Tag Archives: Linda Gramatky Smith

Moving Closer To The Kids

It was a tough move.

In 2016 Linda Gramatky Smith and her husband Ken sold their Roseville Road house. They’d lived there since 1993. And — from 1946 until she headed off to college — Linda grew up there.

It’s not just any house. Warm and comfortable, it’s got artistic bones. Her father, Hardie Gramatky, wrote and illustrated Little Toot, the beloved children’s classic, there. Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists.

The Smiths headed — a bit reluctantly — to New Jersey. They wanted to be closer to their widowed daughter, and her kids.

Two years later, all is well.

A story set for publication in Sunday’s New York Times real estate section — “The New Retirement: Near the Kids” — features Linda, Ken, and their new lives at the Cedar Crest Retirement Community in Pompton Plains.

Linda and Ken Smith, in their New Jersey home. (Photo/Stefano Ukmar for the New York Times)

 The article says:

In an uncannily prescient move, Mr. Smith, now 85, had put down a refundable deposit at Cedar Crest more than a decade ago, just in case they ever wanted to move there.

Living in one of these communities, of course, is not cheap. The Smiths paid an entrance fee of about $500,000, and their monthly rent is $4,500, which is not unusual, according to the AARP. The organization estimates that entrance fees typically range from $100,000 to $1 million, and monthly rents can be anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.

For the Smiths, however, it was worth it. Ms. Smith, 75, was resistant at first about giving up their home, but did a “total 180,” she said, soon after moving in, not just because they were closer to their daughter and grandchildren, but because it had improved their quality of life.

She has returned to painting watercolors and is on the resident advisory council, and her husband sings in the chorale.

Linda and Ken’s many Westport friends will be heartened by the Times piece.

And, of course, New Jersey is not New Zealand. The Smiths return here often, for events and to see those friends.

One of their biggest concerns when they moved was that their house would be sold to someone who did not appreciate its history and livability.

It looks as good as ever.

60 Roseville Road — Ken and Linda Gramatky Smith’s beloved home.

60 Roseville Road: Another Historic Arts Home For Sale

Hot on the heels of 157 Easton Road — the former home of concert violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and his wife Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister) — another Westport property with a wonderful arts pedigree is on the market.

60 Roseville Road is listed on a state database of homes owned by famed children’s book authors and illustrators. From 1946 until his death 30 years later, Hardie Gramatky lived — and worked — there.

His name still resonates. In 2006, Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Decades after he wrote and illustrated Little Tootit remains a beloved classic.

The other day, Linda Gramatky Smith — the artist’s daughter — and her husband Ken sat in the light-filled home. They’ve lived there since 1993. Now they’re moving to New Jersey, to be closer to their daughter. They hope they can sell it to someone who cherishes its creative bones.

60 Roseville Road

60 Roseville Road

The house has had only one other owner. Joe Chapin — a famed New York art director — built it as a weekend place. When he died, his wife Henrietta moved to Imperial Avenue (where she lived with Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpies comic characters).

The Roseville Road house was rented out. In the mid-1940s, tenants wanted to buy but could not afford the asking price. So they refused to let potential purchasers inside.

Gramatky peered into the windows. He loved it — and bought it for $22,000.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Hardie Gramatky, Dorothea Cooke and their daughter Linda, during their early days in Westport.

Moving day was set for December 26, 1946. A huge snowstorm roared in a few days earlier. The tenants — still enraged at not being able to buy — turned off the heat, and opened the windows.

Realtor Muriel Baldwin drove by, and saw what was happening. “She saved the house,” Linda says gratefully 70 years later.

Gramatky quickly became part of Westport’s lively arts community. With Stevan Dohanos, he started a watercolor group. Howard Munce, Ward Brackett and others met monthly to chat, critique each other’s work, and socialize.

Gramatky created a “Little Toot” poster for the Westport Red Cross. He drew caricatures at the Yankee Doodle Fair, was a frequent elementary school classroom guest, and played in the popular fundraising “artists vs. writers” basketball games.

