davis said the documentary is “quintessential” to understanding the history of the area.

Davis, who said his favorite awards are the ones he won for reporting on agriculture, made the point that those who work the often-thankless jobs on the farm are the people who feed us. He said stories like that are a reminder of where the county has come from, even if the farming culture has faded from what it once was.

“There are probably people out there in the field today who were weeding, planting, harvesting and stewarding the land for us,” Davis said as Tropical Storm Elsa and other storms dumped several inches of rain on the region. “That story about ‘Root Hog or Die’ is really important to me. There’s a tradition of people who work the land, and some of them are still around. They’re not quite functioning as well, but the tradition lives on.”

Other stories like “The Music Community’s Guiding Star” focus more on a single Franklin County “character” who could inspire those around him. The main figure in the story, David Kaynor, helped foster a community of fiddlers and contra dancers in Greenfield. Davis said the stories of people like Kaynor, who could galvanize others and draw a group together, need to be shared.

“He was like the living embodiment of keeping a tradition alive and bringing a community together,” Davis said. “That’s the most important thing for me, is bringing the community together.”

While Davis said he knows the county’s nature has changed over the years, he also knows these kinds of stories still exist and are a reflection of what the region is truly about.

“I’m not so naive to think the genuine character of Franklin County is not untainted, but it still lives on. If you look for it, it’s really there,” Davis said. “I’ve tried to find the characters that evoke that genuine character, to remember it and to keep it alive and also connect people with the history of this place.”

Power of local journalism

Stories about community and quirky characters are among the reasons why Davis spent four decades working in the region. He said he sees local reporting as a way to bring people together over common themes.

“(Community) is why I spent 42 years working here. I saw this as a way of bringing the community together and showing people the richness that was here,” Davis said. “Which is also, for me, the reason why the Recorder is here, and what journalism is really about. It’s about bringing people together and connecting them to what’s around them.”

Davis said we live in a “cynical time” when it comes to national politics, but a local newspaper has the chance to surpass those feelings.

“I feel like the cynicism is so strong nationally, and that’s one part of what makes this place so special is that there’s still this sense of people listening to each other, knowing each other and caring about the community,” Davis said. “I think I saw that as the newspaper’s role and my role, is to sort of help people.”

He added the book is about “gratitude” and he is thankful for the existence of community newspapers and their role in connecting people.

“I feel so grateful for the Recorder and the fact that there are newspapers and that people are able to go in and read about their neighbors, learn about things neighbors are doing in the community that you wouldn’t come across otherwise,” Davis said. “Especially now, when everybody’s plugged into their phone and miss what’s going on in the real world.”

Publishing lessons

While Davis had a list of stories that was too long to include in one book, he said it was still difficult to narrow down what to include in “Good Will and Ice Cream.”

“I’ve learned to be a little more careful,” Davis said. “The second time, there was a more thoughtful process about, ‘OK, so go over each story and think about how does this story fit? Does the story not fit?’”

He added that the book publishing process was more rewarding this time around as the lessened impact of the pandemic is allowing him to hold ice cream socials and showcases of the book around the county — beyond reading the book to a Zoom audience, which he said he actually liked doing.

“The best part of the book is to share it with people in person,” Davis said. “So, the ice cream social that we had the other day, it was neat meeting people talking about the book, but I think what I really enjoyed was the Zoom readings that I did.”

“Good Will and Ice Cream” can be found at Boswell’s Books and Sawyer News, both in Shelburne Falls, World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Amherst Books and Montague Bookmill, as well as on Davis’ website: richiedavis.net. Davis is also hand-delivering copies of the book to libraries around the county.

After going through the effort of publishing two collections of stories, Davis said it will take a lot of encouragement to curate another.

“Somebody is going to have to twist my arm really hard to make me; it’s a lot of work,” Davis said. “It’s much more work than I thought it is. I thought the stories were all written and edited and just going to pop out. There’s a lot more to it than that.”

In his free time, Davis plays music and has recently gotten into creating art with pastels. He said the book’s variety of music and art stories is a “reflection of the interests” that entice him to write.

However, he said the paper and pen is always calling his name, even if he’s just writing in his personal journal.

“Every time I see something, it’s a story for me. That’s the danger of being a reporter,” Davis said. “I’m always wanting to go around the corner and see what’s going on.”

Meet the author

Davis will sign copies of his book at “A Peachy Good Will & Ice Cream Social” on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.




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