Sunday, November 25, 2018

Begin with a Grateful Heart

When we prepare for Thanksgiving and the merry weeks that follow, “Home for the holidays” repeats and repeats in our head like an old-familiar song. And if we’re lucky, sweet memories abound, like setting the table for six or twelve; stuffing the turkey; stirring the cranberry sauce; filling plates; slicing pie, and topping off dessert with a scoop of ice cream, a cup of tea or coffee, and a long story about someone we have loved for as long as we can remember. We are all pulled home this time of year, and that’s the beauty of the season. In Maine’s Cool Little City, there’s a cherished tradition fostered by Main Street Bath. A few days before Thanksgiving, city councilors, local merchants, and residents of Bath and neighboring towns gather on the historic steps of the Customs House at One Front Street and take a group photo with Santa hats and a few Comet-like antlers. And with the snap of a camera, an Old-fashioned Christmas begins, but first we all rush home to get ready for Thanksgiving!

Every year like clockwork, at eleven o’clock in the morning on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Patten Free Library opens its doors and invites everyone to make ornaments for Bath’s Christmas tree, which will be lighted by Santa and Mrs. Claus when they arrive around two o’clock. While scores of children wait for a seat at one of the ornament tables, they can choose to have their faces painted by an elf, sail a boat around the Children’s Room, or listen to a story. Of course, some of the children manage to do all of the above before it’s time to decorate the tree and wait for Santa! The children are willing to wait – they’re good as gold – but a few adults have other places to go before the Jingle Bell Walk to City Hall and a chance to visit one-on-one with the jolly guy in the red suit!

The grown-ups who slip away usually dart to Treasure Island Toys to find the most wished for gift. And then they duck into The Mustard Seed Bookstore to see ballerinas dancing overhead – like a page from the The Nutcracker.  They're greeted by Susan Shipsey and Alissa Ford, two ladies who could melt an icicle with a single smile and know how to help you find a good book to keep and read, or wrap and give away. Next, the adults on their shopping mission stop at Gigi’s, a deeply purple variety shop that’s filled with all sorts of new and vintage items, like sofas and hats, purses and scarves, and even sunglasses! And all of these shoppers are pleasantly surprised to discover the new businesses that have popped up in time for Christmas, Hanukah, and the New Year. 

The New Place serves pour-over coffee
One of the newest shops has an unusual name: The New Place. It’s only fitting that The New Place is the first place to serve pour-over coffee in Bath. The youthful owner, Lucy, is bringing lots of new, fresh ideas to her market on Front Street: flowers that say I love you, gift baskets filled with cheese and other tempting treats, and lots of good cheer in the form of adult beverages – my favorite is one of the red wines, La abeja y la flor, or The Bee and the Flower. It tastes even better than it sounds! And then there are those delicious deliveries from the Standard Baking Company: French baguettes and multi-grain loaves to feast on at breakfast, lunch, or dinner! 
Concinnity Deli and Lounge on Front Street
There’s also a bunch of new restaurants to frequent over the holidays: The Bath Brewing Company, No Coward Soul, and the Concinnity Deli and Lounge. I must admit I’m a regular at Concinnity because I’m partial to their morning scones, but I also know that their rice bowl and gluten-free offerings are a hit in downtown Bath. And if you like to listen to Simon and Garfunkel on vinyl, Concinnity should be on your radar. The food is farm fresh, but the music is hauntingly nostalgic – just the way I like it! No Coward Soul, owned by Bath native Johnny Lomba, is filling big shoes because it's located where Solo Bistro used to be. This Portuguese restaurant adds a little exotic spice to our dining fare. Maybe it’s the typewriter keys set into the bar, or the Iberian vibe, but this soulful establishment reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, Pamplona, and the Running of the Bulls! One can only imagine what music Johnny will choose for the month of December! If you’re drawn to history, Bath is a target-rich environment. For example, the Bath Brewing Company opened in a red brick building, circa 1854, that was once home to the Morris Povich clothing store. Bath Brewing Company and Windward Development won a  2018 Economic Development Award from Main Downtown Center because of its masterful renovation. The smart and beautiful project also won a 2018 preservation award from Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc. If you haven’t enjoyed a locally brewed beer from the newest pub in town, do it before the year runs out!

Trolley caroling through Bath begins on Friday, December 7, from 4 to 8 in the evening; repeats on Saturday, and then continues that weekend schedule until the end of December. In order to truly appreciate this fun-filled tradition, you must grab a hat, scarf, mittens, and blanket and stand in line at the trolley stop near City Hall to reserve a seat. And then, shop a little until it’s your turn to board the merriest trolley ever, but remember there’s a risk. When you start hugging your kids and singing those carols, you’re apt to feel NOSTALGIC! Hopefully, that feeling will take flight, and you’ll end the ride with gratitude for the past and hope for the future. 

November and December are the best months for counting our blessings. One blessing I’m counting this year is the Cosmopolitan Club of Bath. In 2018, the Cosmopolitan Club was dissolved by its membership, and its clubhouse for over one hundred years was sold. I was blessed to be a member of one of Bath’s first social clubs for women, and this fall I was grateful to be present at the Winter Street Center when Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc. presented Michele Ober, the last President of the Club, and Tom Johnson, the new owner of the club's home, with an award for historic preservation. It was both a beautiful ending and a beautiful beginning for 894 Washington Street and its unique history. Last summer, when I was a docent at the Donnell House at the Maine Maritime Museum, I often mentioned that William T. Donnell's daughter, Gussie, and I had been members of the same club. The Bath Historical Society's 2019 calendar features the members of the Club in 1915 on its November page. It's available for sale at many downtown shops!
The Cosmopolitan Club (courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum)

Nostalgia, hope, and gratitude all play a part in our holiday celebrations. In Bath and around the globe, let’s begin December with a grateful heart. Today I’m grateful for my family, friends and neighbors, and all the caring souls I’ve met in Bath, including Alissa Ford, who works at The Mustard Seed. On Black Friday, I entered my favorite bookstore with my two-year-old granddaughter, but she was not happy because her parents had just left for a night away. I purchased a large chocolate chip cookie at the counter in hopes of consoling her, but my sweet girl put that cookie right back in the bag. And then Alissa came over with a little toy horse. The tears began to subside, but the eyes were still not smiling, so Alissa brought over a paper ballerina just like the ones dancing over our heads. Like magic, the eyes smiled and my granddaughter and I walked back to the children’s reading corner and read Blueberries for Sal. Today, I would like to fill Alissa's mailbox with a thousand thank-you notes. When my little granddaughter woke up on Saturday morning, she colored pink ballet slippers on her paper ballerina and imagined leaping through the air. And for that, I am eternally grateful!