PORTRAIT OF A SMALL TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small (8000 people), rural/suburban town in Fairfield County. I came here for summers from the day I was born in 1949 to the day I moved here full-time in 1991. We used to be called a ‘bedroom community’ because our residents commuted to work in nearby cities like New York, Stamford, and New Haven.

Small waterfall in my backyard

The town is strictly residential. Zoning doesn’t allow commercial enterprises that can’t be grandfathered into a business that existed in the mid 20th century. There have been constant fights over the years to allow some commercial zoning so we could reduce our exorbitant real estate taxes. But the town purists, including me, have always prevailed. So there are at least six working farms in town, four farm stands, and only two small general stores.

The food stands sell more than just produce these days. They all sell baked goods and milk. Some sell jams, dressings and sauces, and other condiments as well as honey and other specialty items. Two sell locally cured bacon and other pork products.

One of the farms that has a large farm stand/store, is called Silverman’s Farm. It’s been around since maybe the 1930’s. The founder, Silverman, Sr., came here from Russia and I think he was the first Jew in town. My grandfather was also Jewish and from Russia and he spent summers in Easton from the time I was born, in 1949. I used to love to listen to Grandpa and Silverman, Sr. talk in Russian and Yiddish. I also loved Silverman’s five daughters who all helped in the store. I was heartbroken when one got married and moved away.

For many decades, the farm stand used to just sell produce. The property had apple and peach trees which supplied summer and fall fruit. Around the 1980’s or 90’s, old man Silverman turned the business over to his youngest son, Irv, who is my age. Irv extended the building and added a nursery, a florist (the florist is gone now), and a Christmas tree farm. (There are several others in town).

He also limited his produce items but expanded his inventory in other directions. This included delicious house-baked pies, plus jams, bottled dressings, sauces, salsa, etc., maple sugar products, apple cider, ice cream, candies and a wall of baked goods.

Part of Silverman’s store with an orchard in the background

His brownies, cider donuts, and oatmeal raisin cookies are the best I’ve ever had. And his Fruits of the Forest pie is unique. I serve it often and everyone raves about it.

Silverman’s also has a section that sells rustic, country chatchkis and plaques. And Irv created a large and very popular petting zoo across the street from the store. This attracts crowds of families on weekends and in the summer. He also used to give apple cider making demonstrations that attracted local school children as well as tourists from other towns.

The business is thriving. Silverman’s is written up as a tourist attraction in local as well as New York City papers and magazines. Lines of cars jam his road in the fall when he advertises ‘pick your own apples’ and sells pumpkins for Halloween. Plus he has a large number of year-round customers, like me.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

Irv’s kids don’t want to take over the business and Irv is past retirement age. I hope he can find a new owner who will run it as well and as lovingly as he has.

Another local farm is Sherwood Farm. In season, they grow their own vegetables and make their own honey. They sell locally made pastries and fabulous fresh baked bread. Also locally produced milk and yogurt. They sell eggs from their own chickens. They have a large greenhouse and keep goats and cows on the farm.

I go here several times a week for a good part of the year. I’m addicted to their bread and Tom loves their fresh milk and their locally made mozzarella, which he eats with the farm’s homegrown tomatoes. He’s also crazy about their creamy, flavorful ice cream, which is made at a farm in upstate New York. They have interesting flavors like Banana Chocolate Chip, Black Raspberry, and Pumpkin.

This place looks and smells the most like a real farm! In the summer it’s great to see bags of corn or beans being brought in from the fields and dumped on the counters.

You can also talk to the farmer about which crops are good this year, when flat beans will be in season and what the difference is between the different squashes.

One of the two stores in town used to be my grandmother’s butcher and general store. We called it ‘Halzak’s’ because that was the name of the two brothers who owned it and ran it for maybe 50 years, starting in the 1940’s. It used to sell a little of everything, like a true, old-world general store. And everyone stood around chatting with the brothers before, during and after their purchases. So buying meat and groceries was a social event for my grandparents.

About twenty years ago, the brothers sold the business and it was modernized into The Easton Village Store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, the new owners were allowed to expand the store into the back rooms that used to store the meat when it was still a butcher shop. But not much was done to change the interior décor or set up.

Five years ago it was sold again and totally redesigned and modernized. These owners went through another battle with the zoning board and finally obtained the right to have tables for people to sit down and eat on premises.

This was not in the original zoning permit or the past usage. So the town said that this was not a valid feature. Hence the zoning battle. Fortunately, the store finally won and now has granite counters in the back as well as a few wood tables in the front.

