Wednesday, September 12, 2012

29 Hickory Drive



29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

Those 29 letters and numbers evoke strong, happy memories of home.

My parents bought the place in 1956 when the average cost of a new home was $11,700, the average annual income was $4,450, and the cost of gas was 22 cents per gallon. My dad was 32, my mom was 23. That was the year Elvis Presley recorded his first album and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson; Fidel Castro and his rebels landed in Cuba; the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama segregation laws were illegal; portable black and white TVs hit the market; the Wizard of Oz was the first full-length Hollywood movie to appear on television, and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.  

It’s a single story ranch-style house with a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms, one bathroom and a separate two-car garage (although I can’t ever remember a car being in there) near the end of a dead-end road.  For many years there was a boiler room (where we kept the gerbil cage) attached to the small kitchen, but at some point that was remodeled into a kitchen expansion. The backyard, where a small brook still runs, was swampy  -- but my parents filled it in with rock and dirt which essentially became the neighborhood playground.

My Dad, with a hefty striper, in front of the garage, 1970
My sister Sue and brothers Ed and Bob obviously moved in before me. I arrived in 1960. Brother Tim came along about six years later. And there we all lived, seven us, along with the dogs who lived out their lives there (Ginger, Brandy, Dallas and Oakley).  We lived, laughed, cried, fought, loved, learned, grew and my siblings and I eventually moved out. My parents remained. My father died in the house in 2003, at the age of 79.

On Monday, September 11, 2012, after nearly 60 years in the same home, my mom moved out of the place at the age of 79. She’s moved into a wonderful retirement home in nearby Trumbull (home to our fiercest football rival, back in the day.)

I don’t yet know what will become of the place. I imagine someone will buy it, tear it down, and put up something new.  But oh, if that house could talk! 

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

Here’s some random memories that come to mind:

Sharing a small bedroom with three brothers (Sue had her own room, and we called her the “queen”); always having to wait to use the bathroom; always feeling rushed while in the bathroom because someone else was waiting; the toilet always backing up (a magazine left on the lid was the signal not to use it) and my dad having to frequently snake out the septic system to clear it; the rotary phone on the wall that still remains; the “cobblers bench” coffee table that still remains with scratches and crayon marks from several generations of Stalling kids (the same cobbler bench my friend Bryan Keith cracked when he jumped on top of it during a toga party. I think my mom is still upset about that).  Waking up on occasion to find large striped bass in the bathtub, caught by my dad the night before, and placed in the tub to be kept wet so as not to lose weight for contest weigh-ins held by the Westport Striped Bass Club. He kept a windsock in the maple behind the house so he could get a feel of how rough Long Island Sound might be from the direction and strength of the wind.  My mom hung laundry out to dry in the backyard.

My dad ran a TV and radio repair shop out of the garage, and it was full of televisions, electronic equipment and giant tubes that TV’s had in those days. The garage always had a unique odor derived from the frequent soldering of wires. One night, when I was maybe 13, a fire gutted the garage and all was lost. I awoke to the smell of fire and a yard and driveway full of neighbors, fire trucks and firemen and pretty much missed it all. (I could sleep through anything). The garage later came to look more like a tackle shop with fishing rods, tackle boxes, lures, waders, nets, gaffs and other gear hanging everywhere.  My brother Ed played drums in the garage and hated being disturbed (I had many drum sticks thrown at me for taunting him). We kept an old chest freezer in the garage, for awhile, not only to store our food but to store the frozen bunker and mackerel we often used as bait for stripers. For many years, in December, I turned half the garage into my shop for making Christmas wreaths which I sold to individuals and stores – a skill I learned from our neighbor George Nelson.  The flashing of lights – from a light switch in the house – meant it was time to report in and return to the house. We also had a CB Radio in the garage (a fad started by the song “Convoy”) and my “handle” was Goo-Goo Eyes (my favorite striper fishing plug).  While I was being a wise ass to some truckers one night I didn’t realize everything I said was being broadcast over our television and my father heard it all. The lights flashed wildly and my CB days came to an end.    

My son Cory and the cobbler's bench, 2004
My dad put an old wooden cabin boat in the backyard that we slept in and played our own versions of Moby Dick, Mutiny on the Bounty and Gilligan’s Island. It seemed a favorite place for bees to build their nests. I think my brother Bob still has the steering wheel to that boat. I decided to build my own pool once, and dug up a portion of the yard and gathered cinder blocks and wood scraps that remained in a messy pile for years. We built a pretty deluxe tree house in a big white ash tree which I fell out of once, making one of my frequent visits to the hospital. I had many adventures in the woodlot behind the house, across the brook, where we sometimes held secret meetings of the “Mustard Club” which required putting mustard on our noses. There was perhaps a ten year period where we had an above-ground swimming pool, with a redwood deck around it. I would swim laps most every morning and most of the neighborhood kids would play in the pool (“Marco, Polo”) on summer days and nights.  

