Editorial: How $2 bills and a boob jacket unite us all

  • Robert Nehring, 14, of Northampton, orders his coffee from Melissa Kreger, the owner of Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Ezra Lev Cantler in his breast jacket, which turned up in the lost-and-found at Woodstar Café in Northampton. PHOTO COURTESY OF LEAH CANTLER

Published: 8/30/2019 5:00:15 PM

Antarctica is melting; the Amazon is burning. White nationalism is catching fire. And our president ignites a combustible political landscape with every chance he gets.

The news can be crushing. And while it’s important to not turn away, it’s also nice to read a story every once in a while that makes you appreciate humankind, instead of fearing it.

We ran a couple of those stories in the Gazette recently that restored our faith in people and the power of community.

Even if you have no interest in numismatics — the study or collection of money (coins and paper currency) and medals — it’s hard not to appreciate the story of Robert Nehring, a local 14-year-old who is on a quest to recirculate the $2 bill. As Gazette reporter Bera Dunau reported in his front-page story last weekend, “They just call me the $2 bill guy: Teen boosts uncommon currency,” Nehring estimates that he has spent more than 1,000 $2 bills in the Valley — the fruits of his labor working at his family’s business, Valley View Farm in Haydenville.

The story was one of our most shared of the week, eliciting interesting mail from readers, a few of whom confessed their own love of the $2 bill. And while it clearly caught the eye of devoted currency collectors, including one reader from Texas who claimed that he is in fact “the $2.00 Bill®Guy,” we believe the article struck a chord with so many readers because, at its core, it’s really a story about a community coming together to cheer on a kid with a passion — and a mission.

Nehring, a ninth grader at Valley West School in Chicopee, has long loved currency and banking and at one time had six bank accounts. He now has one at Easthampton Savings Bank, where the staff knows and welcomes him, said Nehring’s mother, Suzy Fortgang. “It just reminds me what a supportive community we live in,” she said. “It takes a lot of adults to raise kids like this.”

On the day Dunau and photographer Carol Lollis met up with Nehring at Elbow Room Cafe and Roasters in Williamsburg, another customer, John Lane, 78, happened to have a $2 bill in his wallet. After hearing about Nehring’s efforts, he said he planned to head to the bank to pick up some more bills himself.

OK, fine. We’re charmed — and convinced. Let’s ALL go to the bank and get some $2 bills, spend them here in the Valley and see what happens. Maybe, together, we can keep the $2 bill from extinction.

With a $2 bill and change, you can buy green tea, iced coffee or an Italian soda at Woodstar Café in Northampton. That’s where an unusual item recently turned up in the lost-and-found: a toddler-sized jean jacket with felt cutouts of two breasts hand-stitched onto the back of it, and, just above, the words “EAT LOCAL.”

“The boob jacket,” as it has become known around the newsroom, is an endorsement for breastfeeding unlike any other we’ve seen. It’s also a contender for the “most Northampton jacket ever.” The runner-up might be the rainbow-hued jacket we saw days later emblazoned with the words “Feminist Socialists are the Future of America.”

Anyhoo, back to the bespoke breast jacket, the subject of an article by Greta Jochem, “Eat local: Lost-and-found jacket highlights breastfeeding.” Woodstar found it in the spring and, realizing its likely sentimental value, posted a Facebook note about the missing item last Saturday; the post was then shared by Only in Northampton, and, before long, commenters were clamoring to claim it. But the true owner, a 1 ½-year-old named Ezra Lev Cantler, was soon found, thanks to the many text and email messages that friends who’d seen the posts sent to his mother, Leah Cantler.

We just love a good lost-and-found story. We also appreciate what Ezra Lev’s social worker mother had to say about breastfeeding. While she acknowledged that “not everyone can do it, and not everyone wants to,” Cantler said she’s a big proponent of breastfeeding if it’s possible. She spoke of the importance of normalizing nursing sessions in public and supporting parents with better laws and accommodations for breastfeeding and pumping at work. Hear, hear.

Both stories, as we see it, are about community members helping each other out. We’re glad to live in a place where a café will go the extra mile to reunite a treasured jacket with its owners and where a 14-year-old’s offbeat mission to recirculate an uncommon currency is embraced and propelled forward.

All these connections, big and small, are what make a place feel like home.

It’s a sentiment Naomi Shulman, a regular columnist for Hampshire Life, recently captured perfectly in a piece she wrote about small-town living that aired on NEPR.

“Sometimes you don’t even have to have a close connection,” Shulman said, “just a sense of everyone being in it together.”




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