4 Stony Brook, 5 Golden Rings

It was always a tense moment.

We gathered in the cozy living room of the Bacharachs’ house on Stony Brook Road. We’d caught up on each other’s lives, had a bit of food, sung a few warm-up Christmas carols.

Now it was time for “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Slips of paper would be passed out. Which “day” would you get?

There were a few dozen of us — old and young, relatives and friends, from near and far — but 12 days is a lot. Each of us would have only 3 or 4 other singers to help out.

All ages gathered at the Bacharachs' house for the annual carol sing. This photo is from the early 1970s.

All ages gathered at the Bacharachs’ house for the annual carol sing. This photo is from the 1970s.

If you were a good singer — and many of the Bacharachs and their guests were — you were happy to get the 1st day: “a partridge in a pear tree.” Another prize was “5 golden rings.” You could draw that one out like Enrico Caruso.

I love music. Unfortunately, my voice does not. I always hoped for “12 drummers drumming.” Inevitably, I got “2 turtle doves.”

I thought of all that recently, when a group of former Bacharach carol singers got together. I was with some storied Westport names — Anne Leonard Hardy, Suzanne Sherman Propp — and the more we chatted, the more we realized those holiday gatherings were more than just a fond memory.

They were transformative moments in our lives.

The Bacharachs' library, where generations gathered to sing. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

The Bacharachs’ library, where generations gathered to sing. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

It wasn’t just the warmth of the Bacharachs’ home — a 1796 farmhouse with a 3-sided fireplace in one of the oldest sections of town, that could have come right out of colonial New England central casting.

It wasn’t the warmth of the annual holiday party either, with its cherished traditions: the smiling patriarch Jim Bacharach leading everyone in song; his wife, the equally delightful DoDo, carving up ham and ladling out egg nog; the tree in the same spot every year, unchanging amid the turbulence of the world around.

And it wasn’t the guest list: the Bacharachs’ friends and neighbors; their 5 kids’ friends; girlfriends, boyfriends, college friends — the more the merrier. Jim and DoDo embraced them all.

DoDo Bacharach

DoDo Bacharach

All those memories came flooding back, as Anne and Suzanne and a few others talked. But it was something else that made those particular carol sings such a powerful piece of our past.

Among the folks always in the Bacharachs’ home were adults we knew from Staples High School: teachers we admired and respected. Phil Woodruff, the next door neighbor. Dick Leonard. Dave and Marianne Harrison. All were there, year after year.

At first we were a little intimidated by them. Singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” with the same people who handed out homework and gave us grades was — different. But socializing with those adults in that way made us feel a bit like adults too.

As we grew up, we grew in other ways. We graduated from Staples, and entered college. Returning to the Bacharachs’ for the carol sing, we had new things to talk about. We told them what we were studying. We offered our opinions. We were probably a bit pretentious, but our former teachers listened.

Relating with them on that level validated us. Those adult-type conversations — respectful, honest, about real issues — were some of the first times I felt like an adult myself.

At the same time, as I looked around at the many “kids” there, I saw younger versions of myself. I realized I had once been like them. For the first time I understood what it meant to grow up. I recognized with clarity that at that point, my life was poised between my past and my future.

As we moved on into the “real world” — with real jobs — we kept returning to that carol sing. Now we were the adults. The Bacharachs, Leonards, Shermans and others got married, and started families. And every year, they brought their own children to the annual Christmas party.

The Bacharachs' next door neighbor John Woodruff, with his young daughter Emily.

The Bacharachs’ next door neighbor John Woodruff, with his young daughter Emily at the carol sing.

The Bacharach carol sing is no more. Sadly, the house was torn down, replaced by something far less warm and much less meaningful.

But the memories remain, as strong as ever. It was a joy to share those memories the other day, with good friends who remember those great days.

Something else is strong too: My sense of self, nurtured so lovingly by those adults years ago, when I was a teenager trying to figure the world out.

Over ham, over egg nog — and yes, over the dreaded “12 Days of Christmas” — I tasted Westport at its best.

28 responses to “4 Stony Brook, 5 Golden Rings

  1. Thank you Dan for posting this beautiful memory of Christmas past and a treasured Westport family.

  2. Some wonderful writing there, Dan.

  3. Warren Shapiro

    Another great great Westport story Dan! Happy holidays to you! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Dan. Great story. It’s nice to be transported to another time even if only for a few minutes. Great memories.

  5. Won the town championship in flag football with Charlie Bacharach. Did some work landscaping on his parents house. Wonderful people.

  6. Chip Stephens - Staples 73

    I remember a few of those Christmas parties, the warmth of the house and the friends that gathered. It was a tradition that my late wife was in awe of coming from Queens, NY, I remember her look as if she had entered a live version of a Wonderful Life. Karen loved Westport, the beach, the downtown, but her fondest and often spoken favorite love of Westport was the Bacharach gatherings at Christmas.

  7. What a great post, about all kinds of great people. I have to point out that the Bacharachs have made their mark on Westport throughout the year. The family shelter at Homes with Hope, the Bacharach Community, is named for Jim, a founder of this Agency. And DoDo was a founder of the Community Kitchen. She still provides meals to our residents at the Gillespie Center, as do other Town citizens 365 days a year. Thanks, Dan for great memories.

