In joyless season, Newtown faces Christmas
Intangible gifts help in even deeper ways.
A group called Pets on Wheels left Maryland at 3 a.m. Friday to reach Newtown in time to bring their therapy dogs for the ringing of church bells exactly one week after the shootings. Standing in a cold rain just after the ceremony at town hall, holding the leash of Hero, a German Shepherd mix who was getting and giving lots of attention, volunteer Jennifer Devorak said maybe the dogs’ presence could offer ‘‘one moment of quiet’’ for those still hurting deeply.
‘‘The gift is unconditional love,’’ she said. ‘‘We like to call it ‘licking loneliness.'’’
Others saw an immeasurable gift to the surviving schoolchildren and their families in the painstaking recreation of the Sandy Hook school at a previously mothballed school in the neighboring town of Monroe.
Hundreds of people were involved in the replication effort. Photographs of the old classrooms were used to determine wall paint colors, placement of bookshelves and cubby holes, and the configuration of desks for reassembly as exactly as possible to how they were before. If a box of crayons was left on a desk, it should be there when the students enter the new classrooms after the holiday break, Monroe First Selectman Stephen Vavrek said.
‘‘A miracle,’’ he called the effort.
And a gift: Not of toys, but of comfort, surely.
While many holiday events were scaled back or called off, others went forward, if only because Christmas is for children.
Jean Sander, 72, was remembering the Christmas-decorated storefront windows of her father’s bakery when she was a girl and an idea struck her about the Sandy Hook survivors. ‘‘I was trying to think,’’ she said, ‘‘How can I help these children who are still with us, thank God?’’
‘‘They need their Christmas, in spite of all,’’ she said.
From her father she developed a love of big, bright Christmas displays. He crafted papier mache mountains through which trains would steam, and children would press their noses against the bakery windows for a look. She, in turn, has collected whole villages of antique miniature houses, figures and tiny trees.
Any other year, it’s just a charming display for her children and grandchildren; this year, she put up notices inviting any and all to stop in her house on Saturday for a look and for hot cocoa.
So, Christmas goes on here — like always and like never before, with gifts, lights and bells.
During a silent night at last along Newtown’s Main Street, where police sirens have halted traffic for so many funeral processions, Christmas Eve will turn into Christmas Day as 12 chimes tell the hour. But the familiar bells tolling from the town hall cupola will also say what they've always seemed to say to folks here — that there can be order, that there can be peace, that this place can go on.
Contributing to this story were AP writers John Christofferson, Eileen Connelly, Pat Eaton-Robb and AP photographer Seth Wenig.