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT 06880

There was the Lowries, and Stantons, and Grants and Ragus. Crystals and Mieles, and Wankes and  Orrs. Alleys, and Keiths and Conroys and Lists. Nelsons, Devitos and Dolands and Frimpters. So many families came and went. Danny Deluca was the neighborhood bully until my sister beat him up. We would play kickball on the street, and organize huge games of hide-and-go seek in the evenings. In the winters we would sled on the neighborhood hills (the Lists and Miele’s backyards), play hockey on local ponds, and dig snow forts in the big piles left by plows.  When the roads were covered in snow and ice we’d hide out near stop signs and (unbeknownst to the drivers) grab on to the bumbers of cars and “skitch” our way around.  In the summer, we would build go-carts and bomb down the hills. I organized a few fairs in our yard, to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis, and built a store on wheels to sell lemonade, soda and candy. 

I loved catching frogs, sunnies and turtles from the local ponds and once built a little damn in the brook behind our house, creating a tiny pool that I stocked with sunnies I caught from a pond near Burr Farms Elementary School and hauled home in a wheelbarrow filled with water and fish.  In an failed attempt to make my own rawhide for snowshoes I was making, I rolled up a dead deer skin with ashes (to tan it) and left it under the shed out back. Dogs got to it, dragged it around, and the neighborhood stunk for days. 

TV and Radio repair shop turned tackle shop
The kitchen always smelled good from mom’s chicken-pot-pies, ham, macaroni salad and apple pies. From the kitchen sink, you could spray water out the window onto anyone walking outside in the narrow passage between the house and garage.  The outside water hose hung on the house near the kitchen window, where my dad once got hit by lightning. We would often climb onto the roof, run fast, and make the six-foot or so jump from house roof to garage roof.  I attempted to build a plane and launch myself off the roof, but that didn’t go so well. While practicing my shot putting, I accidentally tossed a shot put through the front window and it landed near where my dad was sitting. I once caught the bedroom on fire while laying a base on my wooden cross-country skis.
   
My brother Bob and I would often fight and get booted out of the house. Once, thinking we were banned from home, we “survived” by steeling hot dogs off the neighbor’s grill. When the Crystals first moved next door from New York City I persuaded them that night crawlers were bad and they paid me to pick them from their yard.  (When my father found out, he made me return the money). Mopsy Aike would sit on the stone wall between our house and the Ragus, where she knew I could see her from the bedroom window, and tease me by showing me her underwear. We would make frequent trips across the brook, around the fence, and over to Carvel’s Ice Cream shop which was pretty much in our backyard.

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

When snow and ice storms hit, it was difficult, if sometimes not impossible, to make it up the hills in our cars. There were 50-gallon barrels on the side of the road in several places kept full of sand and we and many of the neighbors would get out and shovel sand onto the slickest spots. We always had a big Christmas tree in that small living room and on Christmas mornings there would often be shiny new Schwinn bikes and enough presents to make the place look like a toy store. We couldn't open them until dad had his coffee in hand and he would take his time, and tease us, with a big grin on his face. Sometimes, dad would come home from work and we'd tackle and search him to find candy he hid in his pockets. My siblings and I would place pillows on the floor around one of the beds, which we pretended to be dog doo, then wrestle and push each other off the bed into the "dog doo." The last one remaining in bed was the winner. We called it, of course, the "Dog Doo Game." After the lights went out, we'd take turns tapping out songs on the wall and each had to guess what the other was attempting to play -- until my dad would finally bang on the wall and tell us to be quiet and go to sleep.

On Sunday nights, mom would make popcorn and we'd all sit in front of the TV to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom followed by Walt Disney. We also gathered around the TV to watch the Wizard of Oz, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and March of the Wooden Soldiers about once a year. One of my earliest memories is watching TV when Robert Kennedy was shot, and my mom crying. We also watched the first moon landing and Neil Armstrong's small step and giant leap. (I wanted so badly to be an astronaut.) As a family, we often watched I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island and the Andy Griffith Show.