  8. Peter Schwartz

    The house was torn down??? Good grief.

  9. The house is gone and yet it lives on. Thanks so much, Dan, Anne and Suzanne for remembering with such fondness. It started as just a kids party and grew to be an annual reunion with friends and good cheer. My dad would be so pleased that this tradition is remembered. And while my mom thinks that it was not a big deal, I know this will make her smile.

  10. Dolores Bacharach

    Oh Dan,such lovely words and such kindness in sharing your own memories and process. I know Jim and I always so blessed to have all of you be part of our lives. Yes, I did smile and got a bit choked up too. It’s that time of the year.

  11. What a meaningful story, Dan.

    Slightly bittersweet too.

    I’m sure the Bacharachs had their reasons – and I fully respect and support those as it was their property – but there’s a reasonably easy way to insure that historic structures remain out of the landfill. And it’s free. I wonder if anyone ever alerted them to that option.

    On the other hand, I guess it’s moot as the place which had been the embodiment of all those important memories, milestones and history is now lying in a landfill.

    Although I’d likely require heavy sedation to view such precious images of a place like theirs knowing that there’s no going home, they’ve probably taken the more healthy approach and are sustained by shared experience of all that happened at 4 Stony Brook.

    I hope that’s the case. Thanks for sharing this.

    • The house was sold to a family who claimed they “loved the house”, rather than to a developer who offered more on the promise that it would live on. We were stunned to discover the house would be torn down. Verbal promises are unfortunately not worth the paper they are not written on.

      • I’m deeply sorry to learn of this, Ann.

        The exact same thing happened to a friend when he sold his lovely Craftsman style house over on Maplewood. That story ended up on 06880.

        As we share your view of verbal promises, my wife and I set out to landmark our antique house in Westport some years ago. The funny thing is that when we told our surrounding neighbors of our plans, they wanted in. So now we have this little historic district which, God willing, will keep the developers – and the insincere – at bay for all time.

        None of this, of course, will make you feel any better about 4 Stony Brook. However, you and your family seem to have an embarrassment of riches in the house/memory department. As it happens, Victor Frankel wrote a moving and deeply personal book about the power of memory and its ability sustain us in the face of loss. But I don’t think you’ll need that.

        I sense you already know.

        Merry Christmas.

  12. You really brought it all back, Dan. Thanks for capturing so eloquently. The warmth and spirit in the Bacharach home at that time of year was magical. We were a very lucky group.

  13. My dad is smiling and, as noted above, so’s my mom. Thanks for this fantastic Christmas gift! BTW, you’ll always have a rich baritone in my memories.

  14. Denning Chambers

    Very nice

    Sent from my iPad


  15. Dan. Well written as usual!

  16. Thanks for the memories, Dan! You’ve set my pipers piping.

  17. Beautiful, Dan. Thank you so much. I miss Westport and cherish the memories. It’s cold out here in Drumpf land (KC MO). Recollections like these help.

  18. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    I can picture this perfectly, especially you singing whatever part you were given! It’s a wonderful memory and we thank you for bringing it to life for us. Merry Christmas, Dan!

  19. Carla Hendrickson Bacharach

    Dan, rest assured we still sing the the 12 Days of Christmas but Pipers or Drummers go for about 20 bucks. Beautiful article, thank you.

  20. Such precious memories of the Christmas Sing and my “second” family. Talk about a family that embraced us all with open hearts. Wow. I still feel connected to each of the Bacharachs. Thank you for that gift! Hugs to one and all!

  21. Prill Plantinga Boyle '72

    What a wonderful story, heart-warming story, Dan! Thank you!

  22. Hi Dan:: Since I missed the original Christmas Story publication, I’m late to the comment section but I have to confirm both to those who were there and to those who experience it only through your prose that you are a marvelous writer. You’ve captured Christmas, the loving Jim and Dodo, their children, and all the singers filled with joy and some fear as you well note. That which I’d forgotten is once more alive because of you.

    • THANKS, Dick! But I should mention — both for the record, and because I am so proud of the fact — that as my AP English teacher in 12th grade at Staples High School, you had a tremendous influence on me, as both a writer and person. If I’ve never said thank you for that: Well, it’s never too late. Thank you, sir!

  23. And, the Bowen’s would walk over from across the street! My Dad amongst the worst carolers! Merry Christmas to the Bacharach, and Mrs B ” thanks for baking brownies for all those decades. Love, Ez

  24. Sharon Paulsen

    Merry Christmas 06880’ers!

    Just wanted to mention how much I enjoyed this article, Dan!!

    Too bad their charming home is gone.

    Thanks! 🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

  25. Jeanie Bacharach Burke

    Thank you so very much, Dan,for this beautiful article and for being such an important part of this special time in our home. It’s so nice to hear that it was as meaningful and still holds a special place in other people’s hearts as much as it does to all us Bacharach’s. This will be one of the most cherished Christmas gifts we, as a family, receive this year.