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Connections: Walls Could Talk

Wed, 11/06/2019 - 11:56

Our family house in East Hampton is a lovely old thing, but far from grand. It was cobbled together from scraps of other buildings a long, long time ago. The living room and what we call “the music room” had once been a silversmith’s shop, which stood near Main Street centuries ago but was moved — maybe around 1920? Or 1910? — back from the main road and settled on a parcel near an old barn, in which family members stored their whaleboats and fishing gear. 

After the silversmith’s shop was moved, a narrow shed, which was at least twice as deep, was pushed up, allowing for a dining room and a kitchen at the back. But as the Rattray family grew, there really wasn’t enough room, so the second story was extended in the 1930s, and a glassed-in porch put up on the sunny side of the kitchen.

The staircase between the first and second floors is quite narrow, in keeping with the humble scale of the original rooms. I will never forget bringing a friend who worked in real estate to visit the house, which she had never seen before, and her asking, “Is this the only stair?” That brought a good laugh. (Actually, we do have two — if you count the attic stairs, which can be lowered from the ceiling of the upstairs hall.)

Before my husband and I made our move to Greenport last spring, we undertook an epic clearing out of closets, pantry, and basement. It went on for weeks, and unearthed many an interesting relic of lives lived on Edwards Lane: old baby booties belonging to no one knows who, many prints and paintings related to ships and whaling, moth ball-smelling Halloween costumes from the 1970s, a funny, cotton-bearded Santa suit from the 1930s (when Santas were not quite as chubby as they are today), innumerable volumes of poetry written by friends and acquaintances over the decades (some good, some fair, some embarrassing), and far, far too many coffee mugs. . . .

The old plaster and yellowed paint had many stories to tell. My daughter has had most of the house painted for the first time in decades, but treasures and trash continue to be tossed up by this sprucing effort, like flotsam and jetsam storm tossed upon a beach.

I’m afraid that the basement still holds crates of my husband’s collection of vinyl records. And we haven’t even yet dared to lower the stairs in that upper hallway to attack the attic. I do know that it holds what used to be a complete collection of National Geographic magazines, circa whenever National Geographic was first published up through about 1960. My late mother-in-law’s cookbook collection is up there, as well. I think I will leave it to the younger generation to deal with the attic. But if anyone reading this is interested in vintage LPs, please do give me a ring. If you can carry them up the basement stairs, they’re yours!

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