ALMOST HOME

SEPTEMBER 15, 2015

 Today is a glorious mid-summer day, not yet the Shoreline fall days I remember.

When I first returned to the Shoreline in 2002, I took this picture of our house from Shell Beach and across the salt marsh.

 

 Our cattails have been replaced by phragmites, and it is impossible to see the broad salt marsh between where I am standing and Leetes Island Road, immediately in front of the house.  When we were there, a hedge would have hidden the front of the house.  There was a smoke bush to the right of the house and near the road, but it seems to be gone.

During the ’38 Hurricane, my grandmother and either her mother or mother-in-law watched the storm surge (“tidal wave”) wash across the salt marsh and stop just this side of the road.  It hit at high tide, which was already seasonally higher than normal.

When I was seven, the Leetes and I went “skating” (no skates, as I recall) on the salt marsh, and I went through the ice with one leg.  Roddy (now the recently passed “Rod”) warned me to get dried off.  That afternoon we all went to the Guilford Theater for the Saturday matinee – my first; I don’t remember the film, but the serial gave me nightmares.  The hero (Clayton Moore?) was under a circle of descending knives and just escaped with his life.  I, on the other hand, found it difficult to sleep under any kind of ceiling fixture resembling that array of knives for years to come.

 Today, after breakfast at the Brownstown on Guilford’s Route 1 with Cathy Offredi Stewart and two of her former colleagues, I took this picture of home (“our house” forever, whoever might actually own it!) from the drive between our house and what was once the Glen house.  The grassy strip to the right of the drive is too grown up with brush to see the narrow brook where Phyllis and I used to engage in Tarzan adventures.

This angle is not the most flattering to the house (the full saltbox shape is hidden by the ivy and cropping to avoid including a vehicle), but the two upstairs windows of the blue room are visible, with the fire escape my grandfather may have installed next to one.  It may not be the same one, but it looks very like it.  The window to a storage area beyond the piazza, where we hung clothes to dry on a pulley line, is barely visible at the back.  Then there is the window for the coming and going room off the kitchen.  My grandmother and I used that room as a bedroom at different times; it was mine when I was sick with viral pneumonia for some eight weeks.

Way too soon my deeply loved father died in that room.

Our grandfather had died in what was the dining room while I was growing up.  Those two losses essentially mark the end of the era when families lived in multi-generational homes and cared for those passing through their final days.  Gramma died in Baltimore under the care of my mother, but both came home to the Leetes Island Cemetery when their times came.

And then there is the side window of the living room.  From that window on many a Sunday afternoon, I would watch the sun set over the Leetes’ pasture – my homework almost certainly done.  We had enjoyed a Sunday dinner, and for supper my mother often made me an egg nog (rich with vanilla) and a jelly sandwich into which I would add potato chips.  (That kind of sandwich is still good, but egg nog is a very rare treat.)

From the front dining room windows, we could look across the salt marsh to see the water.  My memory may be faulty, but I recall being able to tell how high the tide was – Gull Rock was a perfect indicator.  Of course, we always had a tide table by the piazza’s screen door because we could swim only when the tide was in – nearly to fully high.

 

 We had a grand round oak table in the dining room, with a charming chandelier over the center.  That table could be opened to seat some twenty people, but usually there were only three or four of us.  Most evenings Gramma, Mother, and I ate at the kitchen table.  (Too often Daddy was working in some distant place, such as Washington, D.C., but he came home every chance he got.)  On one wall of the dining room there was a magnificent clock that ticked with a deep tick and showed days, weeks, and months as well as hours and minutes.  On the west wall, over the fireplace there was a print of the Mayflower Compact.  The east wall featured one or two windows out onto the side lawn, where Gramma had a lovely rock garden.  Beyond that was a granite rise with small trees where Tarzan and Jane could be on the lookout for enemies – if they arrived via Leetes Island Road or through the pastures and salt marsh on the other side of the street.

Mayflower Compact (the image, cropped as I remember it, although not in color)

That gentle slope in front of the living room was where the snows always covered the grass of our lawns first.  During one hurricane in the early fifties, the two portions of the brook rose and covered our drive, probably a foot or so deep.  As I recall, that was the hurricane that took many of Gramma’s trees, including the apple tree out back by the well.  At the time it seemed odd indeed that each fell slowly and soundlessly.

