I write my columns while out walking, mentally, that is. This particular morning I was coming up with zilch. My mom was always good for a column or two. Although she was chronologically 92 years old, her attitude was that of someone half her age. And with Mom, there was always a story to tell. Nothing to tell of late; she died over a year ago.
Of course, there was my “sweet Frank.” He was my straight man and we often played off each other. But alas, he died in April.
Ah, me. I suppose I’m in a funk.
My doctor said that I am doing fine, grieving appropriately and moving forward. Well, maybe so. But forward to where? Does this grief thing have a destination? I feel better for a few days, then grief sneaks up from behind and — gotcha! — I’m in funksville again.
They say that when facing any loss we must get on with our lives. Really? This cliché makes me laugh, even now. If any well-meaning folk would venture to give me this advice, I would blurt, “What the h— do you think I’m doing?”
And the death business is really a business. I don’t know how many times I’ve sent a death certificate to the same agency. I mean, really, dead is dead is dead! I have a missing husband to prove it.
I had a spell last month when my normal weirdness morphed into a full-blown case of eccentricity. Here’s what I did in the span of a few days:
I’m meticulous about my finances (or lack thereof ). When I received an overdraft notice from my bank, Ifreaked out. I remembered transferring funds to cover my bills, except that I didn’t know where the funds went or, worse yet, to whom!
Upon discovering an empty shampoo bottle, I began the blame game (dreadful of me, I know). Turns out that I left the bottle uncapped and the shampoo spilled into the plastic container that holds my hair products. While using a few choice words, I flung the container into the bathtub and began rinsing it. Lordy, lordy! That bathtub produced more bubbles than the Lawrence Welk show.
During a torrential rainstorm, I drove to a friend’s house. Trying to alight from my car, I opened the umbrella inside the car. The umbrella got stuck in an open position and me along with it. Oy!
Lest you think I’m a complainer, many graces have come my way. At first blush, however, they presented in odd packaging. For instance:
I am continually amazed and humbled by the support of my family, extended church family and friends. They sustain me.
And to my readers: Although I don’t know most of you personally, I deeply appreciate your expressions of sympathy and concern. Your cards and notes arrived in my mailbox just when I needed them the most.
Upon receiving the aforementioned overdraft letter, I made a beeline to my bank. The manager was sympathetic, fixed the error, offered cookies and dispensed some sage advice.
My across-the-street neighbors materialize regularly with food, tend to my trash cans and have been there for me in ways that give new meaning to the word “neighbors.” Truthfully, they are more like family.
Quite by chance, I landed a part-time job at a charming assisted-living facility in Cutchogue. I was hired to interact with the residents and engage them in stimulating activities. And bonus! I enjoy it. One can say I was at the right place at the right time. But I know better.
Last week, I heard someone laugh; that someone was me.
While contemplating this column I came across the following passage: “Sometimes you have to just stop worrying, wondering and doubting. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.”
And what do you know? This column just got written.
Hmm. Grace, definitely!
Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.
Believe me, I’m not thinking about leaving the North Fork. For a couple of very good reasons. One is simply that I love the place.
The second reason has to do with something I read in The Suffolk Times a short while back. Now I consider this newspaper pretty objective, certainly not out to create panic. But panicky is how I felt when I read one lady’s suggestions about what I’d have to do if I wanted to sell my house. The lady’s a respected North Fork realtor so her six recommendations could not be taken lightly.
First, the realtor wrote, I’d have to clean my home, clean it thoroughly. Well, my bathrooms and kitchen are really clean but she said I’d have to replace old shades and blinds. You know what? I don’t even have shades or blinds. I do have curtains on the bottoms of my windows. And I do wash those curtains. But sometime it takes a few weeks to get them back up on the windows.
Then I’d have to “spruce up the landscaping.” I guess I could blame most outdoor problems on my husband, but that wouldn’t be fair. It’s my fault there are old, discolored wooden clothespins clipped forlornly to the clothesline. And I’m responsible for the cracked clay flowerpots I left on the deck all winter.
