by Amy Lignor of The Write Companion
Growing up in the Litchfield Hills I was an avid audience to a great many humorous moments. I was part of a wonderful family, living in horrific winter weather that made me feel like I was constantly starring in Kramer vs. Kramer, in a small unheard-of New England town. This community was filled with people who, depending on the day, would laugh together, cry together, or gossip behind your back so badly that it felt a lot like Freddy Krueger was behind you shoving his knives into the back of your skull. I know…I know…it sounds just like a Little House on the Prairie episode, doesn’t it?. But…hey, that was our perfect Norman Rockwell world.
One of the most abundant things we had in our small town was pretension. And this pretension usually came from the influx of outsiders who descended on our quiet town on the weekends. Our lovely visitors were the type of people who had their noses so far up in the air that it gave them whiplash when they had to unlock the doors on their Cadillac’s.
The Deep South always refers to our slice of the country as Yankees. Setting the record straight, there is only one state that can actually claim Yankee-‘dom,’ and that’s Connecticut. Our neighbors are The Northerners, but the Connecticut Yankees own the title. You know? The ones that England let out of prison and sent across the Atlantic on really big ships that were ready to spring a leak? I guess that’s how our state became so pretentious. We apparently survived that Mayflower trip, and the ones who decided to form Connecticut made sure that they were the one-and-only Yankees. (New York only has the team).
Now, infiltrators of Yankee-‘dom’ were the wealthy weekenders who’d bought the million-dollar homes in order to escape all the trials of the Big City. There, in the lush, green fairytale land the weekenders (and, in the fall, leaf-peekers) could walk through nature and feel as if they were a true part of “country life.” Who knew that they would also bring all their little quirks with them that changed Yankee-‘dom’ to Yankee-‘dumber.’
When I walked to the “Big House” Friday nights with my Dad as he was “readying” the mansion for the arrivals of the royalty, I was always amazed by the “new” things that’d appeared from the weekend before. One of the most amazingly grotesque sites I will ever see - even if I take up the job of serial killer - was the interior decorator skills of the mansion’s female occupant. She’d decided to cover the dining-room walls with a highly-expensive wallpaper that can only be purchased from a very prestigious company located across the pond. The wallpaper was an ode to the very British sport of fox hunting. Each and every panel showed majestic riders atop beautiful animals who looked like they could escort the Queen’s carriage, or carry Heathcliff across the moor. This sounds elegant for a dining room…aye? Well…the artist - let’s just nickname him The Ripper - wished very much to drive the point of fox-hunting home, and made sure that on each horse was the body of a very cute and cuddly fox. There was no sign of a serene smile as if he’d passed through Heaven’s gate and was now prancing in the field beside St. Francis. No, no. These foxes were shredded to within an inch of their lives; bloody entrails spewed out of them like lava from Mount Vesuvius.
The owner came to my mother and complained that her guests wouldn’t eat a thing when they sat at her dinner table. All they seemed to want to do was stay in the den and get loaded. Hmmm…I wonder why? Was all of small-town Connecticut suddenly on a diet? Or, was it simply the fact that it’s hard to choke down food when staring at a massacre. I have a feeling it would be a lot like being invited to The Ripper’s final kill, and having him offer you tea and crumpets to dine on while enjoying the one-of-a-kind performance.
One weekend a beautiful table appeared in the front hall under the chandelier. Remember that part…a massive, bright chandelier hung above the table. This gorgeous piece of furniture rivaled that of any Stickley in existence. (No, not sickly - we’ve left the dining room.) The owner felt the need to put a lamp on the table, but seeing the cord was out of the question. It would look tacky. (Hello?? Dining room??) So she drilled a hole straight through the center of the table - turning the hundred-thousand dollar antique into an item that wouldn’t go for more than two dollars on Cash in the Attic. Heck, even Pawn Stars would’ve laughed this one out the door…and they buy everything! Why would you even need a lamp with the chandelier up above? Just another one of those quirks, I suppose.
The outside also took a beating. The man of the house was an older, mature individual who liked to play country farmer. One day he decided to plant flowers in one of the fields. He could never understand why they didn’t grow. My father understood. After all, when you plant bulbs upside down growing tends not to be an option. He also decided to buy a truck. This was the truck of a twenty-year-old boy who desperately wanted to mud ‘bog,’ drink beer, and pick-up chicks in order to show them how well he could belch the alphabet. Suffice to say this brilliant businessman wasn’t extremely adept at the way water congeals with soil. He learned this when he drove his truck across the lawn and, when the wheels started to spin, hit the gas harder. He ended up completely upset and a bit confused by the huge gouges that appeared in his well-manicured property. Dad got the tractor and pulled him out.
Cooking skills were also a bit frightening. (You can’t blame them really, their chef was an hour away by train). When Thanksgiving came round one year the woman of the house purchased a twenty-eight pound turkey and wondered aloud if a couple of hours would do the trick. Considering her guests would be sitting in the “killer” dining room to eat the raw bird, salmonella would probably have been a gift. The ambulance would have offered them a much quicker exit.
Don’t get me wrong, some rich knew their limitations and simply hired the right people to take care of things. Others I am truly grateful for, because some of the funniest lessons in life came from their attempts at good-old country living. Nowadays people consider the rich to be the Housewives of Beverly Hills, but diamonds were definitely not what we saw. No matter how you look at it, being a true Connecticut Yankee is fascinating. Our so-called pretension is actually just good-old American sarcasm, honed by the weekenders who were kind enough to share their real wealth. Good, old-fashioned, stupidity.
Next Week: From the Mouths of Babes