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From the Back Porch: Life’s a Banquet!

By Sue Whistler

We are just starting to see them around town. Like the return of migrating birds, young folks dressed in serious hiking gear and toting heavy backpacks are passing through EVL headed somewhere for something. The somewhere can be as close as the nearest state park or as far away as California. The something can be anything from a short hiking and camping vacation to background research for a graduate thesis. The good folks of Ellicottville embrace them, offering everything from a smile and directions to a hot meal and a couch for the night. What a blessing and privilege it is to live in a small rural community.

Just a few weeks ago, I was stopped at the railroad crossing out by the tubing hill by a young couple hiking east along the tracks who asked me for directions to Franklinville. They reminded me of two of our own children who are currently embarked on a hiking odyssey of their own.

One of the gifts we received when our first child was born was a small framed plaque with the inscription: “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings.” My husband Tom and I embraced that basic childrearing philosophy with the clear understanding that where and how high they flew was up to them. We had the roots covered.

My husband Tom is the 10th of 13 children so our children have aunts, uncles and 44 first cousins spread all over the country. They can find roots virtually anywhere their wings carry them. We never dreamed that any of our children would embrace the “wings” part with such enthusiasm and fly so high and so far.

Our second child, Kait, and her husband John are currently walking with their two therapy-certified rescue dogs across the country from the shores of Lewes, Del., to San Francisco, Calif. They are visiting nursing homes, hospitals and children’s homes along the way, hoping to raise awareness for pet therapy and animal rescue while leaving miles of smiles in their wake. May every town they visit be an Ellicottville.

I’ve thought a lot about their walk since we dropped them off on a beach in Delaware in March. Their journey will be nothing short of a master class in human nature. They will learn more hard lessons about themselves and their fellow man in the next nine or 10 months than most of us will in a lifetime … if ever. I am in awe of their courage and I envy them. I envy them for their youth and the adventures they will have on the road. But mostly I envy them because they have managed to simplify and condense their lives to fit into a 30-pound backpack and a modified jogging stroller. I couldn’t even get the stuff that’s currently piled on my desk into that space.

My all-time favorite fictional character Auntie Mame once declared: “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Lately I’ve been noticing that many of us have taken our seats at the banquet table after filling our plates with all the stuff that now fills our closets, garages, basements and attics – stuff that we were once convinced we needed, stuff that was rarely used and is now mostly forgotten.

I’ve decided that all those fabulous kids with backpacks have figured it out. Like someone on a crash diet, I’m struggling to clear my plate and resist the temptation to refill it with a lot of that “stuff.” I’m starting to belly up to the banquet table with second helpings of family, friends and all sorts of interesting and challenging activities. I’m finding that my plate and belly have never been so full.

You can follow Kait and John’s journey on their blog at

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