06/01/13 7:00am
06/01/2013 7:00 AM

Loading up the Times/Review van.

As someone who grew up around newspapers, I was always fascinated by how they’d get to your doorstep each day.

I can remember as a young kid watching with wonder as my father — who was a graphic artist at Newsday — would draw an ad from scratch with his hand. The next morning, I’d flip the pages until I found his work in the paper.

I’d love to watch the presses run whenever the old man would take me to work with him. And as we’d walk the hallways, I’d stare at all the strangers we’d pass and wonder what role they played in the daily miracle, how they did it and why.

My fascination with how it all works hasn’t exactly declined over the years. In fact, as we keep our websites constantly moving seven days a week, on top of producing weekly newspapers here at Times/Review, I’m more amazed than ever before.

Our staff roster lists 57 employees, including more than 40 residents of the three towns we cover, each of whom plays a unique role in making sure our stories and ads get produced, packaged and delivered accurately and on time.

As executive editor, I meet several times a month with the managers of the other key areas of our company — sales and marketing, production and business — to discuss ongoing projects and to plan for the future. In these meetings, I constantly hear stories of how one of our staffers went above and beyond to make sure our product, a labor of love for all of us, was produced with the utmost quality.

Even though our circulation manager, Melanie Drozd, a Riverhead High School graduate and resident of Wading River, is here at 8:30 every morning to perform her regular duties, she often gets stuck driving our delivery truck. I rode shotgun on a recent Wednesday night to see how she does it.

It’s a grind. She drives to the printing plant in Shirley, loads the pallets onto the truck and drives for several hours, stopping and going, until the papers are dropped at each and every store that sells them.

In the form of awards and others’ praise, my staff of reporters and editors usually gets a lot of the credit for the good work our company does. But when someone doesn’t agree with us, it’s usually Melanie and her circulation staff who have to handle the complaint.

As I drove the route with Melanie last month, I got a sense of why she does it. She loves Riverhead. It’s in her blood. It’s where she was born and raised, and where her parents and grandparents have lived and worked, too.

She had a story to tell about many of the places along the route. “My grandpa once owned this place,” she said. “I can remember coming here as a kid.”

Laura Huber, a Mattituck native who lives in Aquebogue, recently joined our editorial staff as an editorial assistant. Dollars to doughnuts she produced more words in this week’s paper than anyone else and her byline doesn’t appear. The obits, the calendar, many of the briefs — that’s her work.

Though she only recently moved to a desk in our newsroom, Laura has been a key cog in the Times/Review machine since she was first hired full-time in 2001. She previously held roles managing circulation and later social media for our company. Before all that, she was an unpaid intern here.

And while a dozen years sounds like an awful long time, it’s nowhere near the top of our seniority list here. Lauren Sisson of Mattituck and Tina Volinski of Greenport started working here in the 1980s. Tim Kelly of Cutchogue, Tim Gannon of Hampton Bays, Archer Brown of Shelter Island, Decia Fates of Greenport, Bob Liepa of Center Moriches and Barbaraellen Koch and Bert Vogel of Riverhead all began their careers here in the ’90s. (Bob Liepa has become such a known figure covering sports for us, I once witnessed the Mattituck crowd chanting his name at a championship basketball game.)

I’ve been with Times/Review since February 2006, and 25 of our employees have worked here longer than I have.

I can still recall the feeling of comfort and familiarity I felt driving to our former satellite office in Wading River, just two miles from the house where I grew up, for an interview before I was hired.

I’d imagine that feeling is similar to the one so many of my coworkers feel as they drive past the local vineyards, farm stands and boutiques on their way to our office in Mattituck.

Every now and then, when you slow down and look around, you can feel it. You’re home.

[email protected]

05/18/13 10:00am
05/18/2013 10:00 AM

With the state Legislature upping the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour, and fast food workers agitating for a union, it brought to mind my own experience scuffling at low-paying jobs — and the three union cards I carried. I’ve seen unions from three distinct angles: the weird, the great and the awful.