For awhile there was a basketball hoop on the side of the road, at the dead-end circle in front of our house, where my brother Bob and I invented the sport of rugby basketball, which included tackling each other on the pavement. (It never quite took hold on the national scene.) Sometimes we'd build jumps, bomb down the hill on our bikes, and jump over things -- pretending to be Evel Knievel with similar crash results. Occasionally we'd shut down the road and hold neighborhood block parties on the circle. There's a huge tree in the middle of the road, atop the first hill headed out, that had a sign on it that read, "SLOW Children!"  (Long Lots teacher and football coach Bob Marshall once gave me a ride home, saw the sign, and jokingly said: "Well, that explains a lot!")  I drove my brother Bob's white Mustang convertible into that tree; I'm not sure he's forgiven me for that one.  

From the house, I could walk to Burr Farms Elementary School, then Long Lots Junior High, and then Staples High School. I could also walk or ride my bike to Burial Hill Beach, Sherwood Island State Park, Compo Beach, the Saugutuck River and the Saugutuck Reservoir where I once got caught poaching trout.

And the trees! The huge white ash trees and sugar maples and red oaks and white pines and hemlocks! And, of course, the hickories! It’s where I first fell in love with trees and learned all I could about them. I would dig up small trees on camping trips to northern Connecticut, and plant them in the yard when I got home. Some are still there, and have grown fairly large – rooted, like anchors, to the land I grew up on.

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

It’s my home – a home that has been saturated with nearly sixty years of life and love.  

It has always been home to me, and always will be.  Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but that’s not entirely true: All I have to do is close my eyes and remember.

So now, as an electronic funeral of sorts, I request this of friends and family: Please share, below, your memories of our wonderful home:     


   

32 comments:

  1. Thank you David for the memories of Hickory Drive! All of my earliest childhood memories are on that street .. and the Stalling house being the center of them all. Even after we Lowries moved away, Dad and I continued to trick or treat with masks fashioned from paper bags, and only had one stop at number 29.

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  2. The backyard swimming pool. It saved our lives many a summer afternoon. You would jump in and sit on the bottom "forever" (which is about how long you could hold your breath. After the pool, your Dad and I built the deck from the house to the pool. I still have a scar on my leg from a nail gouge, but it was pretty darn good for a couple of amateurs. Susan was lifeguarding then and could probably swim even better than you could. It lasted quite a few years and was enjoyed by all. - Dick

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  3. How about the weekend a squad of Marines took over the house. I remember that one of them was an avid golfer and you asked me to take him out to play. He was out all night and still hadn't sobered up after 9 holes. Naturally his game was affected, shocking the older couple we were playing with. I was sober and he sill kicked my butt on the golf course.-Dick

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  4. Memorial Day - Your Dad was Grand Marshall of the local parade and you, Bob & Tim comprised his Honor Guard. What a fantastic day. His speech was marvelous and the party at the house that followed was fantastic.-Dick

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    1. I was there for that too, Dick. Never saw 4 more proud veterans in my whole life. Hope all the Alleys are well.

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    2. That was a great day! I was so proud of my Dad! I sure do miss him.

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  5. Dick: Sue was definitely the best swimmer in the family, and Ed could hold his breath longer than me but I practiced every day so I could beat him. I had forgotten about the Marine weekend! (But, as you allude do, there is good reason I don't remember.) The guy you played golf with was Bob Schulte from Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He was a wild one -- but so were we all. We were doing some special anti-terrorist training with the FBI in New York -- it was the first ever Tactical Reconnaissance in an Urban Environment (T.R.U.E.) training. I remember we had weekend leave and weren't supposed to leave New York but we all rented a car and headed for Westport!

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  6. Wow Dave Stalling, lots of hardcore memories for sure. Earliest memory is in 1966 wandering across Hickory Drive to play with some rubber balls in your front yard and being promptly shooed back home by your mother. I'm sure more will surface, but in list form: our first "band" with Dave, Mark Miele and me; trading or buying/selling bikes with everyone in the 'hood; the white station wagon in your driveway and rotating who was driver and who was "the boss;" our neighborhood fire department putting out fires set on purpose by your mom; Eddie finally shutting the garage door during drum practice after I wore out my welcome watching; Billy Leonard hitting a baseball from our yard through your front window; having my first fist fight with Tim -- wouldn't try that now! and the MS fun fair that got us a full page of photos in the Westport News.

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    1. Great memories Dave! Thanks for sharing. While most of us set up the old traditional Lemonade stands, I remember you running a Loch Ness Monster information and research center out of your garage. And somewhere I still have a photo of you with your wonderful, long crazy hair wearing my Marine Corps cover (known simply as a "hat" in the civilian world!)

