Monday, July 29, 2013

Heat and Warmth

   The first time I even heard of Clinton was in 1998 when my best friend, Jay Hornyak, asked me to help him with a job. Jay is the owner and operator of Advanced Chimney Service. His business has served Clinton and the surrounding communities for nearly twenty years.
   My first impression of Clinton was of a sleepy coastal town, so much so that I immediately took some notes in order to make it the setting of a future novel. Fast forward to 2013 and I can now call Clinton home, where I work alongside my best friend and enjoy the perks of being my own boss after working for a steel mill in Pennsylvania for more than a decade.
   Clinton boasts plenty of charming brooks and streams that meander through heavily wooded areas, marshlands that teem with wildlife and of course, a beautiful piece of Connecticut’s shore. And despite the passage of fifteen years, Clinton has retained that same allure I experienced the first time I visited.
   The small town is a throwback to quaint Americana with just the right touch of modernism. Main Street, Clinton’s portion of US Route 1, is still lined with humble store fronts, some of them set up in well-preserved New England houses. No big chain stores and gigantic home improvement centers mar the simple beauty of Clinton, and that’s just how its residents like it.

   I may know slightly better than most what it means to move into a new town. I moved to America from Ecuador when I was only thirteen, and the experiences of that year ended up on the pages of my latest novel.       Old fears resurfaced when my Sheri and I made the decision to move. How would we fit in? How do we find what we need? Where do we go for this or that? What are the people like? Will our daughters like their new surroundings?
   We’ve had the fortune of good friends guiding us to find answers to some of our never-ending questions but ultimately, we know we have to find the beat of the town on our own.
Summer in Clinton screams “Beach”, but the last couple of weeks kept us indoors, where I made it a point to reverently thank one Mr. Carrier for inventing A/C.
   On Saturday, July 20th, We took our girls to the Town Beach for Clinton Family Day. Suffice to say that after meeting Bob Ruggiero, I no longer hold any fears as to our future as Clinton Residents.
   Bob Ruggiero has volunteered for Family Day for the last ten years. Bob offered me a cold bottle of water while he sliced watermelon. Just as I was about to ask how much, Bob smiled.

   “It’s all free,” he said, much to our surprise.
  I thanked him for the cool drink, and we struck up a conversation. I’ve seldom met people who are genuinely proud of their community and their town. The Ruggieros have called Clinton home for over forty years.
   After sharing a verbal tour of Clinton, Bob welcomed me and my family with a solid handshake. He pointed out the Chairman of the Parks and Rec Office, his wife Lois, who walked from one end to the other, clipboard in hand, tending to the activities planned for the day.  He also pointed out his daughter, who was one of the many volunteers working feverishly to make Family Day as fun as possible for the littler Clinton residents.
   My new friend gave the volunteers and particularly Bo Potter, who runs Clinton Parks and Rec, all the credit for putting together another successful Clinton Family Beach Day. And it was nothing short of a success.
   The Crowd pleasing music was loud enough to enjoy without interfering with conversation―to watch old timers, middle agers, and teenagers sing along to “Sweet Caroline” is something to beholdEvery kid was a winner and they gleefully chose their prizes or cooled off at the water slide. Smiling volunteers made every game and contest fun and exciting. Some adults heeded their inner little kid and could be seen trying out playground equipment alien to their own childhood. Yes, I was one of them.
   I followed my oldest daughter from end to end. But after our third lap, it dawned on me she and her new friend were safe and I didn’t need to worry so much. I then cheered my little one as she and a whole line of kids hopped to the finish line, most of their little bodies inside a burlap sack.
   Meanwhile, Bob continued to treat his community to watermelon slices and pink lemonade while Mystery Mike entertained a rapt audience who benefited from a few lessons on the sly. I wish my college professors discussed ancient civilizations while tossing around “articles of juggling” and wearing a beany hat featuring a propeller.
   It was a perfect beach day.
   The ocean gently lapped at the crescent of sand and the boats bobbing in their berths at the marina drew a most picturesque skyline worthy of a postcard. A steady breeze kept the heat at bay and made it enjoyable to watch the kids run through the obstacle course and enjoy the beach the way only kids can.
   Strangers offered easy greetings and shared the usual views on the weather with friendly smiles. It was precisely what I hoped to feel: warmth. The kind of neighborly warmth that welcomes a newcomer. Just about every person I spoke to said, “You’ll like it here”.
   I believe I already do, Clinton. I look forward to making a home out of this quaint little beach town where warmth is felt not only on the skin or the sand beneath my feet.

Javier A. Robayo