Next, the realtor advised that I “de-clutter” the inside of my home. I’m gonna blame this problem on one of my children. He lives upstate near a pottery shop and he’s always giving me a cup or some unusual-looking piece he thinks I’ll like. Like them? Yes, but where to put them? Oh, and I have a cousin who causes a clutter problem, too. She lives in New Jersey and sends me big floral arrangements. They’re dried flowers and really quite lovely, but they do take up space. When the UPS guy comes to the door with Diana’s flowers, my first thought is, Where am I going to put them? I wonder if the realtor lady would like some for her office.
And listen to this: The realtor said I must try to “de-personalize” my home. Get rid of most of the family pictures because they are a distraction for buyers. I suppose that’s true. But wouldn’t that depend on who those family members were? Imagine if Vince Lombardi were indeed a relative (you can’t know how often I’m asked that) and I had his photo on a wall in my home. And right below the photo, a table supporting a great big trophy. Wow! Folks would be clamoring to buy my North Fork house.
Here’s more advice from the realtor. Use neutral colors when painting inside or out. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more neutral. But I remember earlier times in another home when I painted the kitchen something the color chart called “apricot.” Somehow that house was sold. Also, the realtor’s advice is if you’ve got wallpaper on your walls, remove it. I did that years ago. I struggled to remove a wallpaper border. Even that small effort was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ll never remove wallpaper again. Never.
Finally, a suggestion I can comply with. Take pets out of the house when buyers tour the place. That’s easy. I don’t have a pet. Poor cat Toby died a few years ago. His little grave marker is in our garden. And I just won’t remove that.
I have to admit the realtor seems extremely helpful, but one thing she didn’t cover. What should you do with a husband when potential buyers are at the front door? Send him to King Kullen for a box of cookies? Have him putter in the garage and promise to say no more than hello and goodbye? Hoist him up on the roof, where he can pretend to be installing great new neutral-color shingles? Husbands can say things, do things, that may scare off a prospect. Like explaining the dog next door never barks at night. Just all day. Or that your hilly driveway ices up in winter and getting to the mailbox is hazardous. A really helpful realtor has gotta address the husband problem. Until then, I think most North Forkers will never consider selling their homes.
There you have it. The second reason I’ll never sell my house. It will never be thoroughly clean, de-cluttered, picture-free, painted gray inside and out and, I pray fervently, without my husband to mess things up. That’s a North Fork way of life.
Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.
Let’s see. Flowers would be good. Perhaps a few red roses. Or perfume. Lots of women enjoy sweet fragrance. Maybe even a piece of jewelry. Although that could be expensive.
The upcoming Valentine’s Day can certainly prove difficult for guys looking to delight a lady. Even clever, sensitive North Fork men may need a little help when it comes to selecting a small gift of love for the women in their lives. You know — moms, wives, daughters, sisters and so on.
If a guy is thinking candy, I have a few suggestions. First off, if choosing candy from a supermarket shelf, our man must be aware of the candy’s name. No matter how good the candy tastes, for a Valentine gift its name has gotta be romantic.
For example, a gift of Snickers or Jelly Belly hardly seems appropriate for a loving wife. And just think, guys, of the distress if your beloved were to open up a gift of Gummi Worms, Sour Patch or Jawbreakers. Milk Duds, Rocky Road or Mounds. Where’s the romance in a box of Airheads or a bag of Nerds? Men, you can’t be too careful.
So if it’s off the shelf, stick with candy bearing a Valentine name. Like Hershey’s Hugs or Kisses. But for something unique, travel the North Fork for candy shops. There are quite a few. Visit them as I did. My goal, of course, was to help you make a winning Valentine gift choice. Obviously I sampled several selections — in this case an occupational hazard.
My first sweet stop was at The Confectionery Corner in Southold. Just open the door and you’ve got romance on the menu. I saw chocolate-covered Heart Peeps, Cupid Candy (pink and red candy corn), chocolate heart lollipops, chocolate-covered cherry hearts. Somehow the chocolate nonpareils, sprinkled red and white for Valentine’s Day, appealed to me. After all, is there any woman who wouldn’t respond when told she is without equal?