But first, some thoughts on why some people think unionizing a KFC worker is strange or funny. These jobs are widely disparaged in American culture; someone “flipping burgers” is a figure of fun. (It’s the same as the widely used “trailer trash” description of people. Can there finally be a moratorium on that? Do people using that term ever think of the kid growing up in a trailer park, hearing herself and her family referred to as trash by someone on TV?)

And unions? They’re considered an anachronism at best, “job killers” at worst — that is, except to those union members who have a job and make living wages. The left and the right both complain about how the middle class has been squeezed and shrunk over the last several decades, and both political wings have their reasons for this.

One argument for the stagnation of real wages — productivity grew 80 percent over the last decade while hourly wages grew only 10 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute — is that with the death of unionized labor, real money in the pocket has shrunk.

The union movement took off during the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, when the economy collapsed. Organization and collective bargaining thrived for several generations, contributing to one of history’s triumphs: the rapid and extensive expansion of the American middle class. In the 1950s, 50 percent of American workers held union cards. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11.3 percent of workers are unionized.

So, my three unions: As a high school kid I landed a full-time night job at a municipal golf course. My duties: Starting at 5 p.m., running an ancient, one-gear truck, following the final foursome around the 18 holes setting up sprinklers; moving the hoses after a couple of hours; driving around later and shutting them off and coiling them in the back of the truck.

I then went into watchman mode, although what I was watching for was never clearly spelled out. I did my duty by sprawling on a derelict couch in a shack in the woods off the 15th hole, listening to the radio and reading. By 1 o’clock I was done, racing to catch the last bus home.

I was paid peanuts, but it kept me out of the pool hall. The job improved immediately one midnight when a guy in a suit walked in. This was startling, since for a year I’d seen no one after that final foursome every evening. Was he who I should have been watching for? Before I could say anything, he introduced himself and called me “brother.” I was now a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Warehousemen of America. I was told a few dollars in dues would be taken out of my paycheck next week, handed a pamphlet and a card and got a handshake. Before I could ask a single question, my new union brother vanished.

The few dollars were removed from my check but more were added. I got an immediate 20 percent raise and wouldn’t laugh at Jimmy Hoffa jokes for years.

Did I deserve the raise? Asking the question defines you.

A few years later, at loose ends, I went to a state labor department office in Manhattan one morning. By that afternoon I was running an elevator at a five-story school on Central Park West. Soon I was a member of Local 32B of the New York Building Services Union.

The pay was all right, but the benefits, medical and dental, were better. Summers, when school was out, the doormen and elevator operators became maintenance men, and I painted classrooms and hallways, did pointing on the roof facade and was a plumber’s assistant. Walter Brown, our shop steward, kept telling me to pay attention, plumbers made way more than elevator jockeys. Did I listen to Walter? If I had, my address today would be Easy Street, Fat City.

My final union was the New York City taxi drivers union, where I paid dues for four years. The union and the industry as a whole have changed radically since those days. Back then the union was led by goons who were in bed with the big fleet owners. The general union meetings were chair-throwing parties — literally. If you went down to the hall on Park Avenue South to get some clarification on dues or rules, some union brothers named Sonny and Junior would be happy to clarify you right out into the parking lot.

But whenever I hear of people trying to organize, I remember the cabbies I shared long afternoons with at the fleet garages shaping up for work, and the Teamsters I came to know and especially Walter Brown, who truly believed in a union of bread and roses.

Ambrose Clancy is the editor of The Shelter Island Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].

09/29/12 8:00am
09/29/2012 8:00 AM

I cringe every time I hear about one of these over-the-top Little League coaches getting arrested.

Not just because I’m upset for their families and the kids they coach, but also because I’m embarrassed for myself.

It was not that long ago that I, too, was a meathead youth sports coach.