The grocery store items are limited and The Village Store functions primarily as a deli. It also has a pizza oven and sells some fresh baked goods that we like (mainly scones, muffins and bagels). It also sells coffee from those big metal canisters. Not very good but it was the only game in town.

The other local store in town has just undergone a major transformation. I’m so excited about it, I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to my new favorite place in town. I think I’m going to call it ‘Cappuccinos Come to Easton.’

TRAGICALLY LOST YET MAGICALLY FOUND – Garry Armstrong

Photos: Garry Armstrong


Back in the day (I hate that cliché), I used to do features like this for slow TV news days. It’s been a week of family soap opera, spawned by disciples of “Ozzie and Harriet”, “Father Knows Best” and “Modern Family.” Oh, the angst!

Today figured to be a reprieve. Lunch with an old pal from my working days. I looked forward to sharing stories about baseball, favorite TV shows, and guy gossip. Perfect weather. Tee shirt weather. Ready to roll. But, as Columbo would say, “… just one more thing, Sir.”

I couldn’t find my shoulder bag. My shoulder bag which contains my driver’s license, Social Security card, medical, and credit cards. Marilyn joined me in the household search, from casual to frantic. Car searches turned up nothing.

I stared accusingly at the dogs. Visions of a conspiracy grew. Why me?

Marilyn tried to calm me down as my grumbling grew louder, laced with profanity and anger. Why me?

She tried to call my friend to cancel lunch but his contact numbers were out-of-date. I had failed to update the contact information. Why me?

I dashed off an email to my pal, explaining the situation and apologizing for the last minute lunch cancellation. My anger was growing. Except, I was the perp.

Finally, I decided to retrace my movements of the past 24 to 36 hours. Local deli to the supermarket. I kept thinking of what potentially lay ahead if my ID and credit cards were really lost … or even worse, had been stolen.

Dammit!

The supermarket folks were kind. They knew me. One of the perks of living in a small town is that everyone knows your name. One of the managers smiled and indicated they had it — even before I could get the question out.

I gulped and stepped back, taking a deep breath. They searched high and low, assuring me my bag was safe, under lock and key.

The long wait. Finally, with deep apologies, they said my bag was at the police station. Why were they apologizing?? I was the one who’d lost the bag. I gave myself a Gibbs’ head slap.

The police station is only a couple of minutes away, but season-long road work has the middle of town in a virtual freeze frame. Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the police station parking lot. I counted to ten and got out of the car. I took a few steps, then got back into the car … to turn the engine off. Another count from one-to-ten. Then I advanced into the police station.

They greeted me with smiles. Yes, they had my bag!! They recognized my police badge. Actually, it’s an auxiliary police badge given to me back in my working days. Yes, I still like to flip the holder cover open, casually revealing the badge. I’m admittedly an aging ham.

My bag was returned to me. I signed a release form with a BIG “Thank You”. The station personnel kept smiling. I wanted to slowly back out, feeling very stupid. They wouldn’t let me leave. Why me??

It seems they wanted to take pictures with me. To show off to their family and friends. Who used to watch me on television. Very weird.

I kept thinking … they shoot horses, don’t they?

CITY VERSUS COUNTRY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in an apartment in Manhattan for over 40 years. I’ve lived in the woods in Connecticut now for over 25 years. I think I’m something of an expert on both life styles.

My apartment building in NYC for 15 years

It’s a common misconception that getting around is easier in a city than in the country or suburbs. I disagree. Having lived long-term with both transportation options, I’ll take my car and the country any time.

In the city there are often many things that are within walking distance. A small supermarket, a pharmacy, a dry cleaners, some restaurants and stores, etc. For those destinations, it couldn’t be more convenient (unless you count having to be outside in inclement weather as more than mildly inconvenient). But you can’t live your entire life within a ten block radius of your apartment or house. You always need to go downtown or outside your residential area. That’s where you get into trouble.

You have to walk to bus stops or subway stops, in all kinds of weather. Then wait for the next bus or train, whenever it decides to come for you. There are always delays of some kind. You get off the bus or train and again have to walk to your destination. Add kids in strollers and the logistics become mind boggling.

Another city transportation option is the taxi. First you have to wait to find one and then you have to sit in traffic – there’s always traffic in NYC. This is often easier but it can actually be slower, is less predictable and is definitely more expensive.