Tending store for owner Dawn Powers was Dawn’s mother. From Orient, Mom (and that’s how she wants to be identified) told me Dawn is awaiting the end-of-February birth of her second child. Lucky kids. They’ve a loving, helpful grandma and a mama who owns a candy store. Ah, it’s a tough life on the North Fork!
Now say hello to Fran Liburt, who lives in Orient and travels to Greenport each day to her job at Sweet Indulgences. Fran was happy to show me so many special Valentine candy treats. And so important — these treats had romantic names, names bound to please.
We started off with Conversation Hearts, little candies imprinted with romantic sayings like “I Love You” or “Kiss Me.” If you prefer to do your own talking, the Love and Kisses Lollipops might be just the thing. Or try the Milk Chocolate Presents, little candies each individually gift-wrapped. Now that’s a labor of love. And it’s a labor that won’t be lost on your sweetheart.
There must be something romantic in the air at Love Lane Sweet Shoppe in Mattituck. But more about that in a minute.
Meantime I discovered a number of appropriate candy names at this candy heaven. There were Heartfelts, Strawberry Delights and Wings of Love. And some sweet edibles called Razzles. It’s possible that years ago I had some razzle, maybe even a little dazzle. No more. So a gift of that to a grandmotherly woman might be well received.
Now about what’s in the air. At the Sweet Shoppe I met Ashley Wilsberg, whose mom, Jackie Wilsberg, owns the store. Ashley, a Mattituck High School graduate, has been working at the store for three years.
When I heard that, I asked how she remained so slim with such delightful temptations in front of her each day. “Oh, that’s easy,” Ashley replied. “I’m on a wedding diet.”
That’s right. Ashley will marry a North Fork guy this April and they’ll be living in Laurel. As printed on the Sweet Shoppe business card — How Sweet It Is.
Well, gentlemen, I do indeed hope my sugary meanderings help you win fair lady on this Valentine’s Day. Though I realize most North Fork men, while romantic at times, are more often realistic and practical. If that’s the case, by all means get the candy. But add a little something extra. Like maybe a promissory note offering to wash the windows in the spring. It’s right around the corner.
Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.
The soothing harmony of Simon and Garfunkel singing “The Sound of Silence” kept me company during the last leg of my drive home. My monkey brain, usually super-charged, uncharacteristically settled on the word “silence” — temporarily, that is.
I began to reflect on how noisy our world has become. The realization that most folks are inundated with all manner of things that beep or ring was disquieting. Another eye-opener: The only silence I experience is when I’m out walking; even then, I carry my cellphone and Sparky, my trusty recorder. (A thunderbolt of divine inspiration can strike at any moment, you know.)
On impulse, I turned off the radio and drove in silence. It was different, but not unpleasant. Then the thunderbolt: Could I fast from noise for one day? No phone, computer or TV — and me not talking. Seemed doable, or so I thought.
Once home, I scanned my schedule and carved out a day that wouldn’t interfere with my obligations.
When I mentioned my silent day to Frank, he looked concerned and asked, “Feeling OK, Ceil?”
“The silent thing — before you open your eyes in the morning, you’re talking.”
And he wasn’t the only skeptic.
My son Greg chuckled and said, “Mom, you can’t keep your opinions to yourself!”
Jeff, my younger son, condescendingly asked, “Seen a doctor lately?”
My gal pals clearly thought I’d gone over the edge. However, one friend optimistically said, “Ceil, go for it. At our age, we can be as weird as we want.”
My sister Nancy freaked out, shrieking, “We need to talk daily!”
Fast-forward to S-Day.
7 a.m. I awoke feeling apprehensive.
8 a.m. Coffee sans the online New York Times and this newspaper. Ouch!
10 a.m. Walking on the beach. The antics of the waterfowl were entertaining, the sound of the waves was mesmerizing and the sun reflecting off the water was simply dazzling. Ah, sweet serenity.
