In the early 1950s, a group of Jewish firefighters bought a plot of land on a mountain on the outskirts of Danbury, Connecticut, to build a community of summer houses. At the time, most of these communities weren’t open to Jews, so the firemen decided to build their own with their bare hands. They covered the mountain in cottages. They built a tennis court, a baseball field, and a community house. They built a small shul out of fire scraps. They called their community “Lake Waubeeka” after the nearby lake. In the late 1960s, Thelma and Harvey Katz, my grandparents, bought a little yellow house from one of the original firefighters who had died—7 Carol Street. They wanted to escape Manhattan during the hot city summers so their son, who was a toddler at the time, could run around and be outside. My grandparents and father loved it, and he reminisces about childhood there with pleasant nostalgia.
As my father grew up, he started to spend his summers at sleepaway camp instead of at Lake Waubeeka, and our house went untouched for years. When I was nine years old, after many years of discussion, we decided to bring back the life that once filled our little house and start using it again. This decision changed my life.
From the outside, our home sits atop a large pile, or “mountain” of rocks that we have nicknamed “Mount Katz.” Our house is the color of butter, and the door is the color of a full moon on a dark night.
The inside is small yet full of charisma. A few years ago, for example, I begged my parents not to renovate the kitchen—old, very 1960s, chestnut-brown wooden cabinets with black metal handles and an avocado green counter and backdrop. They thought it was outdated, but I love it and its vintage charm. Thankfully, they decided to replace only the appliances, which I suppose was for the best, since the old ones barely worked. And in my parents’ bedroom, both of their ancient-looking childhood teddy bears sit on their pillows. My mother’s bear’s nose is falling off, and its paws are seriously lacking in stuffing. My family loves to joke that my father’s teddy bear is the first-ever teddy bear, the one based on Teddy Roosevelt. Its dark brown fur is flat, its eyes are bulging, and a small rip in the back of its head is covered with a Band-Aid.
Having been a New York City girl all my life, I had never really been exposed to the “country” before coming to Connecticut. Of course, I had gone on road trips and been to camp, but that’s not the same. And while in the first few months, the dense woods, the mosquitos, the wasps, and the ants came as a bit of a shock to me, I got used to it quickly and came to love it, all of it.
I love the feeling of jumping into the lake on hot summer evenings right before dinner. I love our run-ins with Lake Waubeeka’s resident family of dumpster-dwelling raccoons. I love how most of the time, there’s a good chance a nosy neighbor will out-of-blue show up on our porch while we’re watching TV in pajamas because of something “very important” they have to tell us. I love how when frying an egg, it slides to the end of the pan because the house is on a slight tilt. I love the wonderful feeling of finally walking through that door after the long drive and knowing that I’m here. I thought that feeling would go away after the first few months, but after all this time, I always feel it and know I always will.
Sometimes, I used to wonder why it was that Lake Waubeeka felt like more than just a summer house to me. Recently, the reason came to me. I realized that I’m standing in the house my late grandparents picked out. I’m sleeping in the bedroom my dad slept in when he was my age. I’m eating in the same kitchen in which they ate, and swimming in the same lake. Many of the houses here, including mine, remain almost exactly as they were back in those days, with limited renovations. The Jewish community still thrives. Although I never got to meet my grandparents, I can feel their presence so strongly here because I know how much they put into it. I am looking forward to growing up and passing our house on to the next generation and to many generations to come. Besides loving Lake Waubeeka for all of its quirks and charms, I love it even more because I know that I’m honoring my Grandpa Harvey and my Grandma Thelma in the best way possible, and that it’s exactly what they would have wanted.
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