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COVID-19: Love Letter to Litchfield County

This is the second of an essay series that will be published every week for as long as social distancing is necessary. All pieces were written by Litchfield County residents. If you are interested in submitting an essay for consideration please email us at info@litchfieldmagazine.com

By Tal Fagin of Washington, CT

The love affair began with a getaway weekend to The Mayflower Inn and Spa in the summer of 2005.

I was a full-time New Yorker and a young lawyer, recently married and expecting my first baby. After a long, lazy day by the pool, we were off to dinner. My husband held my hand as I teetered over the antique floorboards, making my way through the picturesque country lobby in impractical high heels. As we waited to be seated, I caught my first glimpse of the Tap Room. 

A cute young guy in a suit was playing standards on the piano. The vibe was elegant yet casual, sophisticated but also inviting. With its thick leather banquettes and hunter green walls, the Tap Room lacked the sleek, modern, coolness that was everywhere in New York at the time. Still, the scene felt oddly familiar, as did all of the players sprinkled around the bar and tables. I had never been there before, never laid eyes on any of these people, but I felt entirely at home—as if I should walk right in, order a Gin and Tonic and start chatting away with anyone and everyone in the room.

I was smitten. 

Over the next few days, the attraction only grew. I was charmed by the “High Water Mark” sign on the old drug store in Washington Depot, then wooed by the selection at the Hickory Stick Bookshop. The old Kiddipity, overflowing with toys I might someday buy for our baby to be, made me tingly with excitement. And then there was The Pantry, where the sour cream coffee cake nearly launched me into a full-blown Meg Ryan food orgasm, right there at the butcher-block table. (I ordered another slice to go, instead.)

We toured Kent and Litchfield and West Cornwall, delighted by the shops, enchanted by the Covered Bridge, utterly wowed by the raging Housatonic. 

We inched our way slowly around Lake Waramaug, equally captivated by the shimmering water and the festive, laid-back vibe in the air. Every other house seemed to be hosting a Fourth of July party, and once again—though we knew no one—I felt somehow certain we would be welcome if we did. 

We meandered through the village of New Preston, where all the stores were already closed. Peeking through their windows, I imagined the owners and staff gathered together at the lake, mingling with friends and awaiting fireworks at one of the barbecues we’d just passed. We paused in front of a realtor’s office, checking out the available rentals, dreaming of what it might be like to spend the rest of the summer living lakeside and hosting barbecues of our own. 

Driving back to New York, I felt tan and relaxed and completely unaware that anything significant had occurred. We sped back to our city and our careers and our baby to be, away from this tiny county in the Northwest hills of Connecticut. As far as I knew, it had been just another vacation—a lovely getaway that had nothing to do with my real life or its trajectory.

And yet.

Looking back, I do recall a heightened interest in the passing scenery. Driving through Washington, Roxbury, then Bridgewater, I felt an almost hungry curiosity about what it might be like to live in that house, or send my kids to that school, or practice law in that shop. 

Maybe, I imagined, it might even feel like home. 

Fast forward to February. Like all new mothers, I was both enamored and exhausted. I was also feeling cooped up in my apartment, and more than fed up with winter. With baby affixed to breast, I called my husband.

“Remember that town?” I began. “The one where we stayed at that inn over the Fourth of July?”

Two weeks later, I found myself zipping all over Litchfield County in the back of Peter Klemm’s black Cayenne, in search of the perfect summer rental. 

By the end of that day, I was dizzy with desire, convinced that this was the place for us. I was also dejected. None of the rentals we had seen felt right. “Just out of curiosity,” I asked without forethought, “what do you have for sale?”

Peter took us to a hilltop construction site—a frame of a house wrapped entirely in Tyvek paper, nothing but plywood and sawdust on the inside.

But the view!

Behind the barely built heap of a house was a gently sloping backyard, ending in a tangle of bushes and trees that seemed to go on forever. Over those trees, we could see the fields and barns dotting New Preston Hill, across the hiking trails I would later come to know as Macricostas Preserve, all the way to the distant mountain ranges of Kent. 

Now, almost fifteen years later, we are a family of five sheltering in place in that construction-site-turned-home, and I am gazing out my bedroom window at that very familiar, still-stunning view.

I ride out the current COVID-19 storm, hunkered down and separate from so many of the people and places I have come to love. I feel antsy with uncertainty and increasingly desperate for normalcy. At the same time, I am filled with appreciation for the simple joys of ordinary life—coffee dates at Marty’s, coaching Shepaug softball, recognizing everyone I see at the Food Market—and for everyone and everything around here that constitute the gorgeous fabric of this community.

What began as a weekend tryst and mere flirtation with fantasy, has deepened into a lifelong commitment. Having to keep my distance, for now, only solidifies my sense of connection to this special part of the world, and my eternal gratitude for every twist and turn—all the magic and happenstance—that drew me to this place and compelled me to make it my home.  

Chin chin, Litchfield County. I look forward to toasting you back at The Mayflower Bar this summer. 

 

 

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