Now let’s get a few things straight: I never followed a kid from the other team to his bus stop and sent photos along with a threatening text to his parents, as Robert Sanfilippo of Huntington is alleged to have done, charges that helped earn him national headlines and possible jail time.

No, my bad behavior was much more mild, but I definitely took things too seriously.

For the three years I coached youth softball — yes, girls ages 9 to 12. I kept meticulous stats, lost sleep at night over lineup decisions and even occasionally was tough on players.

And yes, there was even one time when a game I was managing had to be stopped briefly due to a war of words between yours truly and another coach.

I remember the details vividly (like I said, I used to lose sleep over this stuff).

My team was tied, 1-1, with our opponents, it was fairly late in the game and we were up at the plate. With a runner on first, one of my girls hit a single to left field. Coaching third base at the time, I began waving the runner on first to round second and head to third.

First to third on a single, nothing too aggressive about that base-running move, right? Except, I never stopped waving my arm.

When I looked out to see the left fielder catch the ground ball, I noticed she had no idea what to do. I could have been the nice guy and held my runners at first and third … but I didn’t.

When I saw the left fielder picking daisies with the ball in her mitt, I sent my base runner home with the go-ahead run. The other coach flipped.

In the past dozen years since it happened, I’ve always justified the move in my head as the right thing to do. My players, most every one of them, were prepared. They all knew where to throw the ball and to get it in quickly. They were also well aware of how to run the bases; when to hold, when to stop.

It wasn’t my fault the other coach’s team never practiced, I’d tell myself.

I told him that, too. He went bonkers and so did the left fielder’s mom, who started screaming expletives at me. The parents on my team fired back in my defense. Saturday morning youth softball suddenly sounded like Sunday night HBO.

The umpire, a kid who couldn’t have been a day older than 17, stopped the game. After 15 minutes of the coaches begging him to let us finish the final inning, he obliged. We won the pitcher’s duel, 2-1.

I was never proud of how I acted that day. While I’m still not convinced I did the wrong thing on the field, I certainly didn’t handle myself well after the action stopped.

I certainly hope the now infamous Mr. Sanfilippo isn’t trying to justify his recent actions. He was just plain wrong. Police said he went so far as to text the boy’s father that he’d “pick [the boy] at the bus stop for [the dad] next week” and he sent the dad pictures of the boy’s mom shopping.

The boy’s father told Newsday he didn’t recognize where the text messages were coming from at first.

“It was nerve-racking,” he told Newsday. “I couldn’t sleep. When he suddenly started mentioning my son by name, it just hit me that it was this guy.”

Police then showed up at Mr. Sanfilippo’s next game and arrested him. The Half Hollow Hills Little League has temporarily banned him from coaching and from their facilities, pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

The sad thing is that Mr. Sanfilippo isn’t the only youth coach going way too far.

Google the words “Little League coach arrested.” The first page of results turns up multiple stories of coaches molesting kids, a coach who urinated in the outfield during a game, a coach who got busted buying cocaine at a game and a coach arrested for an assault that took place during a game. Every single one of these incidents occurred in the past three years, including several that happened in the past few months.

The first search result was a story about Mr. Sanfilippo, the new poster boy for competitive youth coaches taking things way too far.

Youth sports are supposed to be fun. It’s all about encouraging our kids to be active and to teach them about the importance of teamwork.

It’s not about us.

A few years back, I was out covering a basketball game when I ran into the coach with whom I’d mixed it up a decade earlier. His two kids, who were excellent athletes, were now playing high school sports. We exchanged a few brief but friendly words and moved on.

A few months later I ran into him at a pub and when I went to pay my tab, the bartender told me it was taken care of. The other coach, who was at the opposite end of the bar, raised his glass to me.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He has a career winning percentage of .786 as a youth softball coach. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.

