Little Cottage, Big Memories

Much as many of us mock Facebook — even as we check it many times a day — it’s a great place for interesting info. There’s a lot more there than cat photos, or rants and raves about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The other day, Jerri Graham posted these beautiful thoughts:

When we first moved to Westport from Taiwan, we lived in a little cottage on the corner of Main Street and Wild Rose. One bedroom separated by a curtain, a bathroom that had more mold than tiles, and a dusty loft that I fashioned into a bedroom for my then 6-year old. She was young and small enough that I could pass off living in a storage area as cool.

We lived there for almost 4 years. It wasn’t perfect, totally overpriced, and falling apart in so many places, but it was home and part of the tradeoff of living in a town like Westport.

I wonder who purchased the big house and the little cottage where we once lived. Bob, the aging ladies’ man of a hair stylist, occupied the main house on the property. With a silver ponytail that smelled of his scented oil, he always embraced me warmly.

He moved when they sold the house a year or so ago. I’ve seen him occasionally, and am so grateful for his time in my life.

Jerri Graham's cottage, on Main Street at Wild Rose Lane.

Jerri Graham’s cottage, on Main Street at Wild Rose Road.

In this cottage my world came together and fell apart a dozen or so times. In the little kitchen, I baked my first muffins after waking up at 3 a.m. with a desire to start a business.

I tested my first granola bar recipes here, figuring out ratios and baking until I went to my real job in the morning (kale granola is not a good idea, especially when it burns in the oven of a small kitchen).

I cried a lot in this cottage. For example, when I realized I hadn’t chosen the ideal spouse, feared being homeless, and longed to escape all of the pain in my life. In the driveway, I found out my childhood best friend had killed himself. I sat kicking gravel for an hour after trying to wrap my head around it all.

There were slumber parties where 7-year olds managed to laugh, play, and have fun. There was an annual ball drop from the loft/bedroom on New Year’s Eve. There were neighbors on this street I still know and speak with regularly who will always be a part of my life in Westport.

Every day I drive or walk by this little bit of my history. I’m excited and hopeful for whoever moves into this property that they’ll have nothing but happiness there.

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23 responses to “Little Cottage, Big Memories

  1. A wonderfully spare and bittersweet sketch. And a reminder that, in many ways, houses and other structures become the repositories of our stories. As it happens, this little cottage lies within the bounds of a Local Historic District. So whatever its next chapter looks like, it and its embedded history will be safe.

  2. Elaine Clayton

    Beautiful and inspiring. Thank you, now I’ll think of you and your daughter and the way you expressed gratitude for life while there and how movingly you expressed the range of emotions through your reflections when I pass by this cottage.

  3. I think it would look good painted pink….wonder why?

  4. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    Wonderful, beautiful and inspiring have already been used and all are appropriate. I am in awe of one who can use words so expressively and purposefully and give an insight into their lives. Westport is full of awe inspiring stories and people who have made the town such a wonderful place to call home. I hope more people will be inspired to tell their stories and continue to inspire us. Having started life on Violet Lane and then grown up on Calumet Road this precious little cottage is near and dear to my heart. I am pleased that it is with in the bounds of one of the Historic Districts.

  5. I think of you every time I drive by. I am Emily’s mom form the Y after school program. I am so excited for and proud of you for your outlook, and subsequent success with your wonderful granola company! The person who lived there most recently would paint the window boxes for every holiday and season. The decorations were nothing short of gleeful! It’s sad to see it sitting there empty. I hope a new tenant will come along to give it life again!
    Continued success to you Jerri!
    Tracy Flood

  6. Beautiful story of a wonderful person. Thanks for sharing Jerri

  7. Nancy Hunter

    A prize-worthy story.

  8. Jerri, wonderful prose like this makes me hunger for more. The fact that you have shared YOURSELF with such grace makes it even more powerful. You caught me during a break from work and made my entire day. Peace to you in the midst of your continuing journey. May you generate many more lines for all of us to enjoy.

  9. Yes, this is part of the Gorham Avenue Historic District. I believe it was once a butcher shop, or shop of another kind.

    • I believe you are correct John, this little cottage is actually a repurposed commercial building (trigger alert for current RTM members: the next sentence contains a brief reference to Westport history and may produce feelings of rage and shortness of breath). I might have it wrong but my recollection is that it was once a pharmacy.

  10. Wendy Crowther

    I’m fairly certain that the new owners of this property appeared before town approval bodies this past fall or winter. As I recall, the improvements proposed by the architect/builder were sensitive to the cottage’s historic past. They included an addition to the rear of the cottage to gently enlarge it (these changes would be invisible from the Main Street elevation and were in keeping with its historic style).

