Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Friday, November 30, 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays ...Whatever

I'm curious about this "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" controversy. I keep seeing postings on Facebook where people insist we're supposed to say Merry Christmas to everybody, implying that somehow saying Happy Holidays is an insult. In fact, a few years ago I was in a local store and bumped into a high school classmate. I wished him a hearty Happy Holidays! and he jumped all over me. "It's MERRY CHRISTMAS!" he snarled. Oh. Hmm. I see, well yeah, you have a nice Christmas, pal.

At the risk of getting blasted here for "urban sensibilities," I lived in a place for a long time where not everybody celebrates Christmas. They do, however, celebrate many holidays at this time of year: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, and New Year's Eve and Day, to name just a few. I don't really want someone coming up to me and chirping "Happy Kwanzaa!" when I, not being Swahili, don't celebrate that particular observance. So what's so bad about saying happy holidays? It seems to me it's just a nice thing...to wish people a good time on whatever particular holiday they happen to observe. Folks aren't dissing Christmas when they say happy holidays. They're saying, at least from my perspective, "You go ahead and have a nice time in whatever it is you're doing this time of year." So I intend to continue my offering of "Happy Holidays!" and will risk the wrath of those who disagree. 

Speaking of the holidays, don't miss the 15th Annual Holiday Artist Sale at the Earlville Opera House from now until December 22. The sale is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm and Sundays from noon to 4pm. Beautiful handcrafted work from regional artists -- paintings, pottery, weaving, stained glass, metal, wood, quilts, cards, blown glass, jewelry, ornaments, soap, and much more. Remember: buying local is good for everybody.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November Musings

Christmas is four weeks away and I'm behind. Very behind. Not many gifts in hand, no decorations up but for some outside lights that I haven't yet turned on. The spirit, which usually hits me around June, wasn't kicking in. Then we got some snow over the weekend and I took a drive in the country. Bing came on the radio with White Christmas just as I spotted a few deer that had thus far avoided the hunter's bullet. And I felt a little kick. I guess all I needed were a few flakes and deep-voiced singer to start the engine. Now my mind is tick tick ticking: where is that garland, and how about Harry's reindeer ears?

Speaking of dogs, my friend Jackie lost hers this week. I remember when she brought Casey home: she was pregnant with her now 16-year-old son. Casey the dog, who the family (for reasons unknown to me) called Bo, was a ball of fluff, charging through life as a white streak with a fanciful smile on his poodle face. In his advanced years Casey would visit us in Sherburne, and my Harry, who is under the impression he's an attack dog when a pit bull passes by, seemed to understand his "cousin's" elderly condition. Harry was gentle, nudging a cataract- and arthritis-ridden Casey around the yard, never having known the old man in the spring of life. Jackie's beloved 17-year-old pet passed away on Saturday, on a pillow at home. We'll miss you, Bo.

Finally, Santa's elves have been to town...check out the lights at The Sherburne Inn. Elves were seen on Saturday scraping windows, setting up Christmas trees, hanging ribbon. I've always been a fan of the old expression, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

As I write this, I'm sitting on my sofa. The TV news is on (endless reports on pending middle east war and cheating generals), my Mac is on my lap, and my Blackberry is nearby, dinging with emails and texts.

It's time to draw a line in the sand.

First, though, we must face facts. I am a child of television. I grew up on the thing when the picture was tiny, black and white, and featuring wholesome boys and girls saying "Yes Ma'am" to vacuuming, pearl-clad, stay-at-home moms. I now own a dozen TVs -- little ones, big ones, flat screens, back-breaking older versions, and one (whose picture tube is blown) that was owned by my parents, a console too massive for even my strongest guy friends to haul out of my house. I am addicted to television: this monkey is on my back to stay.

Then there's the computer. Come on. I'm not giving that one up either, not when at my fingertips I have the world.

My Blackberry, however, is a different animal. Another computer, yes, but this one tiny and as haunting as siren song. Emails and texts not only appear on its mini-face, but announce their presence with metallic bongs, causing my eyes to drag away from other screens to see what vitally important associate is bothering me now (half the time the message is from an unknown someone advising me how to lose weight, grow hair, or enlarge body parts I do not have). Appallingly, of course, I can silence the Blackberry with the flick of a finger. I don't, though, not even at bedtime. Yes. The Blackberry follows me to the chamber of slumber. It is on my night table when I fall asleep, wakes me in the morning with its clock alarm, and is the first thing I reach for upon waking. Because I have to SEE who contacted me overnight, even if it's only the wife of a fallen prince letting me know funds have been deposited in my name at a bank in Tanzania.

I am a Blackberry addict.

So I've made a decision. I'm going to stop texting people so they'll stop texting me. I'm going to set the Blackberry on silent. I'm going check emails only during business hours, and I'm going to buy a regular alarm clock so I can leave this cigarette-pack sized, screeching prodding apparatus full of bits and bytes in the kitchen when I sleep. I will no longer be a slave to a contraption named after a piece of fruit!