Gramatky’s wife, Dorothea Cooke, was a noted artist herself. She drew covers for magazines like Jack and Jill, and lived in the home until her death in 2001.

“They adopted the community. And the community adopted them,” Linda says.

Hardie Gramatky: "Compo Beach Figures"

“Compo Beach Figures,” by Hardie Gramatky

His home inspired his work. Gramatky could see Long Island Sound from an upstairs window, and painted that scene. Another work shows a boy and his beagle walking down Roseville Road — then just a country lane.

He painted the 1867 house across the street — owned for years by the Fonetlieu family — from many angles. Linda hung some of those works in her living room, next to windows with a view of that home.

The Gramatky house was a neighborhood gathering place. Kids played in the big yard, and sledded in winter. If they wandered into his studio, the artist let them paint. (Dorothea baked cookies for them.)

When Gramatky was dying of cancer, he spent much of his time in the warm sun porch.

Fellow illustrator Munce said in his eulogy, “Some artists go to France for inspiration. Hardie just looked out his windows, and painted those scenes.”

"Green's Farms Station," by Hardie Gramatky.

“Green’s Farms Station,” by Hardie Gramatky.

Linda looks around the house that she and Ken are selling. It has a long, rich history, and holds memories.

“It’s such a livable home,” she says. “I hope someone buys it who understands what it means, and wants to preserve it.”

Westport artist Hardie Gramatky donated this "Little Toot" book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Hardie Gramatky donated this “Little Toot” book cover to the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

Life On The Roseville Road Curve

The Roseville Road home is just about perfect. Built in 1923 on 2 acres of grass and woods, it’s handsome, welcoming and filled with love.

It’s where Linda Gramatky Smith grew up, and her father, Hardie Gramatky — painter/author/illustrator of “Little Toot” fame — worked. It’s where she and her husband Ken still live today.

Linda and Ken Smith's lovely Roseville Road home.

Linda and Ken Smith’s lovely Roseville Road home.

But no place is perfect.

Linda and Ken’s house sits on the dangerous curve, not far from the McDonald’s intersection at the Post Road. Time after time — often in snow, or at night — drivers end up on the front lawn. In the woods. Or through their stone wall.

Hardie Gramatky moved his family there in 1947. From then through his death in 1979, with unfortunate regularity, they heard the loud bang of a crash.

Homer Mills Sr. — a local mason — told Hardie that the stone wall was “my annuity.” Twice a year, he rebuilt it.

The stone wall after a recent accident. Drivers hit it when they fail to negotiate the southbound (toward McDonald's) curve.

The stone wall after a recent accident. Drivers hit it when they fail to negotiate the southbound (toward McDonald’s) curve.

The night Hardie collapsed — he’d just been honored by the American Watercolor Society — the wall was hit again. “This has not bee an good day,” the artist said. He died 2 days later.

In 1982, Linda moved with her mother to New Jersey. She and Ken bought the house, and for the next 11 years they rented it out. They were gone, but the accidents continued.

In 1994 — a year after the couple moved back here, and into their home — a 17-year-old speeder from Weston slammed into the post. His air bag saved his life. Linda and Ken got one for their own car.

A humorous plaque on the side of Linda and Ken Smith's house.

A humorous plaque on the side of Linda and Ken Smith’s house.

When Joe Arcudi — Linda’s 1960 Staples High School classmate — ran for 1st selectman, he promised to do something about the dangerous curve. (He recalled driving fast on the same “Rollercoaster Road” as a rite of passage in his own youth.)

After Arcudi was elected, he and Police Chief William Chiarenzelli met with Linda and Ken. They discussed a stop sign on nearby Colony Road, and a speed bump (there had been one a while earlier on Roseville near Whitney Street, but it was removed after a driver took it too fast and hit his head on his roof).

