by Mitch Lee
When I was young, one of the great actions between men that I took note of was the handshake. I observed many honest deals being made between the Adirondack men in my community as well as with summer residents.
It signified contracts that were made without paperwork and made honestly to seal a deal.
In 1972, we children also had our own way of making agreements and pacts to keep a good secret or bargain.
We would often swear each other to these secrets and seal it with a good firm pinky swear or handshake while looking at each other straight in the eye, just as our fathers did.
These secrets were never about tragically bad deeds. They reflected what eight-year-old children feared their parents might find out, such as swapping items from our lunch, hosting spit distance contests, and buying candy when we knew we were not allowed.
As we grew older we called them gentlemen’s agreements.
If one of us got hurt playing football or played tackle when we were supposed to be playing two-hand touch—especially if there was blood involved—it stayed between us. They were honest deals and set a foundation for trust.
When I left my community for college and came into contact with people from different areas, I found that the gentlemen’s agreements I was accustomed to were null and void.
I often found myself waiting for appointed meetings with no one else showing up, or bargaining for a ride that never arrived.
When I’d ask why there was no regard for our agreement I would need a New York City lawyer to interpret the response.
I had arrived in a world where there wasn’t a deal that couldn’t be wiggled out of with fast talk or just plain indifference.
It took me a long time to appreciate our North Country handshakes and the rest of the world’s apathy for a gentlemen’s agreement.
As I grow older I see that these simple agreements and the folks who make them are vanishing.
Many of the agreements made for shoveling a camp roof, for turning water on and off, or plowing out driveways still works the old fashioned way.
But even they are dwindling as folks who live in a world where contracts are required don’t understand the meaning of simple handshakes and gentlemen’s agreements.
Mitch Lee, Adirondack native & storyteller,
lives at Inlet. firstname.lastname@example.org