Lunchtime. It felt strange not to power up my computer; being devoid of the news was stranger still. I got the jitters. My monkey-brain taunted, “Heading for news-junkie withdrawal, are you? What if something newsworthy is happening?” I broke out in a cold sweat. Goodbye, serenity. I wasn’t making any noise, but the house sure was. The thump-thump of the washing machine, the constant hum of the refrigerator and the clank of the furnace kicking in were ear-splitting. I wondered: Are these the sound of silence?
4 p.m. Doubting Frank arrived home and said, “Jeez! Still at it?”
5 p.m. The phone rang. Frank answered, “Hello … yes, Greg, really!”
6 p.m. Dinner time. Frank seemed uncomfortable, whereas I was trying to suppress a major case of the giggles. After dinner, I retired upstairs; Frank watched the news.
7 p.m. In my study, watching the green light on my computer blinking seductively. I sorely missed my news fix. The phone rang again. Listening hard, I heard snatches of Frank’s conversation. “Nothing, Jeff. I’m surprised, too.”
8 p.m. I drew a hot, aromatic bath and lit some scented candles. The slogan “Calgon, take me away!” popped into my brain. It wasn’t a Calgon product, but it took me away.
9 p.m. Cozy in bed and reading. I rarely go to bed before 11 o’clock, but what else was there to do? The silence was so loud that I heard my heartbeat. “Yikes!” I thought. “What if it stops?” I tried not to fixate on my heart and instead reflected on my day. I concluded it was a mixed bag: I pulled it off, but the day seemed long and a tad boring. I missed too much of what made up my life.
The morning after.
7 a.m. I woke with a sense of relief and started chattering away — yup, even before my eyes opened.
Sweet Frank said, “Welcome back, I’ve missed you.”
“But you always say I talk too much.”
“It’s OK, Ceil, talk away.”
And so I did.
Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.
Yes, winter’s quiet on the North Fork and it may become even more so. As you might have heard, the Long Island Rail Road has initiated a Quiet Car policy on its trains. The pilot program began a few weeks ago on the Far Rockaway branch. Perhaps Riverhead to Greenport is next.
I spoke with Aaron Donavan, a helpful young guy who is a media liaison at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority office in New York City. Aaron told me there would probably be only one Quiet Car per train. In that car no electronic devices would be permitted and any conversation would be in whispers only. Matter of fact, conductors will hand out “shh” cards to commuters who break the silence. I’m thinking those “shh” cards would be great for teachers with noisy classes or for husbands who claim their wives never stop talking. And wouldn’t you like a “shh” card if you came face to face with a presidential candidate?
I’ve an idea. Make a game of it. If a person receives five “shh” cards he goes directly to jail.
It so happens that Amtrak began its own Quiet Car policy several years ago. In my first Quiet Car experience, I accepted tickets for seats in an Amtrak “quiet, no cellphones” car traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I was with a friend, Ginny, and we planned on drinking tea as we rolled north through Baltimore. Maybe read a newspaper, even take a nap.
Ginny and I settled in and began a quiet review of our D.C. days. The Museum of American History, a White House garden tour, even a Nationals game. Then came the voice, a kind of female James Earl Jones voice. “Somebody’s talkin’ in the Quiet Car.”
She, and her voice, headed to our seats. She was large, very, and stern, very. The dark-uniformed Amtrak conductor stood over me and asked for ID. This while holding that steel-cold ticket puncher up to my face. There was to be no talking in this car.
My laughter was not directed at her. Rather, at my foolishness. We knew no cellphones were allowed. We did not know quiet conversation was verboten.
Lady Amtrak didn’t crack a smile. She told me to check for seats in another car if I wished to speak even a few words during the three-hour ride. Dutifully I rose from my seat and rocked side to side up the aisle to the next car. No adjacent seats available. I tiptoed back into the Quiet Car and sat down next to Ginny.