You can never be sure, in a city like New York, how long it will take you to get somewhere. You’re always at the mercy of factors outside of your control. My ex and I would have endless discussions about the best way to get to the theater or to a downtown restaurant on time.

So for me, going anywhere in the city was stressful. I dreaded having to take my young kids anywhere. I dreaded going out when it was very hot, very cold or very wet outside. (Weather is a big thing for me). I was ALWAYS rushing and always worried I’d be late.

Getting a kid and a stroller into a bus is not easy

In the country/suburbs, you just get in your car and go! Mine is in my garage so I don’t even have to go outside. You always know how long it will take to get where you’re going if you’re traveling locally. If you don’t, you can always look it up on Map Quest. There’s rarely traffic (unless you have to take the highway) and usually plenty of parking wherever you’re going. You don’t have to battle the elements for more than a few yards.

You may technically be farther away from the necessities of life. But I’m in the middle of nowhere and I can get to anything I might need or want, including movies and theater, in 15-20 minutes. Door to door. You can’t go anywhere on public transportation in NYC in less time than that!

And when I drive everywhere, I’m not only in control of my schedule, I’m traveling in style and comfort. I’m in my comfy car, listening to my Broadway Channel on Sirius Radio and singing along at the top of my lungs. I’m looking out the window at trees and grass and often a reservoir. The view going by makes me happy no matter the season. Snow is beautiful if you don’t have to shovel it. There’s nothing like watching the leaves come out on the trees in the spring, or watching them turn to reds, oranges and yellows in the fall.

For me it’s a no-brainer. Me in my car, singing and watching the beautiful scenery go by. No stress, no worries, no environmental issues. I’ll take that scenario over a crowded subway any day. Even if it means I can’t walk to the local market, restaurant or store. I can walk on my tree-lined road any time I want to commune with nature or get some exercise.

I always thought I was a city girl at heart. I grew up as a dyed in the wool, ethnocentric, arrogant New Yorker. But I’ve converted. I’ve seen the light – and the trees.

NEIGHBORS

This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.

Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with it.  Garry just got stares until they realized they’d seen him on TV. Celebrity beats skin color, at least here in the north.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Our situation was made more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. Big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.

Ned was massive. Tattooed. Hung with a bunch of skin-heads. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited and we weren’t. Ned also flew a Confederate flag. Prominently. We learned he’d always done it. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I thought them — and still think — it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a long time ago. Get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t get it. Apparently a lot of people don’t get it.

Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior. Semper fi. Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough. One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

Photo: Garry Armstrong

He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he gave back our extension ladder before leaving.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the two and half years they have lived there, they’ve never said hello. I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking. Hard to argue with that but they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like he did and gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

SECURITY OR NOT? DON’T CHOOSE.

SECURITY (NOT!) – DAILY POST WEEKLY PHOTOGRAPHIC CHALLENGE


Photo: Garry Armstrong

We are insecure. We live in the middle of nowhere, so to actually get to our house and “do something,” there’s a hefty excursion involved. And, we are poor, so even if you got here, there’s not much worth taking. I’m not sure how much chewed dog toys go for on the open market, but I’m betting “not much” would be a good rule-of-thumb.

Happy days in the basket of safety

We are home most of the time anyway. The times when we are out are few and far between … and then, there are the dogs. We have had bigger ones, but not more alert and attentive dogs. Big soft dogs that sleep through everything except the potential excitement of a Milkbone are not nearly as dangerous to man and beast as they probably think.

Our little dogs at least let us know if someone is one the property — especially if they drive a car or truck. They have an intense desire to bark at anything which has an internal combustion engine.

So between not having expensive stuff that people could easily sell, being around a lot … and living in the boonies … if someone wants find a home to raid, we are probably not at the top of anyone’s list. Sometimes, security is knowing that you don’t need it.

And finally, something I learned long time ago and in a land far away: If the bad guys really want to get into your house? And you live in a regular house in a typical area with the usual locks and systems in place? They will find a way to do it. Especially if you live in an old house. There is always a window they can break, a door they can push open. There is no “safe” space for normal folks. There hasn’t been for a long time.

You can’t steal the sunrise

Get a couple of barky dogs. Don’t hang on to lots of expensive stuff for people to steal. No one really wants your 3-year-old computer or 10-year-old television. Or five-year old second-hand Jeep. All of which is too big and klutzy to carry off. Don’t buy a safe and don’t keep more than minimal cash.

You might want to relax and enjoy life. Now — there’s a unique concept!

