Katie H’s Summer Cottage

This entry is another walk down memory lane, at least sort of. I spent some time at La Hepburn’s twenty-plus (story says twenty-one; the occupants said twenty-three) room “summer cottage” when I was young because I babysat for her brother Dick’s four kids. The place was considered a cottage because that’s what the Hartford on the Rocks people called their Fenwick abodes. Despite the size, the houses really were very basic – no heat, some had cold water outdoor showers to rinse off the salt. The era of year-round mansions didn’t come along until some years later, about the time that KH added central heating. After that Dick could dress normally during winters and not arrive at our house in layers of sweaters that took him ever so long to remove.

KH”s mansion was a summer cottage also in the sense that it was in addition to the family home in Hartford, the gorgeous apartment in mid-town Manhattan, which my parents and I got to visit when Dick’s play Washing the Car was being performed, and I don’t know what places in California and elsewhere. All I remember about the play was that the actor seemed to channeling Dick in some sort harangue about one of his brothers.

Those twenty-whatever rooms at the cottage were not all usable all the time. The house faces Long Island Sound with a just patch of lawn, a small seawall, and a small strip of beach as a buffer. The photo accompanying the story makes the lawn appear much larger than it is, or at least than it used to be. To the north (behind the house) is the water hazard for the golf course. During storms the two often met in the living room. It didn’t have to be a particularly bad storm, either. Just the right combination of wind, high tide, and a full moon would do the trick. Dick rigged pulleys for the furniture on the ground floor so when bad weather threatened everything could be hauled up to the ceiling and the residents would adjourn to the second floor. I hope jacking up the place five-and-half feet will be enough.

The enduring mystery for me is why KH built the house in that location. As the story mentions, the structure that’s just been renovated went up after the infamous hurricane of ’38 washed the previous house from the identical spot. There’s a great photo of KH sitting, fully clothed, in a bathtub on the lawn with debris around her. The rest of the house was at the bottom of the Sound, except I think for a desk that was found on a beach a couple of miles away.

I send thoughts to the Infinite that it doesn’t happen again.

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