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  7. How about the time brother Bob & Bill Stanton called and asked to "borrow" my utility trailer for the Staples Senior Class Picnic. Next day there was a photo of my trailer at Sherwood island, fully loaded with kegs of beer. At least the drinking age then was 18.- Dick

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    1. I can remember more than once trying to use the "I know Mr. Alley" ploy when I got in trouble with the police -- but it always backfired -- you didn't let us get away with that one! I also remember being like Dennis the Menace hanging out at your house all the time -- putting on Laurie's Girl Scout uniform and selling Girl Scout cookies at Waldbaums on a dare, and playing out some sort of Clorox commercial on your porch which always ended with me falling off your steps. Ah, and Herbie Keene, living in the old root cellar in the woods near your house.

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  8. When I returned from the first Gulf War, the Marine Corps gave us a week off. My parents knew I was out of harm's way, but did not know I was back in the USA. I made the 12 hour drive from North Carolina to Connecticut and parked behind our house in the Carvel lot so I could have the element of surprise. I was charged with excitement as I walked that path that I had walked a million times, appreciating every step as the memory floodgates opened wide. When I reached our front yard, I remember looking through the front window and observing mom and dad having a routine night. They were both sitting in their assigned places watching CNN ... dad in his traditional "leaning forward with hand cupped behind his WWII damaged ear so he could hear better" pose. I stood there in the shadows for at least twenty minutes with a silly grin and watery eyes. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when I finally tapped on the glass and waved to them.

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  9. I remember your Mom's apple pie well as well as your brother Bob who would always fill up that mustang with about 17 cents of gas. We almost moved into the house next door. The fact that I survived to adulthood I attribute to the fact that my parents decided not to buy that house!

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  10. All the years I worked with your mom at the Post Office,even when I got married to another neighborhood kid "Cindy Nazzaro" and moved away she stayed in my life and I saw her more at work until she retired to take care of the grand kids. When I would go to Vermont, I always brought her a bottle of MOXIE back. Couldn't buy it around here. Had a BB gun fight with Bobby,Last I heard it(a BB) was still in his ankle! Throw the rocks into the air in the circle at dusk and watch the bats dive at them! Oh I wish for those days again!

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    1. Thanks for sharing some good memories, Bill! I think those BB gun fights prepared me, Bob and Tim for the Marine Corps! I vaguely recall you having some kind of old tank of a jeep, or some such vehicle, and you and Bob got it stuck in the swampy area behind your house trying to drive through the woods? And yes -- I had forgotten about the bats! . . . and remember the fire flies? We tried to put enough of them in jars to make our own lights. It didn't work so well.

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  11. I did not want to choose "Anonymous", but I don't have any of those accounts, so it was my only option. There is a time capsule buried in the backyard-I wonder if it will ever be found? Kickball in the Dead End circle, a neighborhood full of kids, huge Thanksgiving dinners with Charlie Horn, watching Lassie and Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night, while we all ate cereal for dinner(itwas mom's night not to cook- smart lady!). I could go on and on... I sure am going to miss the place. BTW- I have that "Slow Children" sign in the garage,Mr. McKay made it. And that beautiful '66 Mustang was MINE...

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    1. Susan Stalling Hamilton

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    2. Sue: That was your Mustang I drove into the tree? I did not even have a driver's license yet, and snuck it out for a drive. Damn tree gave me away. That was the first incident of a very long stretch of me wrecking a lot of cars. The day I got my license, I crashed and rolled my white Volkswagon bug while driving to fast on the steep hill near Burial Hill Beach. (It was soon after I had picked up a gallon of milk for mom at Calise's Market). Terry Brannigan was driving behind me, watched me flip the car, and ran down to see if I was okay. I was in shock, and reached up to my feel my head and it was warm, sticky and wet. I was scared and said to Terry: "I think I am bleeding really bad!" He laughed, and said, "You're bleeding milk!" The mild had broken open and got all over me. I remember bringing home a big square pizza from Arcudi's, which was supposed to be our dinner, and startled you when I rushed into the back kitchen door. You screamed, which startled me, and I dropped the pizza. I think the dog ended up eating it.

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    3. Oh, and by the way Sue: I believe you still hold the number two spot as catching the largest striped bass -- second only to dad!

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  12. That's a real nice piece Dave. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Great piece Dave!!! I remember that house ;-)

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  14. Remember Doug Conner and his flaming doggie do??

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  15. Wow, Dave. I love this piece. My house on Long Lots backs up to Keenes Road, so I live right near where you grew up. What struck me most about your post was (1) how different things are today in terms of kids playing outside and (2) how seven of you lived in a three-bedroom home. Today, Westport is filled with 6,000 sq. ft. houses where a couple resides alone, or with just a child or two. Of course, I also loved all the specific memories you recounted. I grew up on Timber Lane off of Roseville, and I've got lots of similar stories to tell. I remember a pond to the front and left of Burr Farms (facing the school). Wonder if that's the one you got the sunnies from??

