Westport’s Thanksgiving Miracle

Last week — a few days before Thanksgiving — this poignant post appeared on Facebook’s “Exit 18: Westport CT Residents and Ex-Residents” page:

My name is Effie and I grew up at 28 Hillspoint Road, where the Conservative Synagogue is now.

They are demolishing the house I grew up in in the next day or two… and I am hundreds of miles away. I wonder if there is anyone there locally who would be kind enough to go by the house and take some pictures, today possibly, before it comes down, and when it’s being taken down.

I grew up there with my brother Alex, who passed away 12 years ago in a car crash. All of our memories are in that house. I have tried for months to get the synagogue to allow me to retrieve some things from the house, to no avail. They said they would get me a door knob and send it to me.

I am devastated and would just like someone who cares, to try and take pictures of the house… before and during demolition. I can’t make it down for a couple of weeks and they didn’t let me know until the last minute. I don’t wish this on anyone. Thank you for your time and understanding. Effie

Effie posted this photo of her old Hillspoint Road home.

Comments poured in. Jeff Van Gelder remembered delivering the Town Crier newspaper to that house. He wished he could help — but he now lives in Germany.

Carmine Picarello lives just 10 minutes away. Unfortunately, he’s currently in San Francisco.

Janette Kinally jumped in. She offered to stop by and take photos.

Other readers added memories or sent condolences. A few others said they’d help too.

Inspired, Effie added more information about her house.

It was built by her great-aunt Frances Humphrey in the 1920s. One of the first women to graduate from Columbia Medical School and never married, she traveled the world alone, bringing much of what she found back to Westport. The hearthstone in the living room is solid jade, from one of her many steamship trips to Japan

“All going to turn to dust,” Effie lamented. “I’m not ok with it, and there is no way to stop it or salvage anything. I tried. It’s not been a good experience. Very disappointed. We all know the drill. It stinks. Thank you for understanding. It means a lot to me.”

Effie and her brother Alex.

Touched by the offers to help, she wrote:

Even with the sad things going on, the kindness and understanding I have received from all of you kind people has helped me tremendously, and I will never forget your kindness. Ever.

It’s not the items so much as the love attached to them. You have turned something sad into something very special and positive. I don’t know how to thank you, except know that I will keep your kindness with me, and pay it forward.

Two days later, Effie wrote again. This time she said:

I received a call from the synagogue this morning. They had tried to reach me yesterday as well.

We, myself and the Conservative Synagogue, are equally impressed, deeply moved, and extremely touched, by the outpouring of love, from the people of Westport.

This is a picture of a board from the attic of the house, that I apparently wrote on, years ago. The rabbi took it upon himself to go into the attic last night and remove it for me. Other members went in and took out quite a few other items, that are there for me to pick up in 2 weeks when I come down to Connecticut. They also had a professional photographer take pictures for me, and took video.

The items from the home are now a bonus. The selflessness and the genuine love, that has come out of the situation, is priceless. As are our collective memories. These are the things we need to hold onto the tightest, and value the most, always. I know I will. Thanks to every single one of you kind and selfless souls, who took the time to comment, take pictures, send me kind and supportive messages, and retrieve items from my childhood and family home. The LOVE I feel, coming from my home town, brings me to tears. Happy and grateful tears. 

The Thanksgiving miracle happened just in time. Two days after her original post, Effie noted:

It’s down. It’s done. The house is gone. I can live with that, knowing how many people will keep and cherish their own memories of 28 Hillspoint Road, my brother Alex, and our family. There is no other way I can really thank you all, other than to say, THANK YOU, from myself and my parents.

I heard from a friend, that Westport has had some internal friction in recent years, because of the school situation. I hope this experience brought some of those people together, who otherwise might be at odds. I also hope that tomorrow, everyone will be giving thanks for the things we have, that aren’t things. Most of all each other.

I love Westport, because of the people, who call, and have called this very special town, “home.” You are all now family to me.

Our LOVE, and deep gratitude, to you ALL. — Effie, and the Watts family.

(Hat tip: Mark Potts)

10 responses to “Westport’s Thanksgiving Miracle

  1. Wonderful ending to a story that could have started so very differently had the synagogue behaved properly the first place, responding to Effie’s request far more generously.
    What a shame that a religious outfit caused Effie all that emotional turmoil, and how uplifting it is that Westporters not only stepped to the plate, but did so in a way that made the Rabbi see the light.

  2. Lovely story. You’re a marvel, Dan. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks, Jill, but I had nothing to do with this beyond reporting it. It’s a real Westport story. It takes a village, and I’m proud of ours!

  3. this story embodies the reason to join “Save Westport Now”.
    It’s about the community, not the politics or religions. It’s started bi-partisan and will always remain that way. If it wasn’t for the people of Westport we would not be reading this heartfelt story of what matters…it’s the people.(Dan especially included)

    • Cheryl McKenna

      Well said Mark ! I loved this story and wish people like her could move back here. I know we have some fabulous humans here but I keep running into the hurried selfish ones lately 😜

  4. This was a beautiful read to end a weekend of gratitude. Thanks for sharing, Dan.

  5. The Watts family is where we got our beloved yellow lab puppy, Polly. She was the only female and was already spoken for by a professional couple in the city. When they found out we lived on Bradley St., had a fenced in yard, and met my 6 yr old son, Cal, who let the puppies run all over him while he laughed, they changed their minds instantly. We are forever grateful as Polly lived to age 15 healthy and loved in Westport. I remember that handsome house and later became a 7 year member of the Historic District Commission. So it pains me to hear that it came down, no matter what the reason. Glad that there was some resolution w/ townspeople jumping in to salvage memories. Hold fast to your soul dear Westport!

  6. Holly W. Schwartztol

    Just saw this thread. I, too, felt this shattering when my parent’s house at 40 Danbury Avenue suffered damage from hurricane Sandy. (We’d sold the house in 2010 following my mother’s death on 2009). I’ve never seen the house which replaced ours. But, after more than 60 years of ownership by my family, the thought of it’s demolition is still chilling.

  7. Thank you so much Dan! The emotional response, to wanting to save some memories from our family home, has far surpassed the value of any physical objects that exist in this world. The LOVE, and the compassion, shown to me and my family, by the PEOPLE of WESTPORT, truly embodies the town I remember, the people I love, and the way life should be. We all need reminders, especially in this busy world, with so much uncertainty. It’s amazing, and very comforting, to know we can call on our fellow Westporter’s, at any time from anywhere in the world, and get the love and help we need. There is no greater gift, in this life. My warmest regards and LOVE to everyone! Blessed Holidays to ALL. Effie

    • Britt E. Anderson

      Effie, I am sure you don’t remember me, b/c you were about the age in the picture above, but I used to babysit you and Alex. I am devastated to read of his passing and of the house being demolished. The house was a Westport gem. I admit that being there alone with two young children late at night was a bit freaky, and I used to hide in the kitchen watching TV, but I loved that house and the history that it held. And, I may be one of not many that knows Effie is for Frances Elizabeth. Know that I hold you in my heart. Britt Anderson (50 Hillspoint Road).