07/21/12 7:00am
07/21/2012 7:00 AM

So other than sitting on the deck at a place called McSeagulls overlooking the harbor while enjoying a cool yet spicy “dark & stormy” — for the uninitiated that’s a mixture of Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer —  what else is there to do in Boothbay Harbor?

You remember Boothbay, right? The midcoast Maine town about which I waxed romantic a few weeks back? I must admit that when temps climb to or near the 90s my thoughts drift back north. Bear with me for a minute, for this isn’t an installment of a graybeard’s wistful longings. There’s a local connection, I promise.

So what else is there to do in BH? I mean other than buying T-shirts and sweatshirts, fudge and all manner of lobster-shaped doo-dads?

Well, an hour or so away there’s the state prison store in Thomaston, filled with furniture, birdhouses, ships models and all manner of wooden things made by inmates.

Then there’s a ride on the steam locomotive at the Boothbay Railroad Village and a walk through its antique car collection. There’s even a small building dedicated solely to salt and pepper shakers. Somehow, family lore has it that I only stop there for the nudie models, which are rated either R or PG-13, depending on your point of view.

OK, this obviously isn’t a spring break destination; then again, the idea is to do as little as possible.

Me and The Mrs. never fail to stop by the Boothbay Harbor Library’s used book annex. Never has she walked out with fewer than four paperbacks at a total cost of well under a dollar. Last time when I asked, “Did you find the bodice-ripper section?” she didn’t smile. Women; go figure.

I’d also come across several worthwhile titles, particularly during my Andrew Greeley phase. You know, Andrew Greeley, the Catholic priest whose novels are liberally sprinkled with, well, ess-ee-ex, mostly of the sinless married variety, or so I’m told.

Nothing on the shelf caught my eye this year, except when I went to pay for the 87 volumes — OK, a slight exaggeration — that The Mrs. picked out. Waiting for chance to unload a pocketful of change, I noticed a section I’d never seen before called “collectibles.” What’s that all about? I wondered.

Up on one of the topmost shelves there stood a forest green book with gold letters along the spine. Wait, does that say “Greenport”? It sure does; “Greenport: Yesterday and Today,” to be precise. Suddenly forgetting the lack of stories with chaste marital relations, I pulled the book off the shelf.

“Excuse me, Ma’am?” says I to the cash-collecting volunteer. “How much is this?”

“That’s $15,” says she. My Hawaiian shirt must have been a dead giveaway that I was a tourist “from away” and so ripe for fleecing. I would have started haggling, á la the guys on the TV show “Pawn Stars” trying to get $6 million for a Civil War rifle when the owner’s offering $17.38.

“Look, lady, why would anyone in Boothbay Haahbah pay that amount for a book about a little town at the tail end of Long Island that’s a five-hour drive and a 90-minute ferry ride away?”

I didn’t say that, of course. Wouldn’t have been in keeping with that “hakuna matata” vacation spirit. But more to the point, the volunteer, while silver-haired and soft-spoken, looked like she wasn’t about to take any crap from anyone, especially some floral-shirted tourist. So with that “collectible” and The Mrs. many paperbacks, I shelled out about $15.65.

Back at the cottage I discovered the book’s secondary title; “The Diary of a Country Newspaper” by Elsie Knapp Corwin and husband Frederick Langton Corwin. Not just any old newspaper — The Suffolk Times, the News-Review’s sister publication. What are the odds?

One rainy afternoon I put aside my fascination with French-Canadian television — a strange thing considering I had just two years of high school French and can’t remember much more than “open the widow” and “is Bernard home?” — I came to Chapter III: “A Newspaper Published — A President Assassinated.” Sounds like the two are related, but there’s no evidence of that, I think.

The chapter opens with “In the early 1850s the standard work week was six days of eleven hours each and this custom was in operation when the Suffolk Weekly Times, on August 27, 1857, published its first edition.”