So it was we arrived in New York City well rested. Ginny continued on to her home in Saratoga Springs while I was ready for battle on the LIRR to Riverhead, where my husband would meet me for the ride home to Cutchogue. The dusty, creaky LIRR was crowded and it was not until I changed trains at Ronkonkoma that I found a comfortable seat next to a smiling young woman and across from an equally happy-looking young couple. And then, a revelation.
I admit it. I probably started talking first. My seat companion was headed to Riverhead and we chatted about that town. Her three children graduated from Riverhead High School and remain in nearby North Fork towns. The young couple across from me? They hoped to purchase a home in Mattituck.
Naturally, I told my Amtrak story. We all laughed, loudly. And when the LIRR conductor walked toward us, I thought, “Oh no, not again.”
Bet you can guess what happened. The conductor asked, “What’s so funny?” He was not scowling nor was he waving a ticket puncher. He just stood there, waiting to hear the source of our joy.
So once again I repeated my Amtrak experience. By this time I did so in a most dramatic way. Well, the conductor laughed. Out loud. Here were five of us having a good old time. It was great to be home on the North Fork.
And about a LIRR Quiet Car on the North Fork? I’m not gonna worry about that now. There’s too much laughing to do.
Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.
The following three things happened in such quick succession that I had to sit up and take notice:
1. I received a call from a friend who said, “Ceil, if I didn’t see your return address on the envelope, I wouldn’t know who sent the Christmas card.”
2. I wrote myself a note that I couldn’t decipher.
3. I’ve kept journals since my late teens and often reread them. It’s fun (and sometimes not so fun) to examine my thoughts and revisit my glaring inconsistencies. That being said, over the last five years, my handwriting has gotten so bad that only through guesswork can I make sense of what I was thinking or doing — and maybe that’s a good thing!
The blame for my descent from beautiful script to illegible scrawl certainly does not belong to my grade school teacher Sister Josephine. She spent many hours teaching us the nuances of fine penmanship. A standout memory is that of Sister teaching us to make circles. Clearly, practicing circles was an exercise in penmanship although, back then, I thought it was an exercise in stupid.
I place the blame for my lousy handwriting squarely on technology. With the increased use of and dependence on computers, contemporary thinking calls into question the relevance of learning penmanship at all. Currently, kids in grade school are taught block letters through second grade; they move on to cursive in third grade. Instead of teaching penmanship, the emphasis is teaching technology, typing skills and program familiarity.
Nowadays, most correspondence is generated by computers, including some signatures. Although computerized medical records have been around for some time, it’s only recently that they’ve become the norm. When I was gainfully employed, we had to chart our notes; clear and concise handwriting was essential. (Thanks, Sister Josephine.) I know, I know. Some physicians’ handwritten prescriptions tell a different story.
Stationery was once the gold standard of gifts. I used to order my favorite notepaper from a catalogue: cream colored with my initials engraved in gold. Before the big bang of technology, folks actually wrote to each other. (The U.S. Postal Service was in the black, too!)
My computer is my BFF (best friend forever) and ranks up there with my other gal pals. Sometimes I use her to send online greeting cards. I simply select my card, compose my message and the recipient immediately receives a legible greeting in their inbox. Oh dear! I suppose that I’m adding to the U.S. Postal Service shortfall.
After Mom’s death in October, my siblings and I had the heartrending job of dismantling her home. It felt like we dismantled her life. I found cards, written in perfect Sister Josephine penmanship, that I’d given to my parents. A lump formed in my throat as I read, “Dear Mommy and Daddy … ”
Later that day, my brother called from the garage: “Come out here; look what I’ve found.”
We gathered around an old truck. My brother reached in and gingerly pulled out a bundle tied together with a faded ribbon. When my brother untied the ribbon, we found a treasure trove of handwritten love letters that our parents exchanged, dating back some 70 years.
We had mixed feelings about reading them; however, curiosity got the better of us. Written with pen and ink, the handwriting was legible and somewhat ornamental. Our parents’ endearments: “Darling Nancy” and “My dear husband, Charlie” touched us all. By the time shadows fell on the now empty rooms, tears were unabashedly running down our cheeks. Who says grown men don’t cry?
