MY TARA – BY ELLIN CURLEY

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.

original house without porch

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!

Me with my dog and my bunny

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!

The beautiful porch from the inside with a view of the glorious front lawn (a friend is on the chaise)

THE JOYS OF APARTMENT LIVING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in an apartment building in New York City from the time I was born till I was 42 years old. I loved it and miss some of the perks of apartment living, but I’ve lived in a house in a rural suburb for 26 years.

Surprisingly, I had more of a social life with my neighbors in my building in New York than I do now on my woodsy street. As a young mother, I was lucky to find four other young moms in the building with kids close in age to my kids. We all lived on the same elevator line. That meant that we could run up and down the back stairs to each other’s apartments. We could also take the elevator, but the stairs were quicker. By the time the kids were five or six, they could go up and down, safely, on their own. We all became very close.

Photo of my building on Park Avenue in NYC

This was a Godsend. When we wanted company, we could pop in for an hour or so, with or without the kids. When we needed a break or time to cook dinner or make phone calls in peace, we could send our kids upstairs or downstairs, depending on who was free at the time. Our building had a real ‘neighborhood’ feel. People don’t always think of cities as having these mini communities. But they exist pretty much everywhere, if you make an effort to create them.

Another great advantage of city living is the joy of having doormen in your life. They are an amazing class of people who serve their tenants in many ways. They act as mail deliverers. You handed them your packages and they magically delivered them to the appropriate carrier or service. You never have to deal with the logistics of mailing or shipping anything. The doorman would also accept packages and deliveries on your behalf, so you never had to stay home to accept a delivery. What a luxury!

City Doorman

Doormen can also let trusted workmen into your apartment when you’re not there. So you also never have to wait for workers to show up before you can leave the house. Another great perk!

Another role a doorman can play is to entertain your kids. If you get friendly with the day doorman, they will allow your kids to play in the lobby. My kids skated and skate boarded up and down the long hallway in our lobby. My daughter practiced her cartwheels down that hallway.

This was a part of the very long hallway in our building

The doormen also let the kids ‘spy’ on people in the elevators from the security cameras in the lobby. That was apparently great fun and a real treat.

Typical surveillance camera setup in apartment lobby

The best doormen will let your kids go wild, when no one is looking. There was a very large Ficus tree in our lobby. The doormen let my son, David, put his pet python in the tree to explore through the branches. This continued for a while, until one tenant saw the snake and complained.

Today’s version of our old Ficus tree in the lobby

There can also be disadvantages to apartment living. I grew up on the seventeenth floor. In 1965, there was a major blackout, extending throughout the city and into New England. I was home sick that day. So the housekeeper and I had to carry our thirty pound dachshund up and down at least fourteen flights of stairs to walk him. He could only do one or two flights on his own. (NOTE: most apartment buildings in NYC omit the thirteenth floor because of superstitions!)

Another disadvantage to living above and below other people, is gravity. When the bathroom directly above yours develops a leak, the water runs into your apartment. And often into the apartment below you as well. We had paint and plaster falling on our heads while we showered for a year and a half because our upstairs neighbors could not control a major leak in their bathroom. We replastered and repainted the ceiling three times during that period.

Painting in my old lobby of the apartment building

The apartment below us had similar problems. In addition to the inconvenience, this became an insurance nightmare involving three different insurance companies. For me, the benefits of apartment living outweighed the disadvantages for many years. But after living in my own house for so long, I could never again live in a little box within a bigger box. I have fond memories of city life, but I never want to go back!

VERY EARLY IN THE AUTUMN OF THE YEAR

Not a beautiful day. It was so dark this morning, I had to keep looking at the clock to make sure it wasn’t night. A few minutes later, waves of thunder and heavy rain were passing over the house. The dogs got frantic. They don’t mind guns. They don’t care about fireworks. But rolling thunder and heavy rain?

A virtual painting …

Nothing I did would force them out that door. I had to hope they had been out earlier. Finally, in late afternoon, Garry physically forced them outside and locked the door so they would have to be out there long enough to take care of business. Now, back inside, they are chugging down dinner and avoiding any hint of going outside. Ever.

Earliest yellow leaves

An interesting story about this piece of construction (following) …

The previous picture shows a piece of old construction in the soil. This is usually invisible in the weeds and underbrush, but for some reason, my camera found it today. This old construction dates back to who knows when. Long before this house was built, for sure. It remained a secret until the second people who bought this property had it surveyed and they discovered this old piece of what was probably a foundation. A lot of legal work followed including a new deed and a new survey after much effort was made to find out who, if anyone, had a claim on this property.

This is the first time I’ve seen this famed piece of foundation. I had no idea it was so close to this house. I thought (from looking at the survey) that it was further back on the property. Unless this is yet another old foundation. For some other building.

Perish the thought! 

During a break in the rain, I went out back and took a few pictures. The first yellow is showing in the woods. The begonias are still blooming enthusiastically and I may bring them inside for the winter. Unlike Fuchsia which won’t grow inside, these are begonias and they might do alright. Worth a try.

Garry is shoving the dogs outside again. They are not happy campers.

STRUCTURE – THE NEW DOOR

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Structure


The door was rotting and needed to be replaced. One week ago today, my son and his friend Dave, got the job done. It was a big job. Heavy door to remove, heavier door to replace. It’s not quite finished — still needs painting on all sides, but we will get to it as soon as we can. Meanwhile, this is structure!

The old door


THE NEW DOOR

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017