Ultimately, they settled on a couple of very large yellow signs with big arrows. Those have been a “significant help” in decreasing the number of accidents, Linda says.

But they have not stopped entirely. On Memorial Day morning in 2013, Linda drove out of her garage and felt a bump. It was a large rock.

Looking around, she spotted a car upside down near the woods. Fortunately, no one was still inside.

A Memorial Day accident 3 years ago put this car into the Smiths' woods.

A Memorial Day accident 3 years ago put this car into the Smiths’ woods.

A 23-year-old from Fairfield had flipped his car the night before, taking out a tree and pushing a rock toward the garage. He’d walked to McDonald’s, where a friend picked him up.

“His insurance company was great,” Linda says.

A couple of Sundays ago, at 12:15 a.m., Linda, Ken and their 9-year-old grandson heard a screech, then a crash.

This time, it was a 20-year-old Westporter. He was charged with traveling too fast, failure to stay in the proper lane, and operating a motor vehicle under suspension and without insurance.

The aftermath of the most recent crash.

The aftermath of the most recent crash.

“It’s no longer every 6 months. But it’s still very scary,” Linda says. “People travel too fast. We constantly worry that someone may die.”

“This house has been part of Linda’s family for almost 70 years,” Ken says. “This comes with the territory.”

He has a ritual. When a guest leaves, he walks onto Roseville Road. When the coast is clear, he gives the driver a wave.

That’s not Ken’s idea. For decades, Hardie Gramatky did the same thing.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Calling Bartaco. Sort Of.

Bartaco opened nearly 2 years ago. Almost immediately, Linda Gramatky Smith’s fax line rang.

Someone wanted to know something about the menu. That’s odd, Linda thought.

Then the fax rang again. There was a call about reservations. Then another, wanting to know if the restaurant offered takeout.

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda Gramatky Smith

Linda and her husband Ken have had their fax number for 22 years. (She’s a 1960 Staples grad; together they run Gramatky Galleries, handling the works of her late father, “Little Toot” illustrator Hardie Gramatky.)

The Smiths’ fax number is 203-222-8220. Bartaco‘s number is 203-222-8226. There would not seem to be much confusion — except “8226” is actually the same as “TACO,” on your phone’s keypad. The Wilton Road restaurant paid some pretty pesos for that easy-to-remember number.

Unfortunately — even before a tequila or two — plenty of people read the letter “O” as the number “0.”

Uh “oh.”

You or I would get pretty angry after the first couple of calls.

Fortunately, Linda and Ken are not you or I.

For 2 years, every time the fax line rings, they’ve answered it. Patiently, they explain the situation. Always, the callers are grateful. Nearly always, they compliment the Smiths on their patience and pleasantness.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

Bartaco is very popular. That means a lot of people call the wrong number.

In fact, the Smiths do more than just answer the fax. If they’re not quick enough to pick up — and the caller hears the fax “beep,” and hangs up — the couple calls back and gives the correct phone number. That kindness is always met with awe.

“We like Westport’s restaurants. We want them to succeed,” Linda explains, as if every Westporter who received at least 300 calls in 2 years — her estimate — would be so sanguine.

Bartaco has been responsive. They’ve added the numerals “8226” to their website, which has helped considerably. But the calls still keep coming — a few last week, Linda says. She thinks there are still some places (“maybe Yelp?”) that say only “203-222-TACO.”

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in "TACO" -- er, "8226."

The Bartaco website includes phone numbers for all 6 restaurants. Each ends in “TACO” — er, “8226.”

Actually, Bartaco has done even more for Linda and Ken. The other day, they invited the couple in for a complimentary meal.

The Smiths had a great time. They loved the lively river scene, and the food was great.

Linda and Ken thanked the staff for an excellent meal.

In person. Not by phone.