Wow, some things never change. OK, that’s not fair or accurate. Nowadays we won’t work more than 10 1/2-hour days; 10 3/4 max. Just a wee bit of journalistic humor there. No need for the publisher “to have a word with” yours truly.

Anyway, the book goes on to say that the paper’s founder, one John J. Riddell, who was all of 27 and who later served in the Civil War, embraced the new Republican Party’s principles. Wow, some things never change. (More journalistic humor there.)

The book gives a snapshot view of Greenport’s history, from its whaling days to rum running during Prohibition to the oyster business to the founding of Eastern Long Island Hospital.

Valuable historic info, but not exactly a beach read, if you catch my drift. I did find an August 1921 editorial saying the paper has been flooded with complaints “concerning the manner in which a number of our young ladies of the town are dressing.”

What’s that? It continues, “Main Street at noon is fast becoming a rival to ‘The Follies.’ ”

Remember, this was the Roaring ’20s. The editor said, “The peek-a-boo waists are not even peek-a-boo any longer. We realize that socks are stylish and comfortable, but it does seem that skirts should be sufficiently long to lap the sock at least an inch.”

Good lord. Honey, when does the library annex reopen? You didn’t perchance get a copy of “50 Shades of Grey,” did ya?

Ah, no, of course not. I’m just curious is all.

[email protected]

02/17/11 11:46am
02/17/2011 11:46 AM

It’s official: I’m older than dirt.

OK, before any of you weisenheimers pipe in with, “You must be, Buddy, if you’re just realizing that now,” yes, that’s not entirely a revelation. What makes it official is my high school class preparing for our — gulp — 40th reunion this summer.
40 years? Why, it doesn’t seem like more than 36, 38 tops.

Our reunion website provides the opportunity to view pictures of people I haven’t seen for, well, you know how long. Sweet day in the morning, who are all these old-timers? Glad I didn’t age like that. A-hem.

What most caught my attention is the link to “Our Teachers,” on the left side of the home page, next to a photo of three barefooted nuns — at least they’re dressed like nuns — sitting at the end of a dock drinking beer. The caption reads “Ha! Didn’t we wish!”

This I had to see.

In just 20 minutes I learned more about these women than I had during my four years (yes, only four years) at Mercy High. Not that I had a burning desire back then to get to know them. Most were well into their retirement years in the late ’60s, so the updates came largely via obituaries in the Long Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper (which, by the way, was the best source to identify the best movies. I mean, what review could top “morally objectionable for all” or “condemned?” Not that I got to see any of those.)

When sitting ramrod straight in a jacket and tie, never chewing gum and doing your utmost to stifle all yawns, many thoughts came to mind. “I wonder who Sister Mary (fill in the blank) really is?” was not among them.

It seems most of the Sisters of Mercy were Irish girls from Brooklyn. I know, not exactly shocking. Still, who knew?

Sister Mary Cleophas, who in a freshman year Latin class described me as “the stupidest boy I ever met,” was the daughter of Joseph Keegan and Bridget Donohue.
Sister Mary Leonie, fashioned entirely of nervous energy, was the former Susan O’Sullivan.
Sister Mary Eugene, who could make the strongest linebacker quake with fear, was born a Farrell.
Sister Mary Jeremiah was Catherine McDonough. Sister Mary Joachim, Mary Conway. Sister Mary Hugh, Anna McDougall.
Oh, man, even Sister Mary Carmelita, the Spanish teacher, is a Shaughnessy.

You’d think that given our shared heritage ­— I’m the product of Charles Kelly and Joan Brophy of Yonkers, with cops and firemen hanging off the family tree — the good sisters might have cut me some slack. But no.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly why they didn’t.

Nor did the Sisters of Charity, my teachers from first through eighth grade. A different order, but equally adept at inducing fear, anxiety, dread, horror, terror and panic, particularly among the ranks of under-achievers. Or so I’ve heard.

