It is fun, but before we departed, I clarified to the 25-year-old that the event was “pretty rinky-dink.” She replied in her soft Aussie twang, “I don’t know what rinky-dink means Lize.” Rinky-Dink: small town, simple, unsophisticated, basic—in other words, low key for someone who just completed a trip that included stops in England, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy. Assuring us that the town she grew up in is smaller then ours, niece, daughter and I departed.
A cold wind whipped our faces as we made our way to our first stop, the Unitarian church on the common. Inside, the town-wide band made up of former high school players, ranging in age from recent graduates to senior citizens—all volunteers, mind you— performed a Christmas Concert. Eighteen years ago when we moved to town, this rag-tag group of rusty musicians played with more heart than talent, but after a decade or so under the tutelage of one of the school music teachers, they tackle complex pieces seamlessly. At the end, we were asked to join the band in singing a selection of carols. Gazing down from the choir loft to a tuba player with a stuffed Grinch hanging from his instrument, at a granddaughter in a red jumper sitting on Grandma’s lap and an elderly couple belting out "Joy to the World"—oh heck, I don’t know–this performance always chokes me up.
The band still played as we tiptoed out to walk across to the Congregational church, where a bake sale/craft sale/cheese sale was in full swing. Ignoring the announcement that we had only five minutes left to purchase our tickets for the meat raffle, we threaded through the crowd with a single purpose—to acquire three steaming bowls of clam chowder sold with plastic baggies of Saltine crackers at the back. With our servings slopping over onto a blue plastic tray, we scored a table in the side room and dug in.
My husband doesn’t love chowder, so my daughter and I have made partaking in this particular delight our annual tradition. Once, about five years ago, for some reason the church volunteers changed the recipe, offering up a weak broth filled with sandy clams. In subsequent visits, my daughter and I have taken a deep breath before spooning into our brew, sighing in relief when we realize the error has not been repeated—the soup we slurped up Saturday was salty, thick but not too thick, milk-based, not cream, with a pleasing ratio of chopped clams mixed with sweet onions and tender potatoes. Our niece agreed that it was perfect snack for a cold December afternoon. The piece of achingly sweet baklava that the three of us shared for dessert topped off the meal.
Next, we climbed the steep hill to the Episcopal Church, where all three of us enriched our personal libraries at a used book sale. We skipped the jumble sale in the parish house in favor of the holiday festival at the organic farm a few streets away. There, crafters offered handmade jewelry, wool scarves and tasty jams but, after the director informed us that the “fields” were still producing, we headed into the barn for fresh veggies. Producing yes, but since they were mostly sold out for the day, we headed home.
There we discovered one more festival—while we were out, my husband strung Christmas lights on the bushes and unpacked and displayed our collection of 30 something nutcrackers. With carols blaring, he was still arranging holiday décor as we stepped inside, rubbing our hands in the warmth.
*If you are a past "Gilmore Girls" viewer, you'll understand the reference. If not, substitute the words "Small Town" and you'll get the gist.