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

COUNTRY VERSUS CITY LIFE – ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in an apartment in Manhattan for over 40 years. I’ve lived in the woods in Connecticut now for over 25 years. I think I’m something of an expert on both life styles. It’s a common misconception that getting around is easier in a city than in the country or suburbs. I disagree. Having lived with both transportation options, I’ll take my car and the country any time.

In the city there are often many things that are within walking distance. A small supermarket, a pharmacy, a dry cleaners, some restaurants and stores, etc. For those destinations, it couldn’t be more convenient (unless you count having to be outside in inclement weather as more than mildly inconvenient). But you can’t live your entire life within a ten block radius of your apartment or house. You always need to go downtown or outside your residential area. That’s where you get into trouble.

You have to walk to bus stops or subway stops, in all kinds of weather. Then wait for the next bus or train, when it decides to come for you. Delays are inevitable. After you get off the bus or train, you’ll have to walk some more to get to your final destination. Add kids, strollers — and the logistics become mind-boggling. Remember, you have to do it again going back.

You could grab a taxi. On television, snap your fingers and there’s a cab. In real life, you have to find one. And then sit in traffic. There’s always traffic in New York. The taxi may be easier but it can actually be slower. It’s also less predictable and definitely more expensive.

You can never be sure, in a city like New York, how long it will take you to get somewhere. You’re constantly at the mercy of traffic, trains, buses, — all factors outside your control. My ex and I would have endless discussions about the best way to get to the theater or to a downtown restaurant on time. Going anywhere in the city was stressful. I dreaded having to take my kids anywhere. I dreaded going out when it was very hot, very cold, or very wet. Weather is a big thing for me. I was ALWAYS rushing and always worried I’d be late.

In the country or suburbs, you get in your car and go! Mine is in my garage so I don’t even have to go outside. You always know how long it will take to get where you’re going. If you don’t, you can always look it up on Map Quest. There’s rarely traffic and normally plenty of parking everywhere. You don’t have to battle the elements for more than a few yards. You may technically be farther away from the necessities of life, but from where I live — in the middle of nowhere — I can get to anything I might need or want. Movies, dinner, theater, 15-20 minutes door-to-door. You can’t go anywhere on public transportation in a city in less time than that!

When I drive, I’m in control of my schedule. I’m traveling in style and comfort. I’m in my car, listening to my Broadway Channel on Sirius Radio and singing along at the top of my lungs. I’m looking out the window at trees and grass and maybe a reservoir. The view makes me happy no matter the season. Snow is beautiful if you don’t have to shovel it. There’s nothing like watching the leaves come out on the trees in spring, or seeing them turn red, orange and yellow in the fall. Or watching my dogs running around and playing at any time of year.

For me it’s a no-brainer. Me in my car, singing and watching the beautiful scenery? That’s the winner. No stress, no worries, no environmental issues. I’ll take that scenario over a crowded subway any day. Even if it means I can’t walk to the local market, restaurant, or store. I can walk down my tree-lined road to commune with nature or get some exercise.

I always thought I was a city girl at heart. I grew up as an ethnocentric, arrogant New Yorker. Now, I’ve seen the light – and the trees. Especially the trees!

LIFE GOES ON OUT IN THE COUNTRY – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE

HOME IN THE COUNTRY: A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE, NANCY MERRILL


Last night, we met up with Garry’s brother Anton who was in the area on a work project. “In the area” was actually “in the state of Massachusetts.” If you tried to pick a location as far as possible from where we live … and still be in the same state (Massachusetts is small), you might just select Beverly. An 85 mile drive through Boston rush hour traffic found us on Cape Ann, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and manicured lawns and huge, restored houses on the other.

72-Percheron-Horses_04

The gated mansions  … some with actual gate houses … were a bit of clue that we had entered a different world.

Around our neck of the woods, when you see a gate, it’s there to keep something in or something else out. Cows in, coyotes out. Dogs in the yard, delivery people out. Chickens in, foxes out. Also, wild turkeys … outside, please.

(Those wild turkey want to be in with the chickens because the food is better. They do not call them turkeys for nothing.)

I commented that a “gated mansion” in our area is called a “farm with a big house.” A glorious rolling stretch of grass that leads to the river is called “a pasture” and usually contains cows, horses, the occasional llama, and less frequently, goats. Sometimes all of the above and maybe a visiting few deer who don’t mind sharing as long as no one shoots at them.

Mostly, we have cows and horses. Really big horses. Percheron and Clydesdale, the size of 10-ton trucks, but friendlier and certainly more fun to have around.