Alas, nuns have always been a part of my life. In my hometown, a wonderful old Stanford White bayfront home was for a time a summer retreat for sisters of unknown origin. Unknown to us, anyway. It was hard to miss, right across the creek from my best friend’s house. Every now and again, a group of nuns, flying full habits, would row up the creek in an old wooden boat, at least four, if not more, at the oar. Honestly. That was a sight, let me tell you. The Viking nuns, we called ’em.

One summer afternoon, we spied a solitary sister heading toward the bay. She doffed her black cloak and walked into the water in a black one-piece. Ah! Nun legs! I’m blind!

Me Ma, once a Catholic school teacher, invited the nuns from her school to our house at Christmas. They’d sip frosty whiskey sours, their cigarettes leaving curving, twisting smoke trails as they laughed in animated conversation. We watched, abashed and amazed, from a respectful distance.

You’d think by now I’d be cured of my nunophobia, but when walking down Fifth Avenue toward Rockefeller Center over the holidays my posture automatically corrected when I passed a pair of women en habit.

Still, I’m hoping some of the surviving sisters will come to the reunion. It would be nice, and novel, to interact as adults.

Hi, Sister. Long time no see. Ha ha.
Hello, Mr. Kelly. Nice to see you too. By the way, what’s that in your hand?
This? It’s a, uh, um, a piña colada.
Well, well, is that a fact?
Uh, yes, Sister, it is.
Would you get me one?
Uhhhhh, WHAT?

01/05/11 1:32pm
01/05/2011 1:32 PM

You can’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.

That’s the explanation, according to Dennis McDermott, founder and former owner of The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, for the rather surprising quote that appeared last month in this newspaper.

In a story written by News-Review editor Mike White about Dennis’ plan to open a new downtown Riverhead restaurant, to be called the Riverhead Project, he was quoted as saying, “Greenport looked a lot like Riverhead does now; there were a lot of empty storefronts. With the success of The Frisky Oyster, there’s been this whole gentrification of Greenport. But it wasn’t our intention to sort of turn a whole town around; it sort of just happened. That demographic — affluent, cosmopolitan — was always there. We just tapped into it.”

In a phone conversation this week, Dennis did not deny saying what Mike White quoted him as saying, but that earlier comment does not fully reflect his true feelings about Greenport’s renaissance, he said.

“In no way do I think I’m responsible for the gentrification of Greenport,” he said on Monday. “That’s just not me.”

He went on to credit former Greenport Mayor David Kapell’s “master plan” and the subsequent arrival, after TFO opened in 2002, of such high-end eateries as Fifth Season and Scrimshaw. “They saw that a restaurant could succeed in Greenport, and that’s all I did,” he said. “End of story.”

Well, not exactly the end. Even before 9/11 and TFO, there were some pioneers who precipitated Greenport’s resurgence. They include, but are not limited to, businesses like there-since-the-beginning Claudio’s, The Cheese Emporium and The Greenport Tea Company, all of which Greenporter/La Cuvée owner Deborah Rivera — who, not incidentally, came to town in July 2001 — credits with first attracting her to the village.

And Dave Kapell himself told me this week that he and his family might never have moved to Greenport if weren’t for Mayor Joe Townsend Jr. in the 1970s.

Which is to say — as most of us, including Dennis McDermott, seem to agree — that Greenport’s recovery began well before 2002.

As for downtown Riverhead’s long-awaited recovery — which Dennis hopes to participate in and facilitate with the opening of his new restaurant sometime this spring — I wish him well but, based on recent and not-so-recent history, he best be prepared for the long haul.

[email protected]

01/05/11 11:21am

A new year is a time for new resolve, new hope and a fresh perspective. The last two years, I felt like New Year’s was just more of the same. This feeling began when my husband lost his 22-year position as a church administrator with the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The economic crash of 2008 swept into our home with the force of a tsunami.

