Tag Archives: James Bacharach

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.

4 Stony Brook

For many years — as a teenager, and on through my 20s — Christmas carols at the Bacharachs were a cherished holiday ritual. Longtime Westport families like the Shermans and Leonards gathered at 4 Stony Brook to sing, eat and share in the warmth of the season.

DoDo Bacharach (Photo/Robert Colameco)

The warmth came both from the cozy, 18th century home and the family that lived there. James and DoDo Bacharach were committed Westport volunteers (the Bacharach Community emergency shelter homes on Wassell Lane are named for them), who raised 5 caring, compassionate children.

But the kids are long grown, and DoDo is moving to a smaller home. She and her children tried everything they knew, but 4 Stony Brook — a lovely home in the beautiful Old Hill section of town — may soon become a teardown.

DoDo’s grandson Dan Colameco wrote this tribute to the house he loved on his blog:

It was built in 1796.

A light blue farm house perched at the top of a hill. The family that built it owned the small farm encased by a stone fence. And there it sat for years, a picture of colonial New England.

The house survived the decades that passed, the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a Civil War, an industrial revolution, a great depression, and 2 world wars.

Then one day, a young couple pulled in its driveway.

And roughly 150 years after it was built, this young couple would be just the 3rd family in a line to own the house. A husband and wife from Manhattan, with 4 young kids and 1 soon to join. A mother and father. A businessman and a social worker. A World War II veteran, and a survivor of the Great Depression.

My grandparents.

And this house they would call home for over 6 decades. They raised 5 children in it. The house saw countless birthdays, Christmas singalongs, the passing of its male owner, and the birth of his 13 grandchildren.

Low beams lend intimacy to the interior. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

Which is where my part in the story picks up.

I should start by noting that my grandmother, after decades of ownership, has sold the house. After 27 years, and countless holidays and celebrations, I’ve spent my last nights under its roof.

There will be no more nights spent in these bedrooms. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

And while this could easily be a story about the injustice of wealthy out-0f-towners pillaging and converting what once was a quiet town dotted with historically rich homes into a developer’s wet dream, and one-upsmanships of who can build the next house the biggest, it’s not.

This is instead a love story.

A story about a house.

Although this house was constructed 186 years before I was born, in my mind  it seems to have grown up along with me.

The kitchen first began as a maze of legs and feet, where giants roamed around in the forms of my aunts and uncles. The kitchen later served covert missions to raid ice cream containers after parents went to bed. One night not long ago I sat at the kitchen table for the first time with my girlfriend.

Countless conversations took place around the kitchen table. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

The “toy room” upstairs, the converted bedroom, was the closest thing we had to the Wild West. It was far removed from the rule of law, and parental supervision. Anything could go: knee soccer matches, pillow fights, epic fort construction to make Frank Lloyd Wright proud. The room once held the giggles of playing children, replaced by silence as teenage cousins slept long into the 11 a.m. hour.

The library held the flickering images of baseball games playing to a room full of adult male eyes, and 1 pair of kid’s: mine. I sat on the carpet, doing my best to echo the cheers of a game too complicated for me to understand. This same library last weekend held another group of adult eyes, as the sons of these men sat together in front of an updated television screen.

The library at 4 Stony Brook Rd. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

The dining room table saw it all: Thanksgivings, Christmases, and each breakfast, lunch and dinner in between. The table held a birthday cake as a man, his body hijacked by Parkinson’s, blew out candles.  Damp-eyed onlookers clapped, while the young onlooker in the corner knew he would never forget the moment. At the same table crowded bodies hung on each word of the warm, smiling white-haired lady as she recounted a first meeting with a young naval veteran on the corner of 43rd and Lexington.

Most of this has little relevance to you. Still, there is one last part of this house I’d like to talk about. It’s the part of the house that tells its story better than I could ever hope to.

Flat, rectangular stones serve as the sides of 3 walls that wrap around the heart of the house. But it isn’t a wall at all. It’s a giant fireplace. There are  3 separate openings, and the 2nd floor looks the same. In 1797 the fireplace was built to heat the entire house.

At the center of this house, its heart spread warmth as far as it could.

The beloved fireplace. (Photo/Robert Colameco)

Over the course of this final weekend at a house I’ve always known, I kept thinking of that old quote: “You can never go home again.”

I kept thinking how I never understood it. It never made sense to me.

I never realized why until just this second.

The reason I never understood this quote is because I could never relate to it.

Because how could I ever go home again, when thanks to its warmth, I never left.

(Photo/Robert Colameco)