There’s an old saying that the devil is in the details, but my nephew, Matt, would tell you that’s really where the delight lives in any outfit, outing or town.

Sunday, as I prepared for an outing Matt melodramatically termed a “dream date,” the 6-year-old was all about “helping” me get ready. Although he didn’t get a say in the outfit, the little expert on everything was determined to help me choose everything else, from eyeshadow to the sandals on my feet.

After we bickered back and forth about all the perfume, rings, necklaces and even a giant, bright pink corsage pin he dug out of the back corner of my jewelry armoire, I was ready to leave 10 minutes after I should have been on the road.

The finishing touch was a pair or dangly, gemstone-embellished earrings purchased for bargain-basement prices in a clearance sale years ago. The jewelry probably cost about $5 in all, but the earrings sparkled and swung, so they were the best in Matt’s book.

As I made my way down the stairs to leave, the miniature style critic waited at the bottom and in a tone fit for someone at least three or four times his age, he gave his seal of approval, declaring, “You look very nice.”

The compliment made me smile, because really, I looked nearly the same as I had before the primping extravaganza. As one of the characters in a favorite movie would say, we’d just added a little frosting with the details.

Though I doubt my “dream date” would have minded, the experience just wouldn’t have been the same without the dragonfly necklace or the earrings that jingled. He just wouldn’t have known any better.

This week, the idea occurred to me that towns and cities are much the same as a simple set of clothes.

Structurally, most municipalities are similar. There are homes, streets, city halls and stores in nearly every wide spot along a busy span of highway coast to coast.

It’s the details that make the places and people inside them unique, as they take the simple essentials and combine them with little pieces of the past and the present that make places parts of us.

It’s the community spirit that sacrifices the time, money and effort to choose just the right furniture for an ugly spot on Mercer Street, in a bid to turn it into a park fit for a weekly concert series and a rock band made up of 9- and 10-year-old stars.

It’s the foresight to save the oldest house in the city and turn it into the Chamber of Commerce to build business for the future, and at the same time, ensuring that we remember where we came from.

It’s the determination to rededicate a Centennial Fountain years after the dream that built it seemed to dry up.

Sure. Princeton could and would still exist without Mercer Street’s Town Square and summer outings like the one that brought several picnicking families and a teachers’ sorority fundraiser together for a concert by Miss Behavin’, the newest musical sensation to hit local stages.

The city would likely still go on, even if the Chamber of Commerce hadn’t managed to rescue the McNutt House from deterioration.

Traffic would still navigate through the Princeton-Athens Crossroads just fine, even if the Centennial Fountain remained dry.

But, the experience of living and visiting Princeton would never be the same. The city would still be dressed, but it wouldn’t shine the way it does every time our people work together to make home a better place.

When we do that, we become the people we want to be in a city decked out in fountains and finery fit for outings and dream dates.

And, in those instances, it’s the delight and definition that live in the details. The devil is in the detractors.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor. Contact her at

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