    In the photo posted above, you can see what looks like a backhoe in the rear. I suspect the changes are underway.

    This is a great example of the benefits of local historic designation. This cottage (and the stories it contains) can be given a new lease on life with the sensitive and appropriate addition of modern conveniences, yet also historically preserved. For someone who can’t afford a Westport McMansion, this cottage will also provide an affordable home.

    Thank you, Jerri, for sharing your moving story with us, and thank you, Dan, for providing the forum.

  11. Very nice story Jerri! You are still a great neighbor who makes some amazing granola bars!

  12. Kathy Calise

    it actually was Westport’s first meat market

  13. Tammy Pincavage

    Being grateful! Xo

    Sent from my iPhone


  14. Miss Summ’s cottage! She taught 3rd grade at Bedford El in 1968/69 (& possibly afterward). I adored her! She rented this tiny house from where she walked the few blocks to and from school (in the current Town Hall building). She was a very young recent university graduate who brought new (then) teaching concepts of student participation into her classes – for example making a fictional film with us within her classroom. (I still have a photo from that week).This was really unusual because unlike more progressive schools like Coleytown (where I had attended first grade) Bedford was a very traditional New England Yankee school where the desks were in long rows – we learned math by drill – that ‘z’ was ‘zed’ and were taught the Virginia Reel & the Minuet in gym class (in the late 60s!). For perspective: my second grade teacher was in her sixties and had been teaching there since the 1920s – beginning at age eighteen – after she had graduated high school. Hence Miss Summ was said to have studied “new” progressive teaching theories. She dressed like a Mod w/ black curly hair & short but very proper navy frocks & white tights.The cottage was yellow then – as it was throughout the 60s – 70s & 80s. (I wish it still was). It was always one of my favourite Westport structures/places. I LOVE that little house… and other tiny traditional capes locally – that are frequently demolished with zero outcry from anyone.

  15. I had Miss Summ in 3rd grade. She was young and beautiful and a great teacher. We shared the same birthday and i remember going downtown and buying her a little gold locket (i think from Country Gal) for her birthday. Always think of her when i drive by that little place.

    • Seth – After seeing your comment in response to mine I sent an email to your shop a few hours ago. (If you are still there… ? If not – please ask them to forward it). As happens you knew me by another of my names in childhood. We were classmates & I’ve sent you a question about another classmate & friend of yours. xxx

      • PS > Seth: My mother bought a little printed apron for me to give to Miss Summ for Xmas. (& I think had me bring her an iconic gift of an apple on the first day of school). I’m sure she must have fancied your gift of a gold locket more!

  16. Laura Nissim

    As always my friend you say it beautifully.

  17. Well, there you have it. It turns out that a tiny, re-purposed roadside store has been silently holding all these various narratives. And those are just the ones we’ve recently learned about here. This is why preservationists often say that the effort to save this or that starts with the structure – but that in the end it’s really about the people associated with those buildings and the stories they have to tell. They enrich our own lives by helping us understand a little bit more about the evolution of our community and the meaning behind the things we see in our everyday lives. That’s living history.

    • I was thinking the very same thing! I was going to add it to my earlier post: Without this tiny cottage being available for rent (at a reasonable rate) these two young women a teacher and a baker – would not have been able to devote their efforts toward the education & health & happiness of Westport children over many years. It illustrates how REALLY important it is that these tiny capes & cottages are preserved as well as larger structures – not only for the charm they add to the streetscape – but for the people they bring to & retain in the community. It also illustrates how much they are loved by long time locals who remember the people who inhabited them as homes vs. simply buildings on real estate parcels.

  18. Ah, Jerri, I remember so clearly the day my friend and her wee 6-year-old daughter arrived at JFK from Taiwan. We’d been friends online for a couple of years and when you wanted to move back to the States, it was so natural to say, “Come stay with Ken and me for a while.” During that 2 1/2 months from May 2007 (so Catherine could start kindergarten at Long Lots School, where I’d gone to Junior High) until you found this precious cottage, it was wonderful to see you and Cat blossom. I loved the cottage (even hearing about the mold and problems you had) because I loved the two occupants!

  19. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    Hi Jerri, I too fell for the great charm of the small cottage, when I lived in another small house at the top of Wild Rose Road in 1977-8. I pictured it as a possible writer’s or artist’s studio! Over the years, it has fascinated me. I was aware that it was once either a butcher shop or apothecary store. Someone occupied it recently and had decorated it for each seasonal change.How great that you created your dream business there! An