At that same time, my youngest daughter, Johanna, born with a rare genetic disease causing malformations in her brain, was undergoing IV treatments for a systemic infection. I anxiously pondered how we would provide for this fragile life. While preparing for Johanna’s 75th surgery, we educated ourselves on unemployment, COBRA and life in these new economic times.

Our greatest financial concerns were health insurance and the mortgage. The COBRA subsidy of 2009 helped to provide the life-sustaining health insurance our daughter so desperately needs. The mortgage was a nightmare.

In 2006, in an effort to provide some breathing room with medical, household expenses and college bills, we entered into a mortgage that our broker explained was a relatively safe venture unless the economy and housing market crashed and you lost your job. Being short-sighted and exhausted from the crises surrounding our daughter’s illness, we blindly discounted those risks in favor of breathing room.

That “breathing room” quickly suffocated us as the “perfect storm” of economic disaster hit our home in November 2008. Early in 2009, we communicated our struggles to the bank, seeking a loan modification in an effort to secure the mortgage.

The process was frustrating from beginning to end. Lack of consistent bank personnel, lost paperwork and inaccurate notations on computer systems bred confusion. Every encounter started from square one. Unable to pay the mortgage on unemployment and COBRA, we continued our frantic communication with the bank. We secured the services of an attorney to walk us through the tumultuous waters of a loan modification. The law office kept us abreast of the endless paperwork and provided third-party verification for all communication with the bank.

In March, 2010, just weeks before my daughter had another brain surgery, my husband secured a great job as an administrator for a thriving business. Our home business was growing as well. We excitedly presented our attorney and the bank with the new numbers, hoping to secure the mortgage and our home.

Frustrations mounted as the paperwork continued. The only offer of updating our loan was to pay the ballooning arrears and re-enter this faulty loan, now in litigation in other states. Finally, the day after Thanksgiving, we received a denial for modification.

At wit’s end, I did what every writer would do; I wrote our story and sent it to friends, editors and co-workers. I even wrote a letter to Santa. I heard my essay crossed the desk of some Wells Fargo executives. I put my faith in Santa and a little baby born in a manger.

At that same time, an MRI confirmed that Johanna has a brain tumor unlike the malformations that have plagued her since birth. Surgery was scheduled for just after New Year’s, as we made plans to spend Christmas at home.

At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, just before leaving for Mass, I received an unexpected call. It was a home preservation specialist from Wells Fargo wishing me a Merry Christmas. Emotions brewed as I considered this a cruel prank on this Holy Eve. As our conversation continued he explained that Wells Fargo would indeed be granting us a modification and the terms would be worked out in the coming weeks. They wanted us to know so we could celebrate a Merry Christmas. Stunned, I stuttered, “Thank you. And Merry Christmas to you.” As scenes from “It’s a Wonderful Life” emerged from my subconscious, the shock on my face and hysterical sobs caused my family to believe I received news someone had died. In fact, we came back to life Christmas Eve. After two years of fighting the death of our dreams, we offered thanks at the altar of God and left some extra cookies for Santa. God heard our prayer and surely Santa got my letter.

Johanna received a precious gift from a friend this Christmas. It’s a snow globe with Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” She keeps it by her side day and night. Johanna says, “When I am in the hospital, all I have to do is shake my snow globe and look at my ruby red slippers and say, ‘There’s no place like home.”

While 2011 presents us with new challenges for my daughter’s health; we are a family of new resolve, fresh perspective and new hope. We resolve to ride the waves of these tumultuous times and head for the shore, working hard to secure a future for our family here on the North Fork. Whether in the pediatric ICU or on the porch in Jamesport, we will endure and thrive because truly there is no place like home.

Ms. Benthal is a community columnist covering Jamesport and Aquebogue for Times/Review Newsgroup.

12/22/10 12:14pm
12/22/2010 12:14 PM

There are four stages of a man’s life:

1) He believes in Santa Claus.
2) He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.
3) He is Santa Claus.
4) He looks like Santa Claus.

