Towing the Line

by Christine Adams Beckett

To beat the suburban Hartford heat in the summertime, my parents would bring my siblings and me to Lake Waramaug in Connecticut. There, in a gingerbread style cottage that sits on a manmade peninsula on the main cove of the largest natural glacial lake in Connecticut, we would pass the long, hot days with all the expected lakeside diversions: swimming, boating, water skiing. The house itself was an inherited treasure from my paternal grandmother, Mabel Taylor Adams, who spent her own girlhood summers on the lake, albeit a tad further South on West Shore Road. There her father, Henry Taylor, had his own cottage where he brought Grandmother Mabel and her siblings Kenneth and Pearl for airings as early as 1890, a relief from the more convenient hubub that was New Milford, Connecticut.

Mabel Taylor Adams,
Who Loved the Lake
March, 1908

We travel a bit further in 2012 to beat the heat of Montclair New Jersey, about 100 miles or 2 and a quarter hours door-to-door if we don’t stop at Stew Leonard’s or the Northville Market for sustenance on the way. The car is as packed as uncomfortably as I remember it to be in 1975: with a gaggle of children, bags, necessities, family pets. But all the discomfort of a longish ride was forgotten once the familiar landmarks passed our car windows: Grandpa Snazzy’s Antikew Shop ( I didn’t know how to pronounce it then), Mt Tom State Park, the turn off onto Route 45 and the features of a then rather honky-tonk New Preston village: Dowler’s Garage, Kressault’s Store, The Washington Supply, the Boy’s Club in the Pavilion Hall, where my father boasted he used to play a pretty mean game of basketball with his pal Harry Ericson.

Our dog Spot, gone 30 years now, used to practically convulse when his keen canine senses took in the familiarity. He would whine with excitement once we hit the foot of the lake where Ritchie’s Pizza and the Washington Towne Beach were. We children did, too, claiming bragging rights in advance: “I’m going to be the first one into the lake! Dad, Will you take me skiing / aquaplaning first?”

Today New Preston Village is all swank: J Seitz, The Firehouse “Clothing and Furthermore”, New Preston Kitchen Works. There is a lovely Mediterranean eatery, Oliva’s, but no more pizza place on the foot of the lake. The feel of the place is decidedly sleepier, more sophisticated and frankly safer. Somehow the foot of the lake and the much more fashionable surroundings still elicit the same excitement in my children.

“When can we go to the bait shop, mom?”

“I hope Grandma still has that copy of Island of the Blue Doplphins in the sleeping loft.”

Even the two year-old: “There’s the lake, Mama!”

The Pooch whines when she sees the Route 45 turn-off.

We commemorated Memorial Day this weekend with a cocktail party at a neighbor’s house, a long-time friend whose son and I were playmates decades ago. We toasted the start of summer on the same swath of green lawn at the lakeside where we played wiffleball with other neighborhood kids, some of whom were also in attendance this weekend, I was scolded in days of old by the hostess for being careless. I had an annoying, dangerous, but uncontrollable habit of flinging the bat in a yards-long, arc behind me after I made a hit and transitioned myself to make it to first base before anyone could tag me out. I must have flung the bat at mach speed three times, nearly decapitating poor Susie Catcher twice before the look of exasperation in many faces made it clear that I had seen my last turn at bat.

Thankfully they didn’t hold a grudge and included me at Bingo night, movie night, even a photo shoot for a children’s book featuring many of us summer neighbors. Sunburned, freckled, barefooted and constantly in a wet swimsuit is how I spent my childhood summers. It was sublime even without the sweet peaches, tomatoes and corn on the cob that needed neither butter nor salt from a roadside stand on Route 202. How much things have changed for a mother who still feels like playing wiffleball, until I realize the Pitcher, visiting from New York for the long holiday weekend has a darling baby Natalie under his own arm, unable to throw a decent curveball. I am hovering over my own two year-old who wants to swim with her cotton sundress on and I let her. I let all of my children swim with their clothes on as the Pitcher with Natalie, observing my happy, wet children simply says: “Their Adams is showing….”

Yes, I suppose we Adamses might have seemed impulsive from an outsider’s perspective. Perhaps we were loud and too boisterous to a transitioning crowd of summer inhabitants on a lake that always had subtle style, but big beauty, long-term appeal, and the ability to get under your skin and fester there like a delightful disease: an addiction of good quality. The responsibility of its upkeep and care is slowly passing from one generation to the next. We agree that its preservation is vital to the next generation who will swim here, and to bring their children here to cool in the breezes and waters, occasionally warm on its rocks and learn to recognize one of God’s natural gifts. The appreciation of that gift just illuminates another: family, both blood and extended, connected by a common body of water.

Important links: The Lake Waramaug Task Force is a group of “volunteers and scientists that provides leadership in restoring and maintaining the ecology and water quality of Lake Waramaug and its watershed.”

The Lake Waramaug Association was formed in 1917 “to preserve Lake Waramaug and its environs as a public recreational area and to promote the safety, health and enjoyment of those who use the Lake.”