Pay attention to that Christmas shop. It might be important someday.
Not everybody who lives on the Shoreline is from the Shoreline. That’s what makes it a horse race, my aunt used to tell me. If you were born and raised here, you might bemoan the old days when it seemed like life was more insular. But it’s not that way anymore. Merry Christmas. I come here by way of the Bronx and Jersey. Growing up, Connecticut was where my aunt lived, in Milford. It was sand, mulched leaves, tangy air, and bees. I never saw a bee until I went to visit my aunt’s house in Milford. That was a few decades, passings, and administrations ago. Connecticut was Thanksgiving and Christmas for me.
I keep an outsider’s point of view. It makes living here a lot prettier. Not that it needs to be a lot prettier. Let me give you an example of how outside you can get and how appreciative it can make you at this time of year. Case in point: The Pink Sleigh. It’s a tiny little Christmas shop right off Exit 65. Exits have always been how I define geography. Jersey. What can I say? Anyway, somewhere around the age of 8 or 10,my mother and father packed us up in the Ford Falcon wagon and we trekked up from The Boogie Down to Milford for Thanksgiving. Slept over. The next day, we loaded up the crew again at my aunt’s insistence because we had to see The Pink Sleigh. Back then it was a pink building. And had a real pink sleigh out front.
I’ll never forget opening that door. As far as I was concerned, this was not like Christmas. It was Christmas. The thing itself. A rush of cinnamon smell and a hush of voices so low you could hear the chimes in the music boxes. It was dark, lit only by white lights wrapped on bare branches twisting up to the ceiling. And it sparkled. Ornaments, candles, tinsel. We walked the shop’s stairs and upper loft. And it was enough time, so we went back to Milford. Eventually that weekend, we went back to the fourth floor walk-up in the Fordham section of the Bronx. But from that time on, I lived in Connecticut in my mind.
I actually moved here in 1992—to New Canaan, because some friends lived there and it was close enough to my aunt in Milford, whose health was declining. I didn’t like dropping my daughter off at mansions that didn’t really need to be that big, or taking crap off some teenaged kid in a Jaguar. That’s not Connecticut. So we started looking for a house and looked here. Done deal. It was closer to The Pink Sleigh. I liked that. We moved here in February 2003.
February 2004. I’m digging Madison. Loving my little five-mile jaunt from my house near 95 down to Middle Beach Road and back. But somewhere around Valentine’s Day I couldn’t finish the run anymore. In fact, I couldn’t run without getting dizzy. During the last week in February, I started to get weird pains in my joints and dizzy spells all the time. My wife drove me one Saturday to Exit 65, past The Pink Sleigh, and on to the Shoreline Clinic in Essex. I figured I would get my blood checked out. I was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Did 35 days at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown with chemo racing through my already poisoned bloodstream. I’d never been to Middletown. I don’t like Middletown. That’s not Connecticut to me.
As it turned out, I beat it. And as it turned out, I had to go back to that Shoreline Walk-In Clinic every week for two-and-a-half years for blood work, chemo treatments, and doctor appointments. I passed The Pink Sleigh about 150 times during that period of time, and every time I was reminded of how life turns out pretty funny, doesn’t it? And I always thought about the first time I opened that door to The Pink Sleigh. About how that was Connecticut to me. And how it was Christmas to me.
I go back there a lot. I can’t recreate that day I first went there or the feeling. People are gone; I’ve lost a bit of my innocence over the years about commerce and Christmas. But I try. I’ve taken my kids there. They think it’s kinda cool. I’ve talked to the owners. They were kinda interested in my story. But not really. I still love the place, though. I go all the time.
After all, it’s Christmas, ain’t it?