Black Tie Mandatory

As a certain segment of Westport high school students gets all excited about tomorrow night’s Red and White Ball (invite-only; senior girls ask boys) and next Friday’s County Assembly (juniors), here’s a preview photo:

Okay, it’s from 1959 or so.  But don’t Linda Gramatky, Tim Richards, Midge Santis, Nick Monserrat, John Widmer and Judy Hand look smashing?

The shot is a reminder that the “County Assemblies” have been around a long time — since 1938, in fact.

Mrs. Willem C. Schilthius of Westport organized the 1st formal 73 years ago “to promote inter-town friendships, instill social graces, and provide financial support to organizations benefiting adolescents.”

Most teenagers today — and probably their parents — have no idea it’s a charity event.  And the number of inter-town friendships made, and social graces instilled, is probably on the low side.

Still, it’s an event some Staples students look forward to for a long time.  That, and the after-parties.

Click “Comments” to add your memories of Westport’s winter formal dances.  Don’t worry — the statute of limitations is up.

Westport Welcomes Whitaker Art

Longtime Westporter Linda Gramatky Smith is — among many other things — treasurer of the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection. 

For 2 years she has tried to get donations of artwork from the estate of internationally known watercolorists Frederic Whitaker and his wife, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker.  They lived in Norwalk from the mid-1940s to the early ’60s, and were close friends of Linda’s parents, Hardie and Doppy Gramatky.  (Hardie wrote and illustrated Little Toot.)

It took a while, but last month 2 dramatic watercolors arrived.

Frederic Whitaker's "Church in Weston."

Fred’s career spanned 70 years, and nearly 2000 paintings.  Westport received his “Church in Weston, Connecticut,” created in 1950.  The church was Norfield Congregational — and not much has changed in 60 years.

Eileen’s painting — “Granadinos” — is “so colorful that schoolchildren will love it,” Linda says.  Westport schools are dickering over which will get the artwork.

It’s fitting that “06880” marks the Whitaker work coming to Westport — because today is the 120th anniversary of Fred’s birth.

Happy birthday, Fred (and happy 100th to Eileen, later this year).  Welcome home!

Eileen Monaghan Whitaker's "Granadinos."

Not Just Another High School Reunion Story

High school reunions are like medical operations.   Everyone has them, but no one wants to hear about yours.

Still, a 50th reunion is special.  50 is the new, well, 50.  So when Staples’ Class of 1960 gathers this weekend, it’s worth noting.

And the story of how that class — raised at a time when transistor radios were considered amazing — used 21st century technology to find long-lost classmates, and get nearly half of them to come, is both instructive and inspiring.

For their previous gathering 10 years ago, they hired a professional planner.  But once he hit the 75 attendees he’d promised, he stopped working.

This time the graduates vowed to do it themselves — and better, and for less money.

From right: Bev Cens, Joann Hornsleth and an unidentified girl pose at Bev's house. The shot was taken by someone doing advertising for Bigelow Tea. Note the Staples book covers at bottom.

They gave themselves a year’s lead time.  They learned that even though online “white pages” might give hundreds of results, filtering by age made searching much easier.

They called relentlessly.  A Westport family named Shornick was not related to James from 1960.  But the local Shornicks remembered that someone — okay, me — once asked if they knew my former classmate Cathy.  They told organizer Linda Gramatky Smith that story; she found Cathy Shornick in Washington state, and Cathy led Linda to her brother James.

Few people have heard of the search engine Pipl.com.  But Alan Konigsberg uses it in his law practice, and the site provided plenty of good matches.

Committee members pored through old directories, and called current Westporters to ask about neighbors who moved away years ago.  “I must sound really trustworthy,” Linda says.  “Everyone gave me lots of information.”

Steve Mechlin seemed impossible to find.  But one day Skip Shaeffer looked at the “Class Wills” section of the 1960 yearbook.  There he saw Steve’s last name, spelled “Maechtlen.”  Sure enough, the Steve Maecthlen who now lives in Albuquerque was the same one.  He was delighted to be found.

