“Houses are like chapters,” Elayne was explaining as we walked through the house that was soon to become our next home. The veteran realtor had lived and worked in the same area for decades and had a knack for cutting to the chase, knowing exactly where her clients needed to be. Sounding more like a philosopher than someone getting ready to close a deal, she confidently proclaimed, “This will be your Connecticut chapter.”
It was the spring of 2010 and our first move as empty nesters. With Herb heading out every day to his new job, I wondered how I would make connections of my own without the comfort of having children in tow. I had no way of knowing that Elayne’s wisdom of where to plant new roots would take hold so quickly.
One summer morning on our neighborhood walking path I met Jennifer, a former Californian who had raised her family in Connecticut. It was one of those rare moments of meeting someone who you feel you’ve always known. We got together over lunch and unofficially concocted a plan of weekly exploration. We would pick a town in Southern Connecticut or Westchester County, N.Y., seek out a destination for a coffee or lunch and just wander.
One of our first outings was to Compo Beach in Westport, an inviting spot on the Long Island Sound. As Jennifer’s car approached a roundabout, I spotted a familiar-looking figure out my passenger-side window. “That’s the statue from I Love Lucy, “ I heard myself saying, stretching out the words as if I were speaking in slow motion. “Where?!” Jennifer practically shouted as she maneuvered the car back to where we had begun. It turned out my new friend was also a fan of that wonderful classic TV show.
The Minuteman statue appeared in the final episode of I Love Lucy, but I had no idea it existed in real life, let alone on top of a traffic circle in Connecticut. It was a serendipitous blending of fantasy and reality that set the stage for getting to know this new area through its backroads and the unexpected gift of slow travel. As the months unfolded, Jennifer and I checked out museums, designer show houses, landmarks, cafés, shops and scenery, gaining renewed insight and perspective with each passing season.
Herb and I also did a fair bit of local exploring during our time in Connecticut. My favorite experiences were the day trips, visiting places I hadn’t heard about before as well as a few memorable ventures into New York City.
Here are four Connecticut Day Trips that made a lasting impression:
1. Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate ~ Sleepy Hollow, New York
Nestled in the Hudson River Valley, the former estate of Standard Oil founder and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller is known for its art and gardens as well as the architecture and design of its 100-year-old six-story stone house. The estate is now run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and offers tours of the house and grounds. We visited on a beautiful autumn day, and I can still remember the serene feeling of the stunning setting.
2. The Glass House ~ New Canaan, Connecticut
This treasure of modern American architecture sits quietly off a country road in New Canaan, Connecticut. Completed in 1949 by Philip Johnson, the Glass House was the architect’s private residence until 2005. With idyllic views of the pond and surrounding woods, and furniture designed by Mies van der Rohe, it’s a fascinating look into a merging of house and landscape. Tours begin at the Visitor Center in downtown New Canaan, where visitors are given an introduction to the house before being driven to the property.
3. Top of the Empire State Building at Sunset ~ New York City
In the spirit of my incurably romantic love for the film An Affair to Remember, Herb and I decided to celebrate our 33rd anniversary at the top of the Empire State Building. We knew the lines would be outrageously long at prime sunset viewing time and booked “express passes,” which enabled us to bypass all the lines and head directly to the elevators. Our first stop was the main deck on the 86th floor. We took photos in every direction and then headed to another elevator for the ride to the 102nd floor. The sun was setting as we were taking our last photos…a perfect anniversary ending.
4. The Beacon Theatre ~ New York City
When we found out that our beloved Beach Boys would be performing one of their 50th anniversary tour concerts at the Beacon Theatre, we scrambled to get two of the remaining tickets. With the original band members reuniting for what would probably be their final tour, combined with the chance to experience the fabulous venue, we knew the event would be incredibly special. The Upper West Side Beacon dates to 1929 and was designated a landmark in 1979 by the NYC Landmark Preservation Committee. In 2009, it was restored to what the theatre’s website describes as “its original Roaring Twenties grandeur.” Bedecked in a crimson and gilded art deco style, it’s a visual and audio feast for the 2,600 people lucky enough to attend a concert there.
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Two-and-a-half years after clocking a seemingly endless number of miles on Connecticut’s roadways, I got a phone call from Jennifer. She had finally decided to make the move west to be closer to her son, an idea she had been considering for some time. It was a conversation where the happiness for your friend rises above your own personal loss, but the ache is still there, simmering beneath the surface. And you know the winds of change are just around the corner, whether or not you are ready for them.
On the day the moving van arrived, I fought back tears as I walked home along the path where we had first met. But just as Jennifer was moving on, I knew my time in Connecticut was nearing an expiration date of its own. Herb’s contract was coming up for renewal, and we both yearned to return to California, our adopted home state for more than twenty years.
A few months later, with the flowering pink trees in our neighborhood fading into a green summer splendor, we called Elayne to list the house. As we sat at our kitchen table and signed the papers, she suddenly put down her pen and narrowed her eyes in that all-knowing look of hers. “Your Connecticut chapter was a short one,” she said. Perhaps that was true, I thought to myself. But when measured in memories instead of months, it was a very full chapter.