A Connecticut Yankee in a New Jersey Food Court

by Christine Adams Beckett

There has been an eighteen year-long debate between the two main parties of my marriage. This heated exchange – that shows no signs of letting up – concerns two of our original colonies, now the great states of Connecticut and New Jersey. One party claims each as home, and each party claims his or her home is superior. Although one party must admit that any real intimate connection to the Constitution State is fading, spending only fair weathered days on its lakesides, simply paying a visit for a pleasant reunion. None of the hard daily living is done there any longer, so perhaps a bit of leverage should be given to the Garden State. One can obtain hard feelings towards the setting of hard challenges, guilt by mere association.

Yet the Nutmeggers from afar still appear to be tip toeing through Shangri-La, the land of lower taxes, bucolic farm land and the UCONN Women’s basketball team. No one there has to deal with children with learning difficulties (because, like the fabled Minnesota town, all the children are above average), commuting on sub-par rail lines, or Garden State Parkway traffic. (Of course at this point of the essay, the Other Party would interject that The Nutmeg State is a sobriquet referring to a less-than-stellar personality trait of those early inhabitants of the not-so-great State of Connecticut who sold wooden nutmeg to unsuspecting traders. But I unnecessarily digress…)

Here in New Jersey, we fret with each coming storm, knowing our power will be knocked out. We are sure Tony Soprano DOES live amongst us and wonder what is actually emanating from those smoke stacks in Elizabeth. Carcinogens, for sure. There is no wonder why New York City’s boroughs extended to the north and east, and not west: a fetid swamp mislabeled “The Meadowlands”. Sure, on the other side of it are rolling hills and lovely farms, but no matter. Somehow New Jersey still ended up to be the land of tasteless, overly fancified everything, big hair and nail salons.

The Other Party here would interject that there seems to be voluminous hair tangled through the pages of my own Connecticut high school year book and last he visited, he noticed a plethora of nail salons on the main drag of my hometown, where subs are grinders and we take a day trip to the beach, but never go “down da shore.” We never associate where we live by the exit on a super highway, but perhaps driving time from Downtown Hartford. As in, “We’re 20 minutes from City limits…” I would capitalize on the simplicity of the typical New Englander, the need for little, the frugal nature of their lives.

The Other Party would point out the Gold Coast of Fairfield County, where the homes in Greenwich look like hotels. I would respond with the former slave plantations along the Navesink River. The Other Party would point out how the original Puritanical harshness of Connecticut Colony forced many to flee, seeking true religious freedom in West New Jersey, where the Quakers took hold and proudly lauded separation of Church and State.

I respond with: Those bygone Puritanical theocracies left us a smattering of quaint Connecticut town greens, centered around a beautiful white washed church, innocuous now that we have accomplished disestablishmentarianism! How can that compare to the numerous strip malls, retail malls and pedestrian malls of New Jersey? The Other Party would point out The Danbury Fair and West Farms Malls. I would shoot back that there are more malls per capita in New Jersey than any other state in the Union, although I am not really sure that’s true. And they all have food courts! Big ones…

An honest admission: I have eaten in a food court. I have also had my toenails polished and even called a sandwich on a hero roll a sub. I remarked upon my first week in Montclair, as I led my children across Valley Road with the help of a charming retiree-turned-crossing guard to picturesque Edgemont Park to lead them to their public Montessori School: I half expect to see Jimmy Stewart running by, waving a throaty hello, offering to lasso the moon for my children. This New Jersey town is as lovely as my Connecticut one. The people that populate it have proven to be a dynamic community that has welcomed this foreigner with open arms.

I have enjoyed writing about Montclair and will continue to do so, although my posts will become more sporadic as I start a new project, research for a piece of historical fiction about Acadia in New France, Canada. Since a first contact story between a Frenchman and a Mi’kmaq Indian woman is part of my own history, the project has been floating about in the form of a nagging spouse in my head for some time now. I have to answer.

Finally, a public apology offered to The Other Party, who, when he has appeared on Connecticut soil, has been not-so-kindly referred to by certain members of my family as the “Non-Native Invasive Species” these last 16 years. I have felt nothing of the sort here.