Similarly, a classmate’s last name was spelled both “Cowishaur” and “Cowishaw.”  In his “Class Will,” he left something to someone with a famous Westport name.  When a committee member called the Westporter, he talked about Jim “Cowlishaw.”

The organizer heard the pronunciation, searched online — and found Jim Cowlishaw in Nebraska.  His wife answered the phone and said, “He always wondered why no one ever told him about a reunion.”

“I must have found 20 names misspelled in the yearbook,” Linda says.  “I’m appalled.  Come on – these were our classmates!”

Junior high friends Anne Sharnoff, Jane Smith, Sherri Yellen and Jennette Currie in 1956.

The more they dug, and the more old photos they looked at, the more the Class of ’60 remembered friends who had not gone to Staples.

“The people you hold dear are the ones you played ball with, or went to your first parties with,” Linda says.  “They might have gone to prep school or moved away, but we wanted them.”

The committee found many non-graduates.  They’ll be part of the 175 reunion-goers (including spouses) this weekend.

Three former faculty members will join them:  English instructor (and founder of Staples Players, during their years there) Craig Matheson; social studies teacher Gordon Hall, and physics instructor Nick Georgis.

(Members of the Class of ’60 are now 67 and 68 years old.  You do the math…)

Barbara Picorello Wanamaker (Staples '60) and husband Charlie today.

Tomorrow (Friday) night they’ll meet at Arcudi’s — owned by classmate Joe.  They were originally scheduled for Cobb’s Mill Inn — owned by another classmate, George Guidera — but it closed in July.

(In addition to being restaurateurs, Joe and George share another distinction:  both were first selectmen, of Westport and Weston respectively.)

On Saturday morning returnees will tour the new Staples (deja vu — they entered Staples as sophomores in 1958, the same year the new North Avenue campus opened.)

Tomorrow night there’s dinner at the Norwalk Inn — complete with ’50s music — while Sunday morning features breakfast by the Compo cannons.

So once they found (nearly) everyone, how did the Class of 1960 pass along all the info on their reunion — and provide private email links so everyone could communicate with everyone else?

They set up one of the best reunion websites I’ve ever seen, for any class.

Who knows what they’ll think of for their 75th.

Code Red

Westporters had a variety of reactions to today’s noontime “CodeRED Reverse 911” phone calls from the Police Department, asking for help locating an 82-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

Some people were worried, or curious.  Others were annoyed at the intrusion.

Linda Gramatky Smith was alert.  And then she was satisfied.

Here’s the longtime resident’s story:

I love the new emergency alert system that Westport started in the last six months, and today I got personally involved.  I’m helping plan our Staples 50th reunion for September, and the brother of a deceased classmate called unexpectedly from San Francisco.  We spoke for a long time, and I stood in the kitchen making my lunch.

As we talked about our neighborhood, I gazed outside.  Absentmindedly I watched an elderly gentleman trudge by on Roseville, going south towards the Post Road.  I think I noticed him because cars speed by on Roseville, and only the heartiest joggers brave the traffic.  This man wasn’t fragile, but he wasn’t jogging.

Soon after I hung up, the phone rang again.  It was a Code Red alert.  A man with Alzheimer’s, the police recording said, had been downtown, around Town Hall, and disappeared.

As I heard the description — 80s, salt and pepper hair, brown pants and jacket — I immediately thought of the man I’d seen walking by.  I picked up the phone to call the police.

I told the woman who answered that I was afraid the man might have walked too far away, but she said a cruiser would be sent immediately. Imagine my delight when another call came in 15 minutes later, telling town residents that the gentleman had been found!  He had walked on back roads from downtown — a long distance.

I’m not sure if I was the one who gave the info that the police needed to find this man, but it brought back memories of when my mom lived with us.  She had dementia for the last couple of years.  I feel so happy that our town has this wonderful system in place — and that today instead of having my eyes fixed on the computer screen upstairs, I was fortunate enough to look out as a man walked by our house.