The Country Store is coming back

The Country Store — a Lynnfield winter holiday tradition that is more than half a century old — is coming back to the Old Meeting House this year under the Lynnfield Historical Commission.

It will take place on the first Saturday of December for the 58th time. The Country Store will be open from 9 a.m. until the tree lighting at dusk in the afternoon. The Historical Commission has chosen Karen Nascembeni, who has been involved in the Country Store for years with her late husband, Steve Richard, and his parents to organize the event.

Nascembeni described the spirit of the Country Store as quintessential Americana.

“It takes you back in time, from huge cheese wheels from Vermont to homemade ham-and-beans supper with homemade coleslaw and brown bread,” Nascembeni said.

There are usually greens, classically-decorated wreaths and swags, a kitchen with hot dogs and ham-and-cheese sandwiches, and an old-fashioned popcorn station. The Country Store subcommittee of the Historical Commission that Nascembeni chairs is working with the Board of Health to be as sanitary in the COVID-19 times as possible.

When we spoke to Nascembeni, the program of the event was not completely finalized yet but she knew she wanted to keep it traditional and make it fun and lively.

“People want to see the cheese guy first person on the right,” said Nascembeni about the tradition.

However, she would like to bring more interactive activities for children this year. There will be a traditional North Pole Fish Hole, but she is also envisioning a crafts table where children can create hand-made ornaments to be given “out of love” to families in transition, who won’t have holiday decor this year.

“In the past we have donated wreaths, but I want an activity with an end goal. Just spreading love to each other,” said Nascembeni.

They are planning to have schoolchildren do poster boards with Christmas traditions from around the world.

“Whenever I do an event, I like to have some sizzle. This is what I am known for in my job,” said Nascembeni, who is a general manager at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.

This year, she wants to fill the Meeting House with music. Nascembeni would like to bring Voices of Hope, a local organization that performs carols and raises money for cancer research. She is also hoping to involve high-school or junior-high-school students and create a coffee house upstairs, where they could perform Christmas songs or original tunes, to keep the space vibrant.

They might put a tent outside, Nascembeni said, for people who are older and can’t go up the stairs to the second floor of the Meeting House.

The Country Store subcommittee would also like to partner with other groups, like the Garden Club and Centre Club, that usually sell raffle tickets to raise funds for scholarships.

Preparations go for months for just one magical day, Nascembeni said, and it takes dozens of helpers from the town and from other places to put the Country Store together. Her friends from Melrose, Beverly, Danvers, Haverhill and Andover who used to help her make wreaths and other greens have made visiting the Country Store a holiday tradition for their families as well.

The event and the needed supplies are financed by the Historical Commission. Proceeds from the Country Store will go back to the town.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee is keeping an eye on the COVID-19 statistics in the town. For now, they have confirmed that the Country Store will have a Santa Claus.

“My late husband always took pictures of kids with Santa for decades,” Nascembeni said.

Her husband was a Lynnfield-born photographer and a steward of the Meeting House.

His mother, Edie Pope-Richard, and his father, Earl Richard, participated in the Country Store for decades as well. Earl Richard was the chairman of the greens. Edie manned the ham-and-beans table. His sister, Doreen DiFillippo, and her children have participated in the event as well.

Nascembeni said that her late mother-in-law, who grew up on Pope Farm on what is now the site of the Summer Street Elementary School, was one of the best historians of the town. She was the president of the Historical Society and the Centre Club for many years. Nascembeni has her collection of documents that she is planning to turn over to the town. Pope-Richard died in 2017 at the age of 90.

Tragically, in March of 2020, Nascembeni, her husband and his 99-year-old father contracted COVID-19. Steve Richard died from the virus on March 24, 2020 at the age of 58. His father died just five days later. Nascembeni spent 31 days in a medically-induced coma, followed by months of recovery before finally returning home.

Nascembeni grew up in Springfield in an entertainment family. In her big musical family, any holiday meant lots of food, laughter and songs.

“I came out of the womb singing and performing,” said Nascembeni.

Nascembeni went to college for broadcasting and worked in radio, TV and insurance afterwards. Now, she is the general manager of the North Shore Music Theatre and the right hand of its owner and producer, Bill Hanney.  She has been with the company since 2010. She is also the voice of the theatre, figuratively and literally, doing a lot of voice overs for the radio and TV advertisements, representing it at a lot of chambers, tourism organizations, and taking care of government and city relations.

She is very community-oriented, Nascembeni said. She belongs to more than a dozen chambers on the North Shore, in Rhode Island and on the Cape.

“I can pull an event in no time,” said Nascembeni about her expertise and organizational skills.

She loves putting on a show for the benefit of the people who are coming to see it, seeing the joy it brings them and the smiles on their faces. Whether it is a dinner party or the Country Store, she does it as if it is show time, Nascembeni said.

“I never want to go through life dry,” said Nascembeni. “I’ve always enjoyed having fun and laughing. After everything I went through and my near-death experience and losing my husband and father-in-law, and almost my own life, it only makes me want to celebrate life more, because it would be a disrespect to my husband’s memory and to the doctors and nurses who saved me.

“So I am smiling again. It is not that I don’t have sadness every day because I do but I appreciate how fragile life is and I live every day to the fullest.”  C