By Annette Hinkle
I always love getting away for quick weekend trips to places I’ve never been before, especially with Memorial Day looming large (as it tends to do for most of May) and the start of summer stress that comes with it.
Last weekend was the occasion for just such a trip. This time the destination was (drum roll)… Connecticut.
A confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of “The Nutmeg State” (yes, I looked it up). I admit, much of my opinion has been defined by multiple jaunts through and limited site lines from I-95 as my husband and I have traversed the state on our way between New York and somewhere else that was not Connecticut — say Boston, Vermont, Maine or even Canada (we do have a Trump presidency looming after all, never too early to check out the real estate).
So from where I usually sit in the front seat of a car, Connecticut has simply been in the way as far as I can tell — that and that little bit of Rhode Island — separating us from home and one vacation destination or another. And let’s be honest here, most of the cities I-95 passes through (or should I say over) hardly warrant a slow down much less a postcard purchase (really, unless your kid goes there what is there to do in Providence besides buy Brown or RISD paraphernalia?).
So much for my naïve Midwestern romance about New England which was crushed the first time I took Metro North past Rye and saw how much garbage was strewn alongside the tracks. Which is why the very fact that Connecticut was our intended destination this time around was something of an anomaly.
But there was a real reason for this trip. We were headed to Farmington, Connecticut to give my daughter, Sophie, a taste of boarding school life. Don’t fret my local public school friends, we have absolutely no intention (or enough cash) to whisk our daughter off to a boarding school, nor does she have the slightest inclination to attend one.
But as the parents of most 14-year-olds know, this is the time when friends around us seem to take off for foreign lands and dorms as the freshmen ship out to further their education far from the tainted shores of Long Island.
In this case, it was a long distance sleepover with a friend who started last fall at Miss Porter’s, alma mater of Jackie O, where I hoped in two days time my daughter would pick up the finer points of Latin and proper cutlery use without me having to drop a dime. Rumor had it there would even be a dance on Saturday night with boys from the nearby boarding school stopping by for a mixer. The equestrian skills, I reasoned, could wait until a second visit.
“Something’s bound to happen for me to write about,” I told the publisher emeritus of this esteemed publication late Friday afternoon as we were heading out of town to catch the Port Jeff ferry bound for Nutmegville.
And boy, was that ever true, but it had far less to do with my daughter’s crash course in boarding school life and more to do with my own realization that our neighbor to the north has far more to offer than just a way to get to Massachusetts.
Who ever thought that Connecticut was still so dang picturesque? It turns out that if one ventures north of I-95 and doesn’t stop at the malls or donut shops, one is rewarded with the elegant houses, beautiful stone walls and the distant hilly views of one’s dreams.
Farmington is all that and more. A Thornton Wilder-worthy quintessential New England village with red clapboard houses, towering church steeples and quads that any college would dream of putting on its brochure. It seemed an ideal place to explore for a day or two while Sophie and her friend sat around the old dorm and spent some quality time together on their phones.
So we dropped the child off, gave our contact information to the dorm mom, and high-tailed it to the inn a couple blocks away where we’d be lying in wait. For the next 48 hours, we did our best to avoid “stalking parent syndrome,” but in a town the size of Farmington, it’s hard to do.
In fact, within just a couple hours of our arrival, we accidentally ran smack dab into Sophie and her friend at the only pizza joint in town. They were sitting at an outdoor table waiting for their slices (cutlery class would also now have to wait, apparently) while we were seated on a porch protected from the weather by a thick wall of plastic sheeting. It was odd to be so close, yet so intentionally ignorant of one another. Through the hazy plastic walls that enclosed us, we enjoyed watching Sophie and her old friend bond by sitting in total silence checking their Instagram accounts. Oh to be 14 again. What fun, what freedom!
This Friday night incident made it clear that on Saturday, we would need to steer clear in order to avoid any more embarrassing meet ups, so while my daughter was presumably learning the ins-and-outs of selecting cafeteria fare and doing one’s own laundry, we set out for a day of exploring.
The Mark Twain House in West Hartford offered marvelous revelations about the author’s life and family while the Hill-Stead Museum near Farmington was surprisingly chock full of fine art, including several amazing works by Degas, Monet and Whistler.
But I have to admit, the most amusing part of our journey came with the accomplishment of two extremely mundane tasks which are only fascinating to people who live on the East End or in places where there’s no electricity. I’m referring, of course, to the 5-minute oil change ($8 discount with a coupon downloaded to my phone) and the fully automated $10 car wash, both of which were completed efficiently and cheaply without us ever having to leave the car.
Are we the only ones who are so amused by such every day entertainment? Perhaps. At our age, I guess it doesn’t take much. But it did give my husband and I something to marvel about over dinner, which came several hours later at one of Farmington’s finest Asian fusion eateries where we had another pleasant surprise. How about $8 for a cocktail? Absolutely. We couldn’t help but howl in delight when the check arrived and our total dinner — with said drinks — had set us back a mere $66 (avec tip, no less).
I think I could get used to this state. We were all smiles when we picked Sophie up early Sunday morning to hit the road and we quizzed her at length about the weekend, particularly how the evening with the boys went.
But she just looked at us blankly and said it was too early to share anything interesting.
That’s because there really wasn’t anything interesting to share. Later, she admitted she had tagged after her friend as she made her rounds, none of which, apparently, involved speaking to any actual boys at the dance.
I suppose I should be grateful. I know a whole lot of 14-year-old girls who would have no trouble chatting up a roomful of prep school males. Still, I can’t help thinking about what George Bernard Shaw once said — “Youth is wasted on the young.”
Amen to that. But at least I got a clean car and an oil change out of the weekend — and a new appreciation for all things Connecticut.