I’m hovering between 3 and 4, edging ever closer to a full 4. Which has its obvious drawbacks, but it’s still a good thing as I’m particularly fond of the Christmas season. It’s a sensory delight, what with the lights, the sounds, the smells, the sitting around in torn sweats and mismatching socks dunking those Danish butter cookies that come in 100-gallon drums into a mixing bowl of eggnog throughout the 24-hours “Christmas Story” movie marathon.

OK, I made up that last part. No, seriously.

There’s also the socializing, the great food, some time off. (I left out “much deserved” because that’s, well, a given. Duh.)
What’s not to like about all that?

OK, you got me there. Sure, there’s crushing credit card debt, crazed crowds of angst-ridden shoppers, the relentless rush-rush-rush, post-party mornings of a pounding head and cottonmouth. I read about that last part in, ah, the paper one Sunday morning before heading straight off to church.

I’ve been described as an overgrown kid and won’t deny it. Aging is mandatory, maturity optional. Were I a counselor/analyst — granted, an unnerving and disconcerting notion on so many levels — I might opine that, for those who follow it, the Christmas experience allows us to reconnect with our inner child. In so doing, we draw deeply from the well of long-submerged feelings of safety, security, familial love, innocent excitement and that all-too-elusive sense of wonder.

Not to mention socially acceptable avarice. (Hey! How come Dennis and Mary got more gifts than me! No fair!)

It rekindles warm and wonderful memories, like me Ma tripping in the dining room and sending a full baking dish of ravioli and tomato sauce flying. Seemed hilarious at the time. Well, not to her, obviously.

Of staring at me aged granddad, in his chair sleeping and snoring, his mouth open but his dentures closed. (Also hilarious. Not to him when he’d wake up and catch us.)

Of the fully decorated Christmas tree toppling over onto me Ma’s cousin during dinner and a brother exclaiming “tim-ber!” (Hilarious squared.)

Of learning the heart-wrenching truth about St. Nick and in a fit of rage sharing the news with little brother, who couldn’t have cared less.

That, right there, foreshadowed the day when he’d become an attorney.

Come to think of it, Clue Number 2 came some years later as the two of us stood in the bushes below baby sister’s second-story bedroom window one bone-chilling Christmas Eve, shaking jingle bells until our clattering teeth drowned out the happy sound.
Just as we were about to retire to the living room, then ablaze with the glorious glow of a burning yule log — televised in black and white — he shouted, “Ho, ho, ho! Meeeeeeeeery Christ-mas!”

“You idiot!,” I whispered, no doubt punching and/or pushing him. “Now she’s gonna know for sure it was us! Nice going, jerk.”
“Nah,” he said quite cool, calm and collected. “She’ll never know the difference.”

Turns out he was right, but that’s entirely beside the point.

That may have been the first time I’ve played Santa, sort of, but certainly not the last. I’ve got a version of that red and white suit, complete with the black vinyl boot tops, and have worn it at home, at friends’, even a Town Hall Christmas party or two. Can honestly say I’ve had a couple of supervisors sit on Santa’s lap. No, I’m not bragging.

“What? You want me to believe that you’ve been especially good this year? How much have you had to drink?”

The suit, admittedly swiped from a friend a couple of decades ago, is, sad to say, showing its years. So much so that the Mrs. warned me against wearing it to this year’s company Christmas gathering, lest she engage the services of that selfsame attorney brother in a matrimonial action. Then she made some sort of cockamamy comparison to Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa.” For the life of me I don’t know what she’s getting at.

So absent being served with a writ of some kind, I’ll probably don the suit — perhaps for the last time — Friday evening and do my Santa shtick again.

What a wonderful time, unless of course the Mrs. hands me the phone and says something like, “It’s your brother, and he said it’s imperative that he talk with you. Now.”

Tell him I’m busy, and add these three words: “Naughty list and coal.”