My Newtown

December 15, 2012 · 35 comments

My Poor Man’s Feast pub schedule says I’m supposed to put up my end-of-year favorites list. It’s a little bit funny, a little bit snarky. But I can’t do it. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow.

I was sitting in my office in New York City yesterday when it came through via my Twitter account: there had been a shooting at a local school in my Connecticut town, Newtown. I called Susan, who hadn’t yet heard anything. Moments later, her mother called her from Farmington, where she was glued to her television set.

“It’s children,” she said. “It’s all children—”

I called our beloved neighbor, Melissa, who, with her fireman husband, raised two beautiful and kind daughters here, right next to our house.

“It’s horrible—” ¬†And then she said she had to go.

Another neighbor was at the school and had spoken to an eye-witness; she was in shock.

A lovely couple we always see at summertime parties on our street — he’s a stay-at-home dad with a wonderful wife and two gorgeous kids — had already run over to the school to get their little girl, whose best friend’s little brother was missing.

My heart stopped; I couldn’t breathe, or hear. The last time I saw them, their daughter was running around in our neighbor’s yard with a bunch of kids and a big yellow dog and some chickens, during one of the many barbecues on our street. They are not our children, but we love them all, and we dote on them. That’s the way Newtowners feel. All of us.

That’s the way my town is.

The media keeps asking, How could this happen in bucolic Newtown Connecticut, where people come to escape the violence and the noise of the city? We moved here nine years ago from rural northern-er Connecticut, so we could commute to New York. We found the town to be gigantic — 30,000 people live here. It’s beautiful, with a ubiquitous New England white steeple and an infamous flagpole stuck right in the middle of Main Street, confusing drivers young and old, and causing regular fender benders. It’s also often politically divided, and has a very active town council and a spectacular newspaper. Sometimes, town meetings are loud and angry; sometimes, feelings get hurt. But regardless of what motivates us, people who live in Newtown generally love Newtown. And it’s an amazing place to raise children; the schools — the people who work in them, teach in them, coach in them, and the students who attend them — are peerless. At least in my opinion.

But what do I know? Susan and I don’t have any children. A few people said to me yesterday “You can’t know what those parents are feeling.” And you know what? They’re right. We can’t. We’ve wept and shook and wailed, we woke up this morning with that slightly sick, nauseated feeling that maybe this was all a dream. But it wasn’t. Those magnificent children of Newtown are gone; we’ve lost twenty darling babes, along with the adults who bravely tried to protect them. I can’t possibly know what their parents are feeling,

But the little kids of Newtown who will never grow up are our children. They’re the children of everyone reading this. They’re the children of my friends in England and Spain who’ve checked in with me regularly over the last few hours, just to make sure that we’re all muddling through. They’re the children of my friends in Brooklyn who’ve called and texted to make sure that we — not us alone, but all of us — are putting one foot in front of the other. They’re the children of my friends in Tennessee and Maine and Kansas City and Virginia, who ran to church to pray for our town, and for us to have the strength to help each other.

This isn’t the time for political division, and while I have particularly strong feelings about it, right now is not even the time to talk about the American triptych that is guns and violence and mental illness. There will be plenty of time to have that conversation.

Right now, at a place of such visceral, intense grief — every single part of me hurts, down to the cellular level — the only thing I want to do is stay close to the people I love, to my neighbors, and to the town that is my home.



{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Winnie December 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Sending so much love your way Elissa. I am shocked and sad but mostly outraged that something like this happened; I am beyond sorry it happened in your beautiful town.

2 Rob VanVoorhis December 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm


3 Joel Baumwoll December 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Last night, I sat in the auditorium of Hastings on Hudson high school and watched the fourth grade class perform the Music Man. Two of my young grandchildren and my daughter were with my wife and me. Midway through the first act, I noticed tears streaming down my cheeks. How could I not mourn? Our children and their children, one year to eleven are our world. To even imagine what has become of the world of the parents on Newtown’s children is nearly unbearable.

