Delivering the news is our job. Bringing people together is our joy.

Today was a crowded day. The streets of Altamont streamed with people. Old people, bundled in heavy coats — some in pairs leaning into each other against the wind — walked down our street.

And strollers! So many pushed by young parents or grandparents or older siblings, it looked at times like a roller derby.

Today was Altamont’s Victorian Holiday. And because it started this year with a Howliday Pet Pawrade, as it was dubbed, we had dogs in our newsroom along with the people.

The dogs posed for portraits with their owners. A slender greyhound with reindeer horns and a sweet face. A Great Dane who lived up to his name, dwarfing the giant St. Bernard he arrived with. Beagles, several of them, one who wouldn’t take its eyes off its mistress. A tiny Morkie in a sparkling skirt that was held like a baby in the arms of its her loving young owner who sparkled herself.

Humans and canines, kids and their elders, they mingled and mixed in the grand tradition of gathering at Christmastime. The humans sipped hot cider, hugged and chatted, watched their kids ice gingerbread cookies.

They came in from the cold and made their own warmth by connecting, one with another. That’s what I love about a newspaper — the way it connects people.

One group of three grown-up sisters — all with the same smile — came for a portrait and remembered a story we’d run about their elderly mother surprised on her birthday with a field of flamingos, one for each year of her life.

The connections hum in the present as people reach each other through our words.

Last week, I got an email that made my heart sing. Mary Liz Stewart, who with her husband founded the Underground Railroad History Project, told how she read on our pages about the Guilderland schools wanting to develop a curriculum that was more inclusive of racial diversity.

Our Guilderland reporter, Elizabeth Floyd Mair, had written about an African-American mother whose child felt left out. “The article focusing on the integration of an African American perspective in the K-12 curriculum motivated me to reach out to Seema Rivera, President of the Guilderland School Board to have a discussion about Underground Railroad History Project developing a K-12 African American Experience Curriculum for teachers,” Mary Liz Stewart wrote.

She also had read our recent story about Tim Rau’s love of post-and-beam construction and the state award he’d won for his work preserving a historic Dutch home from the 1600s. “The article on the New World Barn Company motivated me to reach out to Tim Rau to ask if there is any possibility of his company building a timber frame Interpretive Center for Underground Railroad History Project that would complement The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence. He and we are looking forward to continuing this conversation,” she wrote.

While connections hum in the present, they sometimes, too, echo from the past. An email we received this week from Shannon Fortran said in part: “I remember as an elementary student at Berne-Knox-Westerlo (I am now in my late 30s) when you came to tell our class about storytelling and you recalled a scary story that has stuck with me.”

I’m quite sure I remember the very story. It was written in 1987 by Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. I chose it because it captured so vividly the life of an 11-year-old boy — a boy who lived in New York City and was eaten by two polar bears.

The column starts with a neighbor remembering how the landlord in their Flatbush apartment house didn’t turn on the heat in winter and yet Juan Perez would go right into the icy shower every single morning. He would say, “I love the cold water.”

Breslin writes how Juan slipped into the Prospect Park Zoo on a raw night to swim in the water-filled bear moat. “As Juan Perez did not know how to be afraid, he told his friends to go and get help because the bears were biting him hard,” wrote Breslin.

He also wrote how the neighborhood where Juan Perez had lived was teeming with reporters. “I guess it was a momentous story because of the manner in which the boy died,” he wrote. “But at the same time, perhaps somebody should stop just for a paragraph here this morning and mention the fact that there are many children being eaten alive by this bear of a city, New York in the 1980s. To say many is to make an understatement most bland, for there are hundreds of thousands of young in New York who each day have the hope, and thus the life, chewed out of them …

“We live in a city, in this New York of the ’80s, which makes some builder like Donald Trump into a cheap celebrity, and has a mother who lives with her daughter in a shelter on Catherine Street saying, ‘You can tell anybody living in a shelter. They all stooped over. All you do is just be sitting all day on the edge of the bed, all hunched over. Nothing to do and no place to go. Just sit there with your little girl and try to amuse her.’

“And each day in the schools of this city, we stack dead chewed bodies of children up to the classroom ceilings and somebody, somewhere is keeping count and also track of those who are supposed to be in charge or there is no justice anywhere.

“The two polar bears were shot.”

Had that column, powerful as it was, been too graphic for the elementary-school students in Berne? Had the message about social injustice been too stark?

I wondered about the harm I’d done when I got Shannon’s email.

But, no, she concluded her email, “The memory gave me a smile when I saw your name.”

And why was Shannon Fortran writing me this email now? Because she wants to share the good she is doing in the world and someone had suggested to her that our newspaper was the way to do it.

“My family and I run a holiday card recycling program. We collect used holiday cards each year from the community and partner with local elementary schools so the students can personalize them to bring cheer to nursing homes,” she wrote. 

“This is our second year running this program and between three elementary schools (Altamont, Voorheesville and Chatham), this year we are able to send over 800 cards to nursing homes.”

She wrote to thank the schools.

I want to thank Shannon Fortran.

Her family’s project is good for children, good for the elderly, and good for the Earth. It helps children learn the joy of giving and also the worth of re-using rather than throwing away.

And I know from years of visiting my elderly great aunt at Christmastime the joy she got from receiving cards from children she hadn’t known. She had been a teacher and later a school principal.

The cards spoke to her because of their childlike sincerity in ways a grown-up’s message wouldn’t have. And because they came from people she didn’t know, she felt enveloped in kindness.

And so the connections we have, the paths we travel, not only echo from the past, hum in the present, but catapult us into a brighter future.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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