Among my fond memories were in late afternoons when my mother came home from working with the town dentist.  Traffic was very light on Leetes Island Road in those days, but she would toot her horn as she went by – on her way to Art Sanborn’s tiny store, where she could buy milk or a newspaper or something along those lines.  I also remember that she sometimes took the bus from the Guilford green into New Haven and returned by bus to Leetes Island.  The bus would stop across from our house, and she would come in smelling really fresh in a way somehow unique to those ventures. 

Back to the little drive between our house and the Glen house, I wanted a picture of the brook in front of the drive and the rock on which I spent many moments of thought and contemplation overlooking the rapid flow, but it, too, was closed in with vegetation.   The land behind this new stone wall was once pasture.  To the right of the picture, the Leetes had dug out a small pond for their cows; my father and I skated on it.  One winter the Leetes had a toboggan that we rode from the top of the hill over what may be that ledge up between the trees, across snow roughened by the cows’ hooves and all the way onto the pond.  Whee!

A small patch of grass in front of the wall and to the left of the picture was the setting for a baseball game in my youth.  Once we played cowboys and Indians (or good guy- and bad guy-cowboys) in the pasture.

This new stone wall bends around to parallel Leetes Island Road, at least up to the smaller barn across the street from the house in which Rod, Allison, and Bill grew up and their much larger red barn.

MISCELLANEOUS MEMORIES

September 2015

My mother and father were married in the living room of our house – before a corner cupboard at the front of the living room.  As I remember being told, an archway of orange blossoms had been set up.  The wedding party then went next door to the Glen house for the reception.  At some point in the festivities, they were looking for my father to no avail.  Finally, he was discovered standing in the fireplace of the keeping room.  Yes, the fireplace was that large.  I can almost see his lifted eyebrow and grin.  Daddy never laughed out loud, but that lifted eyebrow and twinkling eye were even better.

                     

The Glen House

The keeping room (kitchen, these days) of both houses reached almost all the way across the back of the house.  At the east in our house was an enclosed stairway with floor to ceiling book shelves on one side; at the stairway base there was a rise between the keeping room and the pantry.

It is worth noting that both houses are exactly the same, but for the size.  As the legend was originally told to me, the older of the two (the Glen House) was built by Peletiah Leete III.  In 1767, Peletiah Leete IV had arranged timbers to build an exact replica of his father’s house.  Good ole dad came along and cut every timber in half: “’twer’n’t fittin’ fer a son to have a house as large as his father’s.”  And so our house was exactly half the size of the Glen house.  Today there is controversy over just when our house was built, but the date 1767 was posted by the front door. when a picture was taken, probably in 1957 (immediately after my cousin Lynne’s wedding), and the timing fits the dates of the two Peletiahs.  The younger was married in 1767, according to the Leete genealogy.

At Christmas time, there was a square amber dish full of my grandmother’s delicious assortment of cookies to be found in the pantry.  I would take it up to bed with me before everyone else was up in the morning.  These were the days when I was sleeping in the pink room, facing to the east.

The pink and blue rooms are separated by the sometimes-notorious chimney room.  The chimney starts in the basement at the center of the house and comes up through both stories and the attic.  There are small fireplaces in the living and dining rooms, but the large one in the kitchen had been closed off, later to be re-opened when the Leetes bought the house back from Gramma in the early ‘60s.  The great mass of that chimney goes through the chimney room, which is little more than a hall with a narrow bed under windows opening onto the roof of the piazza.  Circling around behind the chimney is a dark passageway, which caused that notoriety.  I always loved sleeping in the chimney room, especially when it was raining, but my cousin Lynne found it daunting indeed, especially since Big Bertha, our grandmother’s form for fitting clothes, lurked deep in those dark recesses.  (If there was a light back there, I never saw it on.)

I think it was my cousin Gil who took to singing a hymn whenever running through the chimney room.  Someone possessed the wisdom to hope nothing ever scared him during such a flight.   

We had registers in the floors for heat.  I remember my Aunt Joann standing over the one in the living room one evening when she whispered to me that she was going to have a baby – Kathleen Ann Kent, now DaRos (and a grandmother).

Gramma’s attic was a wonderful place!  Many a treasure could be found there.  I remember a hard-cover copy of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, based on a tragic true story of nineteenth-century southern California, between Los Angeles and San Diego, including the village of Temecula.  Decades later, I was in the area on business and was able to take time for horseback riding in the mountains, said to be home to an Indian ghost.  It turns out we were riding near where much of the action took place, including Temecula itself.  I had not yet identified the ghost with Allesandro, the tragic hero of Ramona, but I did open my car windows as I drove across the mountains to San Diego in case the ghost cared to visit.