4 Kay December 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm

I’m sorry for your sadness. This horrible tragedy has affected me greatly, as well. Although I live across the country from Newtown and do not know anyone directly impacted by this, I too feel nauseated. I cannot think of this without crying. Last night while giving my babe a bath I thought about those parents and how they would never bathe their little ones again. This morning I thought about them having to wake up to this day, and every day after, without their sweet ones’ faces. My hearts breaks. It is just too, too sad and senseless.

5 mimijk December 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm

There are no words that adequately comfort, that provide sense of that which is so traumatic and painful and inexplicable. I ache for you and Susan, for the town which you love and the people who define its sense of community. There are no greater, sickening fears than those that pertain to our children. We grieve together, though through countless tears, I know that those parents who have lost their gorgeous beloved babies are grieving alone.

6 Mitch Reiter December 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Your Camp Towanda Family has Newtown,, Connecticut in their hearts.

7 Wendy Levine slater December 15, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Well said. I could not agree more. I am gone today, just spent. Can’t imagine what everyone in Newtown must be going through. Just light a candle, hug your loved ones and be strong. Your friends in Wilton are by your side.

8 Laurie J Ronan December 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

So senseless, so sad. So sad. My heart aches.

9 Martha Rose Shulman December 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I knew you would write something beautiful, Elissa, and you have. Thoughts of, tears for your town a constant.

10 Mon Moore December 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Elissa, this tragedy has touched so many.For those of us who have children, this is the unimaginable. We send our love, compassion and heartfelt sympathy to everyone affected all the way from Australia – this terrible thing reaches all corners of the globe.

11 Elissa December 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Thank you so much Monica, on behalf of my town–

12 erin @ yummy supper December 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm


Oh my God. I didn’t realize this is your sweet town. Our hearts are aching from across the country – I can only imagine the unthinkable sorrow in Newtown.

Your words were beautiful, and reading your post left me sobbing.


13 Martine December 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Our thought and prayers go out to you, Susan and your community. Every one of us is grieving for the families. so, so senseless.

14 tea_austen December 15, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Oh, Elissa–there are no words for this, but somehow you have found them. Thinking of you and everyone in your town right now. Tonight, driving to light the Chanukah candles with my nieces–the same age of the children who are now gone–one of the fathers came on the radio and I had to pull the car over in the dark rainy night and just weep.

15 blanche walsky December 16, 2012 at 12:52 am

There are no words for this, and it is the most tragic. Very well said, and their is a time and place to speak the political. This is not the time. this is the time to love, feel, support and look at life. I can not imagine going through what these families are going through. It is just so so deely sad. Our thoughts and love are for you all of the families, all of the people in Newtown

16 Chefmoji December 16, 2012 at 1:30 am

For the past 2 days, I keep bursting into tears every time I hug my 5 year old son. I can’t imagine what those parents and families are going through right now. But, I do believe the same way Mothers Against Drunk Driving came together to change attitudes and laws, the survivors of tragedies like this will also come together to make “meaningful changes” as our president stated. I hope one day we can become the most peaceful loving nation on earth.

17 Jennifer P December 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

Prayers of love and condolences to you, Susan and your Newtown family. We are all forever changed by this terrible tragedy.

18 Anne December 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

The slaughter of the innocents…why oh why oh why?

Tears and more tears thinking of mothers, fathers, families, and neighbors grievously wounded by this evil act, by this murderous man.

Thank you and keep writing.

19 karen polinsky December 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm



20 Deborah December 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Oh Elissa, Oh all of us. What has happened? What have we become?
Even though Patrick was sounding almost jocular last night talking to you, he was in fact devastated, watching the news numbed and sad and disbelieving.
I hope you could see that, too. We too are numb with pain and the sadness of it all.

21 Jo December 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Have followed your blog for years and so looking forward to your book, but have never commented. Can’t believe that this atrocity happened in the place where you expected to find peace (and gladness, and joy and life…!) I also live in a place far from where I began, am finding joy and love, but share the hurt with all of you. I almost lost a small one too, in terrible circumstances, so I am there with you all. Much love.

