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04/13/2022 08:30 AM

Judy Tewksbury: This Must be a Sign

Rooting for her Yankees is about as political as it gets for Judy and John Tewksbury’s signs, but their messages of hope and joy keep a smile on the faces of her Opening Hill neighbors.Photo by Ben Rayner/The Source

At a time seemingly overrun with discord, even a small display of positivity can sometimes provide hope. The tight-knit community of Opening Hill has a small ray of optimism in its neighbor, Judy Tewksbury, aka “The Sign Lady.”

Since the mid-’80s Judy and her husband John have been spreading small messages of hope and peace—and some support for their favorite sports teams—to their friends and neighbors along Opening Hill. Folks from the area are well acquainted with the messages that appear on the front window of the Tewksbury home. Sometimes the messages stay for weeks, sometimes just for the day, but Judy says it’s just her way of spreading a smile for those passing by.

“The first sign? I think we started out with pictures in the windows. February was hearts for Valentine’s Day, March was shamrocks, April was umbrellas. So, we did that for a while,” says Judy. “We first started doing the words and messages—about 20 years ago, I think. We did the pictures for a long time and it just seemed to sort of evolve along.”

Over the decades, Judy says the messages became their mode of expression and the pictures were more the frosting on the messages.

“We just wanted to expand it a bit more. The picture were nice, but with the words we could add nice things to say about Easter and St. Patrick’s Day—whatever it was,” says Judy.

Some of the messages over the years from Judy and John have been about the holidays, local events, and birthdays. Judy’s messages often are in keeping with these events, the start of school, the end of school, and sports themes.

Judy says she purposely stays away from anything political.

“We have put up ‘Love Mom’ for Mother’s Day, ‘Love Dad,’ ‘Go Yanks’ of course for when it’s time for baseball. For spring, we just did a spring count down from 10 days out, [to celebrate that] that spring is here. We do ‘Love the Leaves’ and ‘Fall is Coming.’ Set your clock back, and set your clock ahead—’Spring Ahead, Fall Back.’

“We do a lot of the same ones each year, but we’ve recently added to our repertoire,” sh adds. “It’s fun. We love to do it. We stay away from politics, our sign for the Yanks is about as political as we get. We stay away from anything else. I would like to put up something there in support of Ukraine...I’m going to get a flag up for them, because I just feel so terrible about those poor people.”

Judy says residents seem to welcome the messages and will sometimes help out.

“I think the neighbors like it, and people going by have certainly stopped and said things. We get a few notes a year from people who pass by,” says Judy. “Some people say they look forward to a new message. I like it when people stop or write a note; it’s fun to see the reaction. We do like the letters. A neighbor once came down with her children and brought us some bread, and said, ‘We just enjoy your window so much, it brings so much cheer to us.’ The feedback we get is always positive, always.”

As far as spelling and spacing, Judy says John oversees the message creation from outside and guides the postings along.

“I go through a lot of tape!” Judy says, laughing. “I got stencils and heavy paper and just started cutting them out. I keep my manila envelope with all my letters in order! And whenever I need them, I have them. John helps to make sure there are no typos and that I get the letters straight, that none of the letters are backwards. But when we had our spring countdown, when we got down to one day, I had left the word “days” up. Someone blew their horn, I’m not sure if it was to remind me to take off the ‘S’ on ‘Days,’ but typos are thankfully rare. I think people really do take a look at them. But I cheat a bit. I put a ‘T’ on the side where the tape goes, so that helps. My little trade secret!”

The challenge for Judy is the number of letters. Getting a message up requires six letters or fewer per line, making it a challenge with some creations to get “the message across” within the six panes of glass in the couple’s large picture window.

“I have to think about it. I wanted to put up ‘Opening Day’ [for baseball season] but that’s seven letters and we only have six panels!” she says. “But most things fit. Six letters is good enough.”

Judy says she occasionally gets suggestions, but usually gets feedback in the way of horn beeps, waves, and the occasional note in her mailbox. Judy says she welcomes any suggestions, too, and have gotten several recently.

“I was speaking with neighbors and I said to my neighbor Heather we should do birthdays for the kids. So, we might try that suggestion out,” Judy says. “We really don’t get too many suggestions, but I certainly would like it.”

Judy says the messages stay up until the holiday or event passes or just when she gets a new idea. Sometimes they only stay up for a day or two.

“I keep thinking that people are thinking of me like, ‘This woman needs a life—she’s got too much time on her hands!’” Judy says with a laugh. “But we truly love it. There’s not much you can say about a window with a message I guess, but we just want to bring something positive. I’m kind of proud in a way that people enjoy it. We enjoy it. It keeps us busy and it’s nice that it can bring the neighborhood together and to see that people care. When people remark, I can know that they care about it and it’s worth my while to do it. I like to do it anyway, whether we get comments or not, but it’s a fun thing to do.”

With seemingly so much negativity and horror filling the headlines, Judy and John say their messages are simply a way for them to counter that with a ray of optimism.

“It’s a bright side to something. It’s something positive with everything going on in the world,” says Judy. “I enjoy being the ‘Sign Lady’—again, they probably think I should get a life, but this is a life for us. Plus, the letters keep the birds from flying into our windows! We feed the birds and have quite a few around, so we’ll keep doing it, even if it’s just for the birds!”