I’m a fan of progress, but I wonder if computer-generated love letters or online greeting cards could produce such vivid memories or strong emotions. Perhaps something beautiful and personal has been irrevocably lost. Then again, I suppose one can print them out and tie them with a ribbon, or save them to our hard drives.
But still …
Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.
Heading south. Lots of North Forkers think about that this time of year. Perhaps for a holiday visit with grandchildren in Virginia; a tour of lovely, old and temperate Charleston; or, if they’ve got weeks of time, North Forkers might choose to bask on Florida’s beaches. All sounds good in mid-December.
There is, however, one kindly chap who, when he thinks about traveling south, thinks North Fork. Really. Our North Fork is more than 3,000 miles south of his very northern home. I’m talking about Santa Claus.
Now Santa has been traveling south every winter for many years. He and his reindeer must be exhausted. After all, they’re not as young as they used to be. Also, I heard Santa has to remove his boots every time his sleigh passes over an airport. That alone is discouraging.
So, since Santa is such a sweetheart, I thought we could help him out. Meet him halfway, perhaps, and carry his gifts back to the North Fork. That way Santa could return to the North Pole sooner and everyone would be happy. Maybe not Ms. Claus, but I don’t want to start any rumors.
Question is this: Which North Forker would head north to meet with Santa? I suggest Scott Russell, our town supervisor, accept applications for the job based primarily on how far north the applicant had previously traveled. Experience counts.
I, for example, have been to Alaska. But that was in a warm July, when native Alaskans showed me their home-grown tomatoes and went swimming every summer day. So I really have no experience with northern snows. I didn’t even see Sarah Palin, so I couldn’t get a recommendation from the lady who used to be Alaska’s governor. I believe she’s traveling around the Lower 48 but I’ve never seen her on the North Fork. Therefore, much as I would have enjoyed assisting Santa, I knew I must search for other North Forkers who had more experience in cold climes.
When I met Dennis Kedjierski of Greenport, I thought I’d found the ideal applicant. He looked strong enough to carry Santa’s gifts and he had an easy way about him, just like Santa. And he’d been to Alaska.
But alas, Dennis said he felt a sense of “isolation” in so many parts of that northern state. And Dennis made mention of how few roads he had seen in Alaska. Most folks appeared to travel by seaplane. Somehow I got the feeling Dennis prefers the convenience of Main Road and the comfort of North Fork neighbors.
Way east in Orient lives Berit Lalli, but she used to live way north because she was born in Sweden. So she must have some experience with snow and ice. I do know this: Berit warms every heart with gladness when she talks about all the Swedish pastries she bakes. By the way, you can sample some of those treats if you attend the fairs and festivals at her Greenport church. Maybe even meet Berit.
You know, much as Berit might be a good candidate for Santa’s helper, I think we’d better keep her right here on the North Fork. Winter is cookie/cake time in these parts and we can’t afford to have Berit out of her kitchen.
How you gonna keep her down on the farm? That’s the question I asked myself after chatting with Gekee Wickham of Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue. I’d stopped by the farm for apples and Gekee and I started talking north.
Gekee’s been to Norway, where she “shivered,” and to Russia, where she and husband Tom honeymooned. Listen to this. Gekee has actually flown right over the North Pole. Seems she was flying from the USA to Singapore and right down below was the Claus home. Gekee said she didn’t see Santa himself but Rudolph’s nose was distinctly visible.
Well, it’s obvious there are a number of North Forkers who’ve been far north. If they all submit applications to Super Scott, the guy will have one tough job deciding. Maybe he’ll need a committee to help. After all, they have to think about whether a candidate is allergic to reindeer, whether the candidate can fit in a chimney and how many pit stops a candidate needs while traveling around on a winter’s night. But committees work so slowly. Santa’s gifts might not arrive till spring.
Wow! Guess we shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken. We’ll just let old Santa do his job, as he has for years, with a generous love. And to all a good night.
Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.