Niagara Gazette

December 22, 2012

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: A fine day at the kettle

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Jinglers — The season brought us 250 new friends last Friday at Tops.

This was the second year we’ve done our little bit for the Salvation Army and its tirelessly genial Major Celestin Nkounkou.

Last year folks dropped more than $300, a record, he said, into our Red Kettle at the north entrance to our only big grocery store. This year, not quite so much, we suspect, but it was busy, and like spending the whole day amidst Spirits of Christmas Past.

Doug, a compulsive score-keeper, tallies the donors (but not their contributions). He counted 250, a very consistent 32 per hour, except for noonish, when it dropped off to 24, and 3 o’clockish, when it soared to 51. At times, we actually had a line.

One actually apologized for putting in a $5, said “it’s the smallest I have.” A youngster about seven ran all the way across the lobby, twisting out of his Mom’s hand, to drop in a coin.

Here comes Phyllis, widow of our former minister and golf partner Jim, as good a man as God ever gave us; here comes an umpire who once threw Doug out of a game and recalls him as “the whirling dervish of the softball league”; Polly’s ceramics colleagues recalling the good old glaze; our some-time seamstress who has endured such grief; a woman who describes Doug’s elf hat as “ridiculous,” another who greets him as “Morrie” and a pretty woman in a kerchief who presents us a tract of her own faith.

“I can’t believe I’m wearing my slippers,” one woman admitted. Shucks, Doug’s been there in his pajamas. Grocery Store Confessions.

Attorney Bob comes by with his boy. A dozen years ago their cats moved in with us. Coach Dean, arm in a sling, replaying downs and lost fly balls. Olive, bird-watcher deluxe. Bonnie, seatmate at Studio Arena. Our life in review. What a day. We supped silently at Theodore’s, just looking at each other. We wondered if adjacent diners thought we were cross with each other. We were just too tired to talk.

The next day, the younger generation would take up the bells, young teens of the high school’s Interact Club, in leggings and antlers, giggling and caroling.

Once home, we flipped on the TV. There’d been a little kettle talk about some shooting in Connecticut. Doug had wrongly thought it was minor. Doug’s ancestors had lived in Newtown; he played there often, recalls how pranksters would edit the welcoming “Newtown, Thickly Populated” to “hickly populated.” Last visit: 2006. Newtown, playtime remembered, now horror permanently fixed.

Again, speechless. How many 6- and 7 year-olds had cruised our kettle, eager to contribute, disdaining the toy dispenser behind us. God bless ‘em, every one. Come visit. We might not talk much. It’s the thoughts that count. Merry Christmas.

Polly and DougE-mail