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  16. At 0500 this morning I suddenly realized that no one has yet mentioned the fantastic connection to Scouting at 29 Hickory Drive. Dad and three brothers all Eagle Scouts. How many "Order of the Arrow" and that lifetime scouting award your Dad received. We were honored to be there. His long-time partnership with Bob Gill in helping hundreds of kids in scouting over the years. I remember a day when I stopped at Scout Camp to say hello and you were testing for some high scouting award and were forbidden to talk. I got the message and left without you uttering a word.-Dick

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  17. Dick: You must have been shocked to not hear me talking -- I think then, and running recon patrols in the Marine Corps, are about the only times in my life my mouth was not running nonstop! Great memories! Scouting had a huge influence on my life and even helped the career I am in. My Dad was an amazing Scoutmaster and had a positive influence on hundreds of young men, in addition to his own kids. He was a great man! I sure do miss him.

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  18. Wonderfully said David! I remember capture the flag, the Grants shepard running at me when I had knocked Rommie down thinking he was going to bite me, he did not. Throwing a nerf football around with Timmy. You and I taking turns using your dads whaler or my dads and catching tons of bluefish. I recall the day you and Bob got in a fight and one of you broke a 2x4 over the others back as you battled on. The day you were up at the Nike sight and decided to walk across the wire suspended some 30 or so feet above ground with NO safety equipment on. I stood and watched thinking about how I was going to tell your parents what happened to you. As for your driving I can remember that I would not get in a car if you were driving and having to persuade you to let me drive, not an easy thing to do. Regarding your dad I remember when Tim arrived home from Iraq, I was camping with your dad at Nickerson Park when Chris Nickerson came down and told your dad he had a phone call. A little while later your dad came back and opened up about how tough it had been while you were gone. He opened up and talked for about an hour and I could see the weight lift from his shoulders. David , I still remember when Bob Byers, my dad, your dad, you and I were sitting at the picnic table at Nickerson park and you reached out, grabbed the biggest moth at the table and summarily whooffed it down. Lots of great childhood memories about our wonderful neighborhood and the good people we grew up with. I wish things were still that way for our children today. However, on a side note my daughters have become friends with Tim and Sue's daughters as a result of their high tech world. A friendship that would not have been possible for us. Maybe someday they can get together for a game of hide and seek or kickball.

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  19. David
    Wonderful tales and many more that have been capture forever by 29 Hickory Drive, I remeber trolling for Bass in your Dads whaler with Susan, as anybody that grew up in Westport, 13 Clover La, we did not relize what we had until later in life, I would not trade my years in Westport...Tommy Grimes .. Spooker .. Clarke .. Stu .. Cranem .. Phil ..Corigan .. Mr Grimes safe house .. Compo Beach .. and the rest ,, thanks for the post
    Scott Surprise

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  20. Drove by the house yesterday to see the house.So sad to see it empty and all the workers in and outside the house painting and cleaning. The road seems smaller than it was when I was a kid.I guess walking that road to Burr Farms seemed like it took forever. Its hard to believe that those houses are worth almost 500,000 today!

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  21. Dear David,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your childhood memories and your home at 29 Hickory Drive. Just on the market, I am one of several eager buyers hoping to call this address home. To continue the tradition of creating lasting memories that clearly have embodied your home is something I dream of everyday. As I put in what I worry is a modest offer just above asking price, if it's not too much to ask, please just wish me luck!

    Most sincerely,
    Stephanie Weyant

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    1. Stephanie: Thank your for the nice note. Of course I wish you luck! And whether you end up with the home or not, I hope you find and enjoy a wonderful home and create many loving memories. Best wishes,

      Dave

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  22. You have a heck of a way with words! Incredibly well written! I wish those good ole days were still here for the kids of today. We found your blog while we were researching your home on Hickory. We were going to put an offer in but it went fast and so glad to hear now above your too-fair asking price! It was some scene that weekend-- the Hickory neighbors had probably never seen anything like it- cars from all over driving by to see this house priced under 400K in Westport.
    I am sure whoever is moving in will take great care of your home. I, for one wouldn't be able to bear renovating the kitchen after reading about all the heartwarming stories and your mom baking her pies in there. I like to leave the house in my mind as the perfect childhood memory you described here in your amazing post.

    We are now looking at another house on Hickory and always think of your stories from the good ole' days when we pass by 29.

    Best of luck to you all -

    Alexa from NYCity

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  23. I too grew up in CT, Putnam, CT and we had a cobblers bench. I believe it is still at the house I grew up in, my dad and older brother still living there.

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