A final column to warm the heart

About six months ago, Phyllis Lombardi called a friend and former Suffolk Times colleague to ask for a ride to Best Buy so she could replace her broken computer.

She was nearing the end of a long battle with cancer, but Phyllis told her friend Meg Marcus that she mostly needed the new computer to continue writing her column. Even as her health deteriorated, she managed to file several pieces in advance. Only two had not yet been published when she died last week. 

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we felt it would be fitting to publish this one final column.

Those who worked with Phyllis during her years as a copy editor and columnist at the paper will miss her greatly.

“Phyllis never had a negative thing to say, even when she was dealing with health issues and things must have been really bleak,” said Lauren Sisson, her editor. “She was one of the most positive-thinking people I’ve ever dealt with.”

— Grant Parpan, executive editor


Everything from soup to nuts. Guess that’s what most North Forkers think about when they ponder Thanksgiving dinner. And so do I, except for the soup. Through the years, my mother made plenty of fine soup — and my brother is a very close soup-making second. But we never have soup at our annual Thanksgiving feast. Too much other stuff on the table and so many people sitting around it.

But the nuts? That’s a different story. To eat out of hand or to enjoy in cake and breads, nuts are there on our table, right near that turkey.

Thinking about all this nutty stuff, I realize I’ve built up quite a nut routine. First of all, I always buy nuts in their shells in those cellophane bags you can see right through, anticipating the crinkling sound as I open the bag and the nuts tumble all over the kitchen table. Mostly I buy walnuts.

All this activity occurs a few days before Thanksgiving, when I’ve a bit of time. I gather my shelling aids and away I go. Those aids are various: a nutcracker, a cutting board, a couple of big bowls, a small, sharp knife. And even my old vacuum cleaner. But more about that later.

First, let me tell you about the nutcracker. It’s been in our family for as long as I can recall. It belonged to my Grandma Safarik way back in the 1940s. It is beat-up looking but I enjoy using it, knowing my grandma, mother and two uncles worked with it way back.

Anyway, I crack the entire bag of nuts, one nut at a time. I like the way the nuts feel in my hands. Smooth and rippled. Warm and strong. Most shells give way easily but occasionally I bang a nut against the kitchen table. Break, darn it!

If the banging doesn’t work, I ask my husband for a little help. Though he’s older than the nutcracker, he still has a bit of muscle left. And is happy to show off. “Easy,” he says, but I know he’s bragging.

Now, when all the nuts are cracked, I dig out the meat with the knife. Ah, that’s the treasure. As the shelled walnuts pile high in one of the bowls, discarded shells mount up in the other. And as I shell I think of all the good nut-eating ahead. I’ll make a cranberry-nut loaf, some nut muffins, even sprinkle chopped nuts on ice cream. Come on over and join me.

Oh, and about that bowl of shells. Well, the shells do not go into the garbage. Every last one of them finds its way to the back porch, where they wait in the bowl till I grab a small shovel from the garage. Then into the garden I go, digging and sprinkling the shells under bushes of all kinds.

Apparently nut shells add nutrients to the soil and help soften it. And when I start working in the spring’s good earth, I often uncover broken, disintegrating shells giving life to the earth. That’s treasure, too.

Finally, there’s that vacuum cleaner. I can’t seem to do anything in life without it. And nut day is the day I need it most. Shells invariably slide along the kitchen table and drop to the floor. Other shells, as I crack them, pop up and fly across the room and try to hide under the refrigerator. Once a shell even hit a kitchen window. That scared me.

I feel so noble when I hear the clink, clink, clink of the errant shells as they are drawn into the vacuum cleaner. It’s like a job well done, a job brought to completion.

But not quite. The nut job is complete only when the family gathers together, eats and gives thanks. Come to think of it, most jobs are probably incomplete until a thank-you is offered. And it’s so simple, really. All we have to do is bow our heads and whisper the words.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.