Column: Finding the holiday spirit in Southold

Soundview Avenue fence

When Marguerite Schondebare is asked to name her favorite season, the answer can seem surprising. She loves summer days in the pool in the backyard of her Southold home, but she most enjoys quiet winters on the North Fork.

In particular, she adores the festive atmosphere around the holidays.

“I love in the evening to drive around, see what people have done for Christmas,” she said.

Holiday spirit is what initially inspired Ms. Schondebare to decorate the white picket fence that lines Soundview Avenue adjacent to Hummel’s Pond. It’s a tradition she started about five years ago after the fence was fixed and cleaned as part of a young man’s Eagle Scout project, she said. Ms. Schondebare had always tried to help with upkeep around the pond, but the fence had fallen into disrepair and the young man volunteered to fix it that autumn.

Shortly before Christmas, she noticed a wreath had been hung on the fence. Feeling inspired, she decided to take the decorations one step further. She gathered materials and some roping a neighbor gave her and went to work, adorning the fence with ribbons and garlands.

Having lived in Southold with her husband, Jay, since 1973, Ms. Schondebare, 70, said Hummel’s Pond has always held special meaning for her family. So it was particularly disheartening when a severe back issue this year made it difficult for her to stand, since it meant she physically wasn’t able to decorate the fence.

“I didn’t know how to get it done,” she said.

So she went on Facebook and decided to seek out a local Cub Scout troop. It didn’t take long for Southold’s Pack 6 to step up and offer its services.

Last Monday around 4 p.m., several of the pack’s young members gathered with a troop leader and some of their parents to pick up the job Ms. Schondebare had started.

“Here it is, Christmas, and these little kids come down and do something so kind and generous,” she said. “This lady asked for help, let’s help. I was so touched by that.”

It had been a rough time for Ms. Schondebare leading up to the day the Cub Scouts decorated the fence. That day, she had a surgery on her face and left the doctor’s office lined with stitches. She couldn’t make it to Hummel’s Pond in time, so her husband delivered all the materials.

She made brownies for the scouts, provided a donation to the troop and posted a thank-you note on Facebook.

“The kids got so excited,” she said.

What made the moment even more special, in a nod to small-town charm, was her discovery that the helpers included several people with a connection to her family. There was a woman who went to school with one of her daughters and another who works for At Home Services for Independent Living in Southold and had helped Ms. Schondebare’s mother in her final days.

“It’s so nice to go down there and see people you knew in various ways,” she said. “It was just wonderful.”

Ms. Schondebare has been a homemaker most of her life; her husband worked as a lawyer. They both graduated from Riverhead High School and had lived in Wading River before moving to Southold.

The Cub Scouts pose in front of the fence. (Courtesy photo)
The Cub Scouts pose in front of the fence. (Courtesy photo)

She said she still remembers driving down Soundview Avenue and seeing the pond. A young couple at the time, they moved to the East End as Mr. Schondebare was completing law school. Money was tight, but thanks to the generosity of a real estate agent who helped them obtain a very favorable loan, they made it work.

In the ensuing years they became ingrained in the community, whether it be through their church, Southold Presbyterian, or events like the Mattituck Strawberry Festival. Mr. Schondebare served on the Town Board years ago and also worked as a town attorney at one point.

Ms. Schondebare said she hopes the generosity of the Cub Scouts who offered their help can serve as inspiration, especially given the toxic post-election climate that has seemed to drive a wedge between people.

“For me, it showed everything about Southold, about the possibility for us as a people,” she said.

Top photo: The white picket fence by Hummel’s Pond on Soundview Avenue in Southold was recently decorated by Southold Cub Scout Pack 6. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Joe WerkmeisterThe author is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].