22 Gemma December 17, 2012 at 9:42 am

I’m so, so sorry Elissa. There are no words but my thoughts are with you and your town.

23 Julie December 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Sending love and hugs from western North Carolina.

24 Imen McDonnell December 19, 2012 at 5:35 am

Elissa, I was nipping in to catch up and let you know about a food lit festival in Ireland in the spring. My heart sank when I read this post and that awful stomach turning feeling has resurfaced. An absolutely unfathomable tragedy. So sorry to hear that is happened in the community in which you live…just dreadful. Sending healing intentions + light..and a hug. Imen x

25 Vicki Mavis December 20, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Dear Elissa, You have managed to articulate quite well what so many of us, particularly those of us in neighboring Wilton feel in the wake of this terrible tragedy in Newtown. Ever since I learned the news, I have been in alternating states of shock and profound grief, trying to imagine how the parents, siblings, and emergency personnel first on the scene could possibly be coping with such an unimaginable decimation of so much goodness and innocence. Newtown is Wilton and every town in this country that puts great stock in our children, schools, teachers, families and a community united by its unflagging service to others. As Parker arrived home from her bus that day, I felt obscenely lucky, guilty even, that I could greet her with a hug and tearful embrace when so many could not. Our hearts are with you and the whole Newtown community…and we will not forget.

26 Lucy December 21, 2012 at 3:49 am

For some time I haven’t been able to even try and fathom the loss, because to do so would take me somewhere I’m terrified to go. But now reading your post I know that we must assume these lost children as our own. We have to do it in order to make changes for peace, for something to change. I am so sorry that this happened in your community. Stay strong for those who are unable. L

27 Marge@ A Sweet and Savory Life December 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm

When 9/11 happened, it hurt all of us, all over the country. But the Trade Towers hurt New Yorkers more: it was scarier and more personal, and there was a constant reminder of it, right in our faces. Then, of course, it hurt those who lost someone EVEN MORE.
You may not have lost a biological child, but you are there, right there, and that is nearly as painful as it gets. I, way over yonder, am shaken to the core. I cannot imagine the anguish of being right there.
My deepest sympathy for your trauma and deep pain.

28 mageb December 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

The whole world is mourning. I’m so sorry.

29 Tami December 28, 2012 at 10:17 am

Elissa, like you I don’t have any kids and usually don’t feel comfortable commenting on whether or not a community like Newtown is ‘good’ for kids. Except in this case. I grew up just over the river in Southbury – some might call it a ‘downmarket’ Newtown – but I do agree that childhood there was idyllic. Sandy Hook Elementary could have been mine. That thought gripped me all day as I obsessively watched the news critters broadcasting from the crossroads I’ve passed through a thousand times.
I loved your assessment of Newtown. It’s spot on. And that crazy flagpole! Such long-running battles over it! I think of how my father in law was drafted to restore the ball on top when it was renovated a few years back. It sat on the kitchen table while he had it.
But, like you and I, residents of the area will always come back to those little memories like threads tying us to each other and to this place, particularly in times of crisis. This strengthening of community may be the only good that comes out of this episode – but what a powerful result. Hugs to you all.

30 Brooke @ Food Woolf January 13, 2013 at 12:30 am

Not sure how it was that I’m just coming to your site. Long overdue, this visit. Your words are beautiful and full of vulnerable emotion. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for letting us in on what it’s like to have something like this happen your home town.

31 Elissa January 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

Thanks so much Brooke—

32 Lynda Barr February 16, 2013 at 8:12 am

Elissa, I read of your book this morning in Saveur, pre ordered it on Amazon and then thought I should check your blog out. Of course I haven’t read it all but so far some entries have made me laugh, some have made me wistful and this one of course brought tears to my eyes. I will now add your website to the four or five others I always check and I will try and find a few recipes I’m capable of. Please know that your town is still very much in our thoughts and I wish you wonderful success with your book.

33 Elissa February 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

Thank you so much for your kind words Lynda—

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