A Different Time

My Father’s family has owned a piece of property in East Haddam for many years. I believe it his maternal grandfather purchased it over a hundred years ago. It is less than ten acres, and when I was a child, we still accessed it by a dirt road.

When we went there, the adults called it camping. There were two little cottages on the property when I was young, and you could call those camps, but that is not what they meant. According to the earliest memories of the eldest children of my great grandparents, when they first went there for summer vacations they truly camped.

There was nothing on the lot back in the early 1900s. Everything they used while there, except the latrine, they carried in. The family would board a boat in New York City and steam up the sound and then up the Connecticut to the ferry landing below Gillette Castle.

Mother, father and children would carry their camping supplies up from the river to the campsite, two miles or more, and trudge into the wooded site to set up camp. Other families did the same, settling in for the summer in the great outdoors. My great grandfather would go back to the city during the week to work and return at the weekend.

The property is in an area long known as Hadlyme, a little borough between the villages of Haddam and Lyme. When I was a boy, we called a trip there from my grandparents’ home in Branford “going to Hadlyme”.

My father’s aunts were still making the trek from New York. They were ancient to my eyes, probably in their 70s, and they lived in an apartment in Scarsdale. One cabin was theirs. The other belonged to my grandparents, I think. I never understood the ownership.

My memories of the place centered on my cousins, a high-bush blueberry, and the outhouse. Playing in the woods was a blast. Hide-and-seek, cowboys and Indians, chasing squirrels; it was all fun and games for us, even using the outhouse.

Meanwhile, my father and the other adults were usually making repairs, doing maintenance, or sitting around telling stories. I don’t remember staying there overnight more than twice, though. It really wasn’t my place. But it almost was my home, or so I heard.

My mother once told me about a time early in their marriage when she and my father planned a home on a piece of property there. One parcel was allotted to my dad, and he had cared for it from the time he was a teenager. They planned to build and had the property surveyed, then had an architect draw up the plans for a center-chimney Cape Cod house.

When it came time to take care of the deed, something went wrong. Apparently the division of the land was unsettled. Someone was unhappy. My father, being a peaceful soul, walked away from his plan to build there. My mother was more of a fighter. She got angry. That wasn’t the first time or the last she felt betrayed. Before their fifth wedding anniversary they had split up over his acquiescence.

I have wondered about that scenario. What if they had built a house there and had a second child as they had planned? Would they have stayed? Would I have grown up in Hadlyme? It sounds idyllic. But that idea leads to others.

The town of Lyme became the epicenter for the epidemic of Lyme disease. Might I have been that child so horribly affected by the earliest cases, back before they knew what it was? I grew up not far from there, but I never had the disease as a kid. I tested positive for the antibodies a few years ago, but no telling how long I carried it.

Those are strange thoughts, I know. Isn’t it strange the path our minds take? Almost as strange as life. They finally split the property in Hadlyme up, with my father, his brother, and a cousin each getting a parcel of about two acres. My uncle built his retirement home there. My father’s cousin did, too. They call it Honey Hill, now. The term Hadlyme has passed out of use.

My father never built on his piece. Things went differently for him. I recently learned that my dad sold his lot. Although it stayed in the family, his children didn’t hear about the sale until a year afterward. I guess it doesn’t matter. It was never my place.

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