The highlight of each year for me growing up, was the summer I got to spend at our summer-house in Easton, CT. This was not a charming cottage in the woods. It was a magnificent 40 acre estate.
My father bought the land from a farmer in 1933. 40 acres for $10,000! He had the opportunity to buy an additional 40 acres but decided that he didn’t need all that land. He regretted that decision for the rest of his life. That land appreciated so much it’s obscene.
In 1934, Dad built the main house, on top of a small hill. It sat on several acres of manicured grounds. Those grounds consisted of a large circular driveway with a giant tree in the middle. There was also a stone garage across from the house at the other end of the driveway.
There was a large retaining wall along one side of the house that bordered the lawn and flower gardens. The house, the wall and the garage were made of stone and were constructed by expert stone masons. As it happens, there was a severe depression in Italy in 1934. Many churches and cathedrals had to halt construction. That left many highly skilled Italian stone masons out of work, some of whom migrated to America. These were the men who built Dad’s house, wall and garage. The workmanship was impeccable. These guys had just been building cathedrals in Italy!
While the house was being built, my Dad also had a pond dug, on the flat land at the bottom of the hill, next to a 17 acre field. The view from one side of the house and from the front lawn, through the trees, was this lovely pond.
However, the pond has a tragic back story. A deaf-mute couple down the road had two young daughters. They would come to play on the site where the pond was being dug. Beneath the pond was a treacherous muddy muck that could suck things down like quicksand. One of the girls fell into the pond and started to sin. Her sister went in after her to save her. They both drowned. That story has always haunted me, and my father as well.
My grandfather fell out of his canoe once and also started to sink. But by some miracle, he managed to get out. He was covered in mud from head to toe. My grandmother nearly had a heart attack when she saw him.
When my dad married my mom in 1949, she immediately added a screened in porch to the front of the house and a maid’s room to the back. The stone masonry on these projects was clearly not up to the standards of the original Italian workers.
In 1953, when I was three and a half, my parents added a small house behind the garage. The house was divided into two, one bedroom cottages. The larger one was for my grandparents so they could spend summers next door to their granddaughter. The smaller one was for the caretaker couples my parents hired to take care of the houses and property year round. A swimming pool was also added around this time, next to the pond at the bottom of the hill, away from the house.
It was heaven for me to have my grandparents right there all summer! When I was little, my grandfather and I would fish and canoe and play in the pool and hunt for frogs in the woods with our dog. My grandmother would cook with me and teach me to crochet and talk with me endlessly. I spent all day in and out of their house.
I also had the caretakers to hang out with. I spent a lot of time with them and they became part of the extended CT family. Bill and Marion had a dog named Tidy Paws. I’ll never forget that name!
When I was eleven, Arthur and Marie came on as caretakers and stayed for 18 years. They were truly family to me. It was Arthur who taught me how to drive. I spent a lot of time with both of them, their kids, and eventually their granddaughter, “Little Marie”. I recently reconnected with “Little Marie” through a mutual friend. We reminisced and I gave her one of many needle points her grandmother had made for me. She was thrilled.
I was also allowed to keep pets in CT, but not in the apartment in New York City. The caretakers took care of the pets during the winter. So during the summers, I also got to spend time with my cat, my dog and at one point, a rabbit. Talk about paradise for a child!
I spent as much time as I could at the house through college and law school. My grandfather died in 1972 and my grandmother in 1975. So in 1976, my new husband and I moved into my grandparent’s cottage for weekends and part of the summer. When we had our first child, we turned a closet into a crib area. When my son got older, we moved him into the living room to sleep.
By 1987, we had two kids, aged two and seven. Both were sleeping in the living room in tent beds. It was getting pretty cramped. That’s when we decided to build a house of our own on a piece of my father’s land, deep in the woods, behind the main house. We moved into our new summer-house in 1989 and moved their full time in 1991. I’m still there!
My mom died in 2002, shortly before I married my current husband, Tom. She had refused to do the estate planning that her lawyers had been urging her to do for years. So in order to pay the estate taxes, I had to sell her CT house along with the remaining 27 acres of land. I was heartbroken! That house and property meant so much to me!
Selling the house was particularly sad. Growing up, my father would have annual anxiety attacks, usually around tax time, and insist that we could no longer afford to keep the house in CT. I would get hysterical. I would cry and beg. I would make my parents promise, over and over, year after year, that they would never sell the house and that someday it would be mine.
The irony is that they never did sell the house but I had to! And I have to look at it every time I drive down the road. It’s still a dagger to the heart, after all these years.
At least I still have my house right next to the stream and mini waterfall where I used to play as a child. I’m still on part of my father’s original land so I’ve preserved some of the family estate. And that makes me happy.
When I decided to move to CT full-time, my mother called me a “hick” because I wanted to leave New York City for country life. She wanted to know what she had done wrong with me. After all, she had exposed me to all the culture and excitement of New York City, why hadn’t any of it stuck? I replied that she had also exposed me to idyllic summers in the country surrounded by extended family and pets. THAT was where I was truly happy. And THAT is what stuck!