On another business trip, having made the connection, I took time to go to Hemet, where the annual Ramona pageant has been held for at least a hundred years.  While in a local shop I was told I had just missed “Allesandro,” the actor playing that character in the pageant.

A lesser find in Gramma’s attic was an old Christmas card from my Grandmother Howell to me.  “As Fate would have it,” Phyllis opened the card to find a dollar I had missed.  We shared it – 50-50.

Once while in high school, my Baltimore friend Natalie Forrest was visiting, and Dorothy Glen invited us to tea.  We were terribly resistant but accommodating.  Much to our teen-age surprise, it was a lovely treat appreciated by both of us.  Dorothy Glen (one of the two Dorothys for whom I am named) was always extraordinarily gracious.  Teen-agers can be considerably less so, but I still remember that afternoon tea with delight.

Dorothy Glen (odd: I still know her by that full name, probably because there were the three Dorothys, including Dorothy Ann [LeMontangue] and Dorothy Julia) used to invite me into the southwest corner of her keeping room to share books she knew I would enjoy.  The room was full of the pleasing aroma of her husband’s pipe.  Harry Glen could usually be found in the northwest corner of the keeping room in a small reading nook of his own.

The seasons are particularly delightful on the Shoreline.  It is hard to know where in the year to start!  Maybe fall – my favorite.  The weather turns crisp and cool, school starts – and the Guilford Fair, a day off from school, and the holidays are imminent, beginning with Halloween, not really a holiday but a harbinger.  Late fall into winter brings Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Ah, the myriad of memories!  New Year’s Eve and Day were never favorites of mine, but the rest of winter meant snow and sledding and occasional skating.  Early on, Lawrence Leete plowed our drive with his team of horses.  In later years, Roger LeMontangue plowed with his Jeep.  Spring came slowly, with each new day bringing something special.  And then the freedom of summer!  My father always had a small vegetable garden (it seemed quite immense at the time) in the northeast corner of our property.  Once again, “Law” came with his horses to plow.  Sometimes the cows in the adjacent pasture came through the fence for a stroll through the garden.  The Fourth of July was a delight despite the inevitable rain.  And, just about the time I became eager for school, summer ended and made way for fall. 

My cousin Lynne may remember the time we slid down the hill beside the drive and ended up with grass stains all over our panties.  Gramma threw a fit, and we decided to walk [!] to Washington where my mother and father were at that point in time.  We got to the top of the hill at Shell Beach and Moose Hill Roads before I, ever the pragmatic – drat, acknowledged we had no money.  To be sure, Lynne raised no objection and we returned to the house.  I have to wonder what we did next. 

AFTERWORD

These days I am in Stony Creek, back on Leetes Island Road after 50 years and within two miles of our house.  I blow it a kiss each time I drive by, which is virtually every chance I get.   Lynne Joann Kent Hanniford (now a great-grandmother) resides in Minnesota, Gilbert James Kent (a great-grandfather) in Tucson; among us Kathy was the only one blessed to have remained on the Shoreline and in Stony Creek since infancy.  All three of us “girls” take after Gramma – in more than one sense.  We may not whistle through our teeth as we work in the kitchen or tap our coffee cup with a thumb nail, but each one of us carries her hands at a kind of “half-mast” as we move about our kitchens.  Lynne’s is the closest to being a keeping room.

October 3, 2015

At this writing, it is just after three on a Saturday afternoon.  It is dark and gloomy with the “tail end of a hurricane” about to pass out to sea.  Evocative weather and nostalgic.  Were it some 60-plus years ago, I would almost certainly be at Guilford Theater where I’d be engrossed in this week’s movie.  The theater is long gone and to be sure I haven’t been to a theater for a movie for a matter of months.

Were it the same era with an actual hurricane looming, we might have already hunkered down in the house with the hurricane lamps nearby in the likely event of losing electricity.  Safely ensconced behind walls that had survived storms for some two hundred years, we could enjoy the darkness, the wind, and the downpour.  The next day, I would have gone out to assess any damage done to the ranch; I wasn’t the rider but the horse, most often Trigger.

 

October 10, 2015

It is a glorious October day, crisp and cool but with bright sun: perfect for riding or driving Greystoke or Jenny in the company of Chuck and Cathy and, possibly, Kathy and Becky.  It is, after all, Saturday.  How well I remember those days on the Forest Preserve trails, including one twilight when we heard a whip-poor-will in the trees overhead.  That, in turn, reminded me of twilights in Leetes Island, when we often heard that eerie, evocative call, often close enough to hear a tiny click between calls.  I do miss everything about our house, but among the highlights are sitting on the glider on the piazza or standing at the windows in the chimney room.

