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Of Houseguests and Havoc



Sometime around Thanksgiving, the guest room becomes a revolving door with kids bringing home college roommates, grandparents visiting from out of town and friends swinging through Connecticut. House-guests—we’ve all had some memorable ones.

Early on there was Bob Dick, Jack’s business associate from Cleveland. We had invited him and his wife for the weekend in our new house in Riverside, along with twenty others for Saturday dinner. Butterflied lamb on the grill, Jack insisted—something I’d never cooked before. The Dicks went into New York that afternoon, and Bill Crane had talked Jack into sailing in a “little race around the buoys.” But it turned out to be a 150-mile ocean race. At 5 o’clock I got an emergency ship-to-shore call: He couldn’t get home before dawn. Poor Bob became bartender and chef, in the process ripping his new Pucci pants on the grill. We sang lustily around the piano ’til midnight and left the dirty dishes for Jack to clean up when he finally slunk into the house at 6 a.m. with Bill Crane as bodyguard.

Fast-forward several years. Bob’s now-ex-wife is doing a solo in our guest room one night. Except she couldn’t sleep and woke me up to ask for sleeping pills. Now I couldn’t sleep. Still, the next morning I groggily drove to a Grace Notes rehearsal, parking on the steep uphill driveway beside the Second Congo. Then in the middle of “Sunrise, Sunset,” a big burly Greenwich cop walked in wanting to know who owned the Ford with MOFCAR plates. I did. “Well,” he announced, “it’s in front of Janet Sloane’s.” I hadn’t put the brake on properly and it had rolled backwards downhill and across all four lanes of the Post Road, finally coming to rest at the dress shop without hitting a single thing.

Kids. We’ve had them in all shapes and sizes. The littlest was Sarah McKnight, at three a real daddy’s girl, who was staying with us while her parents went sailing. The first night she had a major meltdown about going to bed, but with a light smack on the bottom of her Dr. Dentons, I got her settled down. Soon thereafter I heard strange noises, came out of our bedroom in my nightgown and found her father sneaking up the stairs to kiss her goodnight. He’d returned to his house across the street to get something they’d forgotten. “Phil McKnight, you go near that kid and you can take her out of here right now!” said I. So he turned tail and left. Years later, at Sarah and Andy Burdick’s engagement party, my name tag read “First Spanker.”

There was Stevie, a Fresh Air boy who stole Jonathan’s bike and hid it. So I drove him down to the Riverside station. “See those trains?” I remarked. “They go to New York, and you’re going to be on the next one unless you promise to shape up.” Sufficiently contrite, he offered to cook us an authentic Lebanese dinner that night and we went to the Food Mart for ingredients. It was delicious. Stevie stayed on.

The Best Sport Award should go to Sarah Thorson, daughter Audrey’s classmate who got stuck at our house during an ice storm. Without a generator, we shivered in the dark, laughed a lot, and learned what not to do—try to cook spaghetti in the fireplace.

Gert Fries, a lanky teenager from Denmark, landed on our doorstep one summer on a student exchange program touted by St. Paul’s Church. He’d written that he liked sailing and theater. Perfect. He could teach Jonathan to sail and take part in the Summer Youth Festival at Eastern. In actuality, Gert didn’t know how to sail—just thought it would be cooler out on the water—and hoped we’d drive him up to Stratford for Shakespeare. Barring that, all he wanted to do was sit in his room and watch television, not even hobnob with the other students. Exasperated, we sat him down for a talk. “Have you ever heard of Hans Christian Andersen?” said Jack. “Yah, Yah,” answered the kid from Copenhagen. “Well, he writes fairy tales and that’s what television is. Make-believe!” Jack explained. “I bet your mother and father would be furious to know how you’re wasting your time over here!” So Gert changed his ways. For years we got letters addressing us as “Dear Parents.”

Our ninety-pound golden retriever loved houseguests, but the feeling wasn’t always mutual. After Charlie tried to climb in bed with my stepfather one morning, Mother and Ellis stayed at a hotel when they came East. And once, at the top of the stairs and at the top of her voice, we heard Aunt Jane Tuck screaming, “Charlie, Charlie, let go!” and found them having a tug-of-war—she holding one end of her pink chiffon peignoir and he the other, his mouth full of marabou feathers. Bet he thought it was a duck.

We’ve had ushers for weddings, cousins for funerals and non-residents for the Commodore’s Ball. But the most we’ve had at one time was during that October snowstorm when the junior Mofflys abandoned powerless Weston—nine strong, including five kids. We honored Elena’s parents from Moscow with the guestroom beds and the rest made do with sleeping bags all over the place. The Vostrikovs had never witnessed Halloween and were somewhat bewildered by all those funny little people who kept ringing the doorbell. It was quite the campout.

So who are you expecting over the holidays? Better change the sheets and fluff the pillows. You never know.

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