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Aqua Vista Summer

August 5, 2017


I think it was 1966.

It was August because my father always took the month of August off in the 30 years I knew him. By being indispensable as the lawyer to a Greek American family at a time of crisis in 1960 (the death of a brother), he was offered a sweetheart deal to obtain said dead brother’s vacation house in the Aqua Vista Association near Danbury, Connecticut.

He had 3 kids in private school at the time, including me, so it was a reach – despite the low cost. It was a small lot with an upside-down 1940’s cabin: bedrooms on the lower level (tiny), kitchen, living and bath on the upper level – maybe 1,000 square feet or less, total.

It was the next step. Though older than most Greatest Generation compatriots, 50 at the time of the purchase, a decade earlier earlier my father and his wife had obtained a nice place in what he called a “second rate” town – a suburban home in Westchester County. In the early 1960’s he had a lovely wife and 3 kids, oldest going into boarding school, the younger boys in day school.

Now he had the second home.


The idea was a version of East Hampton or Tuxedo Park – the second home. This was a very modest comp: it was a sea of small retreats, close together’ huddled on the big Lake Candlewood, fraught with powerboats. Ours was a box clad in bark-edge Fir Slab clapboard siding, fully creosoted. For the first years of ownership I was dispatched first to Hackley Day Camp, then Incarnation sleep away camp – each for two years of July’s.

I applied myself to both: first obtaining “Marksman First Class” in “22 Rifle” target shooting (after humiliating degradation by a counselor at 7), then, at Incarnation, I made “Junior Lifesaver” at 10. I always wanted to justify my parents’ paying to send me to these remote, exotic places – not that far from Dobbs Ferry, New York.

But after those July’s each summer I had August at Aqua Vista. Mostly reading comics and walking to swim at the lake. There was no social life. Essentially it was my parents taming the landscape and home after 30 years of neglect, barbecuing and drinking. Mostly Miller Beer. My brother was there mostly, but I do not remember my older sister being there.

Then my mother decided she had made enough as a decorator in 1965 that they could could build a wing into the Aqua Vista house: an addition that turned the existing living room into the Master Bedroom and bath and added a vaulted living room on the other side of the existing kitchen.

“FirZite’ white staining of the Texture 1-11 plywood interior walls and new Slab Siding, with old and new exterior completely coated in a grey stain/paint. There was a new large concrete block chimney and firebox at the gable end. It was a fun winter watching construction. The money ran out with the fireplace unclad, with steel strips hanging out from the mortar joints between the concrete block.

So the spring saw my father and I stealing field stones by the side of the road and tossing the stones in the trunk of our 1958 Fleetwood Cadilac to be serially offloaded in Connecticut. My father, having worked for the Carlin Construction Company that had employed by Grandfather Harry while in school and college and law school, knew how to build things.

So in the summer of 1966 I spent August standing next to my Dad for 6 or 8 hours a day as he mixed concrete and set stone facing upon the concrete block mass. My job was to choose the stone and clean it, and has the stone rose, hand my father those same field stones as he stood upon the ladder.

It was a bizarre counterpoint to the raging Vietnam War, and to my rebelling siblings – not there I think. My brother was working at 16, and my sister had quit high school before graduation and drove to California. So it was the three of us.

On off days and evenings I would still hit the beach, alone and swim off the mortar.

But at the end of the day, and the end of the month, the fireplace was done. I was praised as “a great help”. I had done the right thing, unlike my siblings. I had hewn to the role of the good son – supporting, following experienced direction.

I greatly missed Incarnation Camp where I had been the previous summer. Apparently there was no thought of that expense once the Aqua Vista addition was envisioned. Two years of playing with my peers and being chosen to paddle down the Connecticut River was not only an honor, I was the youngest, so it was a point of pride.

So in 1966 I settled for the pride of pleasing my parents. My absent siblings found a place for themselves in disappointing them. Then, 3 years later, I was shipped to Buffalo in the wake of a crashing decade of family failure. The Buffalo house was financed, ultimately, by the sale of the Aqua Vista house and fireplace – a couple of years after my sister had used it to have secret meetings with her future husband in the absence of the rest of the family.

Being alone is not tragic. Making things is good. Comics and swimming are a good way to spend a summer at 11.

But I wish I knew why any of it happened.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joseph Dzeda permalink
    August 5, 2017 8:30 am


  2. Joseph Dzeda permalink
    August 5, 2017 8:39 am


    The “why” of it all is that it was necessary to make you the person you are (and the one we like) today. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so every stone you lifted and every family-related thing you did was a set-up for making The Dude that we recognize in you.

    There’s not much point to speculating ‘what if,’ so we note the bend in the twig and the shape of the tree we see now.

    We cannot factor out of the equation any factor in the equation.

    As a fine man I know sometimes says, “Onward!”

    From the Philly airport – photo to prove it follows!




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