December 21, 2015

Today the brook has been cleared of the vegetation on both sides of the drive.  This place was one of my favorites, down from the Glen house and just this side of the pasture.  The trees are new and there seem to be more rocks than I remember – the current owners of the Glen house are doing some extremely attractive landscaping.  I think Harry and Dorothy Glen would be pleased.  As a child I sat on the rock over the water and just watched the water while thinking great thoughts.

Since I took the picture of the pasture beyond the brook, I have learned that the land is being cleared for a spring pasture for Jonathan Page’s Herefords.  Presently, they can be seen on the other side of Leetes Island Road and beyond our house in the pasture adjacent to Rod and Carlyne’s house on Corn Cob Hill, what was the original island.

January 26, 2016

It is early evening and I am listening to the digital Soundscapes channel, mostly so-called new age music.  Even though it is not the music of my childhood, it draws me back into those times and places.  The immediately evocative piece was called Ghost Ships – how appropriate.  I often imagined what was to be found in the waters beyond our beaches and Long Island Sound, an expanse of open ocean that made little impression on me as a child – except that legend held that if Long Island was vividly visible from the Shoreline, a major storm was in the offing.

Not only are the real times and places brought to mind this afternoon but also the ones of my childhood imagination and fantasy.  The stories of Tarzan are the most vivid, but I was also fascinated with those of Polynesians and of our Native Americans, primarily in the West.  Now, I feel closer to the Woodlands peoples who dwelled here.  The soundtracks of those mostly forgotten movies have recently been brought vividly to renewed life by the music of Avatar, a kind of culmination of all I treasure of those childhood flights of fantasy.

March 12, 2016

Last Wednesday on Leetes Island Road just after the second underpass from Guilford, I heard spring peepers for the first time this year.  Always evocative!

I have just passed a wonderful interlude scrolling through a series of Sky Chaser photographs of the Connecticut shoreline: the water, landscapes, barns.  Nearly all evoked one memory or another of my childhood.  Just now some of the children’s books I read (even before discovering Tarzan) – the Bobbsey Twins, Honey Bunch, Maida have come to mind.  Honey Bunch was not quite as gooey as the name suggests, and the Bobbsey Twins tales were always engrossing, but Maida and her friends had the most exciting adventures.  Maida was slightly older than I was when I was reading the books, so she seemed quite grown up to me.  The Monkey with a Notion pops into mind – a charming tale of the creatures in a pet shop, including rose-colored kittens who proved to be yellow (ginger or orange marmalade).  And then there was the rabbit Uncle Wiggily and Mrs. Higgle Piggle, who taught important life lessons to children without their realizing it.  Always (and still) a voracious reader, I was given subscriptions to Child’s Life and Jack & Jill.  Later, of course, it was comic books and movie magazines.  I was allowed to subscribe to the relatively wholesome Photoplay and Screen Stories, the latter featuring brief novelizations of current films.  One issue included Tarzan’s Peril, which I still insist was Tarzan’s Greatest Peril.  Oh, well.

Many of the Sky Chaser photos are of winter scenes, especially sunsets, along the shoreline.  They evoked one of my fondest holiday memories, almost certainly late forties or early fifties.  It was a mild but rainy evening just before Christmas, and Mother, Daddy, and I went into the center of Guilford to do some Christmas shopping.  We stopped at a 5 & 10 Cent store.  While I have no further detailed recollection of that evening, I can still sense the closeness of the three of us, the rain, and being in Guilford.  How can so simple a memory remain so ineffable, so deeply embedded in my heart?

Another such ineffable experience occurred not on the Shoreline but in Maryland somewhere between Baltimore and Silver Spring on a relatively remote road.  Again it was the three of us; for some reason we stopped at a bridge overlooking a quiet stream surrounded by forest.  We got out of the car for a better view.  Something about the silence combined with the image and the feel of the place spoke, even called to me, a kind of communing with nature and, possibly, history.  Only recently have I discovered the notion of synaesthesia described by David Abram: a combination of sensations brought about by a natural setting that renders the total immersion more than the sum of the separate sensations.