Wait a minute, okay, sorry, I need to run...my Blackberry is vibrating...I guess I set it wrong...better find out if I'm a million dollar lotto winner, or if there's a new way to enlarge a body part I do have...  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Downtown Sherburne Gets A Little Bit Better

Sometimes the planets just line up, not in the fashion the doomsday folks are claiming they will on December 21, but in a good way.

I was wandering around Sherburne on Friday, doing a little Christmas shopping, and decided to stop in at the new store in town, Olde Village Mercantile (next door to China King). I'd heard that we had a new gift shop and wanted to say hello, welcome them to town, maybe pick up some stocking stuffers, etc.

What a pleasant surprise.

Walking through the door was like going back in time -- or maybe sideways -- in that I suddenly felt displaced somehow. I'd expected a brightly lit Hallmark atmosphere and found, instead, a peaceful respite from dollar stores and bargain basements. The colors were deep and rich, there was classical holiday music playing, the smells were of homemade candles, and the ambience, all in all, was delicious, full of soft lighting and beautiful hand-crafted merchandise. One of the three partners, Lee Blanchard-Excell, was behind the counter and it turns out (planets-lining-up-wise) that she is the great-grandaughter of the people who once owned my house. We chatted about her time spent where I now live, my house ghosts, and how this wonderful store ended up in downtown Sherburne.

Lee, along with her two partners Nicole Mullen and Jennifer Excell, opened a gift shop in Hubbardsville (Colchester Mercantile) in March of this year, and relocated to Sherburne in mid-October. The three have a passion for antiques and primitive decor, and admit they are happiest when being creative. "We always have our hands busy working on some sort of project," she says, "so it was a natural progression."

The truth of her words is obvious in touring the store. There are antiques, primitive and country home items, refurbished furniture, re-purposed "up-cycled" pieces, one-of-a-kind designs, small gifts, handmade soaps and toiletries, handmade candles, maple products, pieces from local artists, and much more.

When I asked her "Why Sherburne?" she answered quickly. "This is OUR community and we have a vested interest in the village. This is our home and we are privileged to share our dream with the people we have known and loved all of our lives." Lee is from Sherburne, and her partners are from Earlville. All graduated from Sherburne-Earlville school. Like others who appreciate the benefits of our small town, Lee, Nicole, and Jennifer felt a spot in Sherburne's downtown was an opportunity they just couldn't pass up.

Planets do line up indeed. Just at the time when local citizens are stepping forward to bring back the Sherburne Inn, a lovely gift shop opens a half block away. The future of Sherburne is bright when we have people like Lee and Nicole and Jennifer investing in our downtown with a beautiful shop like Olde Village Mercantile. I know I speak for many when I wish you great success, not to mention offering a big Thank You! for believing, as we do, that a revitalization of Sherburne's historic district can and must and will happen.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bright Lights, Small Town

I've lived full-time in this small town, my hometown, for two years this month. When I returned to the place my parents chose to raise me, I didn't know how ratcheting down from city life would go because, 24 months ago, I was thinking about the big stuff: movie star sightings, excitement, new possibilities around every corner, bright lights. Somehow, as I followed the moving trucks north, I forgot -- or maybe never even knew about -- the importance of the small stuff.

Halloween was on Wednesday. I don't have a guess how many kids came to my door in the hours between 4 and 8 p.m., though that I went through 15 bags of candy gives an indication. The streets were teeming with children, all costumed and polite and friendly and respectful. One fellow, maybe 13, was wearing black pants, a black leather jacket, and a jaunty cap. I asked who he was supposed to be and he answered quickly, "An '80s reporter." Best laugh I had all night. Who needs a movie star sighting when you've got comedians right at your front door?

There's an angel in my neighborhood, someone who for the past few weeks has, early in the morning on trash day, carted my garbage can from the sidewalk and placed it near the back step. Part of me wants to get up early and peer out the window to see who it is. Another part, the one that will win this curiosity tug-of-war, prefers to wonder. In Yiddish, an unselfish and anonymous gesture is called a mitzvah.  Thank you, whoever you are, for reminding me that a random act of kindness is plenty of excitement for me.

Finally, there are possibilities and corners. On a corner here in Sherburne, possibilities have been ignited. People from here and there and everywhere are raising hands and saying four little words: How Can I Help? Our quiet and historic Sherburne Inn will not be quiet for long because we live in a place where people care about their community. Soon activity will begin, windows will be scraped clean of vandals' paint, pigeons will be banished, and craftsmen and visionaries will step in with their skills. Plans are moving forward; come spring (if not sooner), restoration will begin.

I've come to discover that cities aren't the only places that are brightly lit. In this small place there is so much light: in our kids, in our kindness, and in the dazzling spirit of neighbors who will come together with heart and passion and dedication to turn the most meaningful of bright lights back on in a downtown institution.

I'm so glad I'm home.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum