Signs of Love

By Lynn Blumenfeld

    When Goldberg’s Bagels opened in Montauk last year I laughed inside. I recalled the story a woman had told me, about how years ago she’d waited on line for a bagel and lox at Herb’s Market and was told if she wanted locks, she had to go to the hardware store across the street.

    I started driving to Montauk five days a week about 11 years ago when I met my business partner, Jill Fleming. Jill’s up there on the WASP-o-meter. Blond, blue-eyed, stoic, Canadian. She works hard, lives well, and can make me seem like the female version of Woody Allen. We started our advertising and design firm in an addition to her home. You could say we balance each other, or that we couldn’t be more different.

    When I met the Fleming family, Maggie was 8, Mack was 11, and despite the fact that she never cared all that much about Christmas, Jill bent over backward to make the season special for them. Her husband, Thom, a fine carpenter and local fireman, was way more into it — taking care of buying a great big tree, always putting a beautiful wreath on the door, and filling the house with bright red amaryllis. There were stockings for everyone, even the dogs. I loved every bit of it, and looked forward to delivering presents from the Springs Santa each year.

    Despite the fact that my parents celebrated Hanukkah with us, lit the menorah every night, made potato latkes, spun dreidels, and even gave us gifts eight days in a row, I was a little girl with visions of sugarplums dancing through her head. At age 4, I hid under a neighbor’s tree, hoping to disappear into the pine scent, magic tinsel, and twinkly lights. I sang carols whenever I could, even a cappella in Grand Central Station (the acoustics are amazing). I organized Project Santa Claus at my high school — a bunch of us, dressed as elves, went door to door collecting toys and gifts from retailers and marched them over (with Santa Claus) to the children’s wing at the local hospital.

    Finally, I married a lovely Englishman, raised in the Church of England. I thought, “At last, I can deck the halls and get a tree.” Of course my parents’ voices were loud and clear in my head saying, “It’s not your holiday.” But Simon, the Englishman, didn’t want a tree; he wasn’t interested. He barely wanted to exchange gifts. “I’ll go along with the nonsense if you need me to,” he said. Humbug!

    When we moved to Montauk, on Christmas Eve in 2007, something shifted. Of course, the sunsets here were better, the sky and the ocean were bigger. Hiking became a new passion. But . . . in Montauk, the streets are decorated for Christmas, the Lighthouse is decked with lights for Christmas, and nary a latke can be found. Within days of moving in, a man across the street waved me over. “I heard I had a new neighbor. Your name is Schwartz, right?” The schools in my new hometown are open on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur even though they’re closed in East Hampton. And, I’ve never been invited to break the fast or for a Shabbos dinner on this side of the Napeague stretch.

    But on a cold December morning when I walked into the office at blumenfeld + fleming, I was startled, not by the wreath on the door, but the sign someone had placed over the top of it. A wood carving with a child’s handwriting announced: “Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah from b+f.” Carved underneath the words was a menorah. Mack Fleming had made the sign in wood shop. I think he was in seventh or eighth grade. No one had asked him to do this. But, this boy was acknowledging my holiday. He wanted me to know I was included — and that we could celebrate together.

    That for me is the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Hanukkah, the spirit of brotherhood, the spirit of everything worth celebrating. And yes, all these years later, there is nothing I won’t do for that boy.

    Lynn Blumenfeld, co-partner at blumenfeld + fleming, is a member of the Ashawagh Hall Writers Workshop. Her first novel, “Finding Grace,” set in Montauk, was excerpted in Beach magazine’s September issue.