Yet another irrepressible memory comes out of Maryland.  I was on a trail ride from Circle H Ranch.  Shortly after the ride began, we crossed a stream and started up a curved incline.  To our left was a large field.  A black man appeared driving a team of horses to a wagon.  I was instantly taken back a hundred years or so.  It was almost as if he and the team were ghosts.  But our trail guide and he exchanged greetings as we moved by.  I still smile as I did that day so long ago.

March 19-20, 2016

Still more spring peepers on the way home Wednesday evening but no egrets yet.  And the pasture west of our house is looking very inviting, now cleared all the way to the cemetery fence and bounded by stone walls.  I want to pay a visit and take pictures soon – before the ticks are out in force.

An evocative observation comes from a character in a short novel I am finding strong in sense of place (Cornwall).  The character, a successful artist, is pondering the wisdom of returning to a childhood place where we dreamed and held ambitions.  His companion observes that the answer might depend on whether the dreams came true and the ambitions realized.  Upon discovering a history of his special place with its verbal expressions of its nature, the artist admits he could not paint it because he “can only see the here and now” and lacks the perception to capture what the words convey.  But that history confirmed “that someday, sometime, I had to come back to Cornwall.  It never leaves you.  It’s like a magnet.  You have to return.”[1]

Yes, I have been drawn back to my childhood place and can be content with the directions my life has taken, but when I seek to recall any long-ago dreams of or ambitions for my future, I remember none.  The question is how this can be.  Looking back, the most intimate expectation was never to leave the Shoreline.  Leaving never occurred to me until it happened – to my profound dismay.  Not very pragmatic, to be sure.  Nor particularly ambitious.  Oh, yes, there were the childish dreams to be a cowboy or movie star, nothing more sophisticated despite a family who assured me I could pursue any ambition I chose.  At one point I hoped to be a commercial artist trained at Rhode Island School of Design, an ambition hardly more realistic than the cowboy or movie star.  And then we left with the years of coming back at every opportunity until the last physical tie was yielded, followed by decades of pining and inchoate strategies for a return.

What might I have done with my life had I remained?  What opportunities would have replaced biological sciences and employment at Goucher College; a brief return to Connecticut via UConn; Chicago and applied ecology, environmental law, and a move to the southwest suburbs; all seasoned with love (all too brief), friendships, and horses?  Questions without answers, but now I have returned and feel very much at home, belonging to the Shoreline and those childhood places.

I am grateful for it all.  And to my parents for their sacrifices in service of my future.  It has taken me nearly a lifetime to appreciate their gift and what it must have cost them in their own loss of special place.

 April 7, 2016

 Egret watch!

Despite temperatures ranging from the twenties to the lower sixties, spring has brought a symphony in yellow: forsythia is wildly blooming in the wake of the daffodil extravaganza.  The trees are taking on that ethereal green that precedes full-blown leaves.  Some are flowering in misty pink.  Yesterday I saw skunk cabbage for the first time.  And today, yes, the egrets are returning.  I spotted four in a Guilford salt marsh!  In the spirit of the season, I stopped at Shell Beach.  Nifty little waves at about half tide, but I was driven away by wind and rain, the latter including little white pellets.  Snow?  Weird sleet?  Brrr.  Next step: the creeping phlox, dogwood, and mountain laurel.

 April 28, 2016

 The good Lord help me: I’ve done it!  Today I signed the contract with BookFuel for the marketing and distribution in paperback-print and ebook versions of Where You Can Hear the Sea and See the Sound.  The more-than-manuscript but not-quite-a-book has been forwarded.  This is a last-ditch, expensive effort, but it looks real.  My instincts have been wrong before, but I truly believe that this time around, having swallowed my pride and heeded the suggestions of others, this is the route to take, despite its being one step above a vanity press.  It appears to be a meaningful and major step above.  I am impressed with the professionalism and, yes, the enthusiasm, I have encountered thus far.

The time is right.

Now the whole thing is in the hands of the Lord, to Whom I have been praying most earnestly, especially today, after as well as before and during the contract review and signing.  BookFuel puts the final package together with my input as they need it.  God help me succeed; I am hardly asking for a blockbuster picked up by a mainstream publisher with all the trimmings up to and including the sale of movie rights.  That is a pipedream right up there with the childhood and completely childish thought of becoming a movie star.  Even then I knew it wasn’t real, but I had no idea whatsoever where I was heading.  And I am pleased with what the Lord has allowed me to do and like to believe my career has been a service, at least in His name.  I will be content if the Lord allows me to earn enough to survive in relative comfort for as long as I remain here.

_____________________________________

 

[1] Rosamunde Pilcher.  The Carousel.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982, 44, 45.