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The Secret of the Hidden Staircase

File this under: You can’t make this stuff up.

Yesterday, just as we put our coats on and were heading out to run yet another errand, a stranger appeared on our doorstep.

He introduced himself as “Don.” He lives in Maryland, he explained, but was in Connecticut for a funeral. His wife grew up in our house and asked him to take a photo for her.

New friend. Don, who stopped by our house yesterday to photograph his wife's childhood home, talks with Basil.

Don, right, who stopped by our house yesterday to photograph his wife’s childhood home, talks with Basil.

Don didn’t want us to look out the window and wonder why an 80-year-old man in a jacket and tie was taking pictures of our house, so he knocked on the door.

It was pouring, so naturally we invited him in.

I’m sure he thought it more than a little strange that we were wearing coats in the house, but he was much too polite to mention it.

In fact he was delightful! From him we learned that his in-laws had been the first owners of our home, a brick Cape built in 1946, in a neighborhood created for returning World War II soldiers.

His father-in-law wasn’t a serviceman, but rather had worked his way up from janitor to treasurer for a firm a steamship company on Broadway in Manhattan. (Don explained that “things like that happened back in those days.”)

Our house was for sale when he was looking to get his growing family out of the Bronx, NY, and for the then-dear sum of $5,500, he became a homeowner. (I thought we might have to get Don a chair when we told him the house next door — albeit enlarged over the years — sold last month for $1.1 million.)

His in-laws lived here for 30 years and raised three daughters in the house, one of whom Don married. Don stayed in what is now our den when he came to visit while “courting” his wife.

We enjoyed his stories. Having grown up elsewhere in Havemeyer Park, Basil was full of questions about the neighborhood, some of which Don was able to answer.

And Don got a kick out of the spiral staircase that is now the centerpiece of the main floor. He photographed it so his wife could see.

His visit gave us a chance to finally solve a mystery: For the 16 years we’ve lived here, we’ve tried to figure out where the original staircase was in the house. Was it straight ahead through the front door, across the back wall of the living room or did it rise through what is now an extra-deep coat closet?

Don confirmed it was the coat closet after all. The stairs led to a second-floor bedroom, he explained, because with three daughters, his father-in-law had to expand a bit.

The original staircase was here, where our coat closet is.

The original staircase was here, where our coat closet is.

Don stayed a few minutes longer. Could he stop back in the future with his wife if they happened to be in town? he asked.

We gave him our phone number and email address — he had the address after all — and assured him we’d welcome the visit.

Before driving away, he stood at the curb aiming his iPad at the house’s facade while a friend who’d been waiting in the car held a golf umbrella over Don’s head.

After he left, we marveled: In just a few minutes, the past became prologue.

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


10 thoughts on “The Secret of the Hidden Staircase

  1. I might have known him! I spent lots of time in Havemeyer Park in the late 50s and 60s.

    Posted by Buck | June 24, 2015, 10:46 am
  2. Wow, that visit was an adventure:) Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Posted by jesh stg | June 17, 2015, 4:19 pm
  3. Terri, I love this! I have a framed photo of my old home in Fairfield. My brother and nephew are standing in front of it. My former sister-in-law took the picture. Memories!

    Posted by Ms. LetterBalm | March 16, 2015, 1:23 pm
  4. Amazing story! Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by laura | March 15, 2015, 5:21 pm
  5. Terri, I’ve never read your blog before but I so enjoyed your posting. I saw it on Facebook. I grew up in Greenwich and many years ago worked at Greenwich Time as a reporter, before I got married and had kids. I freelance now and have been thinking about starting a blog or website. Anyway, I love historical stuff, old houses, mysteries and good writing, so I really enjoyed reading this.

    Posted by Ellen McGrath | March 15, 2015, 5:11 pm
  6. I can only imagine how much comfort you afforded Don and his wife to know that a loving family is living in this home that they called theirs before. I wanted so much to go inside my grandparents’ farm house but I could see from the porch and the barn that it didn’t look anything like I remembered and would be happier with the wonderful photos I held in my heart. 🙂

    Posted by Judy @ newenglandgardenandthread | March 15, 2015, 4:19 pm

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