Day 594: Pomfret Center Dissenter

On the way from Willimantic to Pomfret Center, Connecticut, Laetitia’s group’s destination, they stopped in Natchaug State Forest for hiking and horseback riding. The Natchaug River runs along the border of the forest and sometimes through this 40,000-acre woodland preserve.

On arrival in Pomfret Center, the group did a walkabout in the Pomfret Street Historic District. The happy hour gossip today was about a man from the town who was a bit of a contrarian. Laetitia turned the gossip into the limerick of the day.

A man from the town, Pomfret Center
Served his girlfriend iced drinks in the winter
And hot toddies in summer
Which was quite a bummer
But, then, he was quite a dissenter.

Day 593: Willimantic Romantic

Leaving Haddam, Connecticut, Laetitia and her group drove to Gay City State Park. The park consists of a once-thriving mill town that is now a ruin. Its name comes from the extended Gay family, who made up much the town’s population in the early years. The town was settled in 1796 and went through prosperous periods when the mills were busy and disastrous times brought on by wars and mill fires. When the mill burned at the time of the Civil War, the town was abandoned.

The town of Willimantic, Connecticut, gets its name from an Algonquin word meaning “land of swift running water.” It was built around Willimantic Falls, and, as might be expected, harnessed the water power to drive mills during the industrial revolution. Willimantic was especially known for its silk and cotton thread. When they arrived there, Laetitia’s group did a walkabout in the historic district. They crossed the Thread Street Bridge with its eight-foot-high bronze frogs perched atop concrete thread spools.

At dinner that evening, Laetitia’s table was within earshot of a table of four elderly women. Laetitia judged that they were from a generation older than her grandmother. Several things emerged from the overheard conversation. All had grown up in Willimantic but now lived elsewhere. All were widowed. They were here for the funeral of a childhood friend named Mavis, who never left town. They mostly reminisced about the good times of the long-past era of their youth, but there was a bittersweet tinge.

In those days, the last unmarried daughter in a family was usually destined for spinsterhood and the task of taking care of the “old folks.” When a woman reached the age of 30, her marriage prospects dwindled, and there were few career opportunities for single women. Mavis had high and perhaps unrealistic aspirations when it came to men and wanted to live in New York, but had panicked and married a local man. Laetitia had no reason to believe that Mavis had led an unfulfilled life, but she shed a tear as she wrote the limerick of the day.

When Mavis the hopeless romantic
Turned thirty, her quest became frantic
And though “pearls before swine”
Would no longer decline
The hometown men of Willimantic.

Day 592: Haddam Madam

Laetitia and her group drove north out of Old Lyme toward Haddam, Connecticut. Their route took them through the scenic Connecticut River valley. They made a brief stop at Deep River, formerly known as Saybrook, a colony founded in 1665.

Haddam was settled in 1660 on land purchased from the local Native Americans for 30 coats. On arrival, Laetitia and her group did a walkabout in the town’s historic district. Several in Laetitia’s group had joined the tour because they were fans of Ileana Douglas, who was in several Martin Scorsese films. She grew up in Haddam and still had a home there, although it wasn’t open to the public.

Laetitia had an interesting happy hour experience. As she sipped a glass of Old Vine Red at the bar, the young man sitting next to her introduced himself as Bob and began talking to her about his favorite subjects: himself and his idea for a new musical that was sure to be a big hit on Broadway and in Hollywood. All he had at this point was a sort of outline, mostly in his mind, but he thought it was coming along very well.

Sources of inspiration for this project were somewhat eclectic. He had been out west and, among other places, visited Universal Studios in Hollywood, the Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho, and Music Man Square in Mason City Iowa. Then there was the old Victorian house in Haddam that Bob thought would be a perfect setting. He hadn’t come up with a title yet but The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Comes to New England would serve in the meantime.

Ideas for his script weren’t fully developed, but would include a “whore with a heart of gold” madam named Priscilla and four clients who would spontaneously burst into barbershop-quartet-style songs as they emerged from the girls’ rooms. Bob hadn’t written the music yet and, indeed, didn’t even read music, but he told Laetitia, “How hard can it be?” He seemed to believe that something magical would happen like when the River City boys miraculously learned to play, albeit badly, the instruments Professor Harold Hill sold their parents. Bob finished his drink and left. Afterward, Laetitia smiled and wrote the limerick of the day.

In Bob’s play there’s a house down in Haddam
That’s a place where an Eve meets an Adam
On a four-poster bed
In a room decked in red
In the house of Priscilla, the madam.

Day 591: Old Lyme Wild Time

Laetitia and her group headed east from New Haven along the coast of Long Island Sound. They left the main road several times to make excursions to the shore to hike on the beaches and visit the parks. Their destination was Old Lyme, Connecticut, a coastal artists’ community and resort town of about 7,500. The Lyme Art Colony is remembered for its American Impressionist painters. Some of its best-known members were Henry Ward Ranger, Wilson Irvine, Willard Metcalf, Edward Charles Volkert, and Childe Hassam. The town also has the dubious distinction of being the namesake for Lyme disease, the appellation chosen after an outbreak there in 1975 led to the discovery of the disease’s cause.

On arrival in Old Lyme, Laetitia and her group visited the Florence Griswold House, now a museum, but formerly home to many of the area’s artists. At the cocktail lounge, where Laetitia sipped a glass of Willamette Valley pinot gris at the bar, the denizens of a nearby table were talking about Millicent, a heiress of Yankee blue-blood stock, who liked to party with younger men of the lower classes. She preferred those who dressed like and professed to be artists, even though their talents, for the most part, had yet to be recognized by the art world at large. One member of the table group called the class that included Millicent’s paramours “Old Lyme’s demimonde.”

As one might expect in a bar catering to folks of artistic temperament, there was an argument about whether the term demimonde could aptly be applied to the men. As a woman at the table pointed out, the term as coined by Alexander Dumas in the nineteenth century originally applied to the half-world populated by courtesans, like Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Such women were usually from lower-class backgrounds and supported their rather grand lifestyles through gifts from men of the aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie in return for sexual favors. A man at the table argued that the original demimonde disappeared with the changes in social mores that occurred after World War I, and that the term now simply means the bohemian world of the “starving artist.” Laetitia smiled. She was unconcerned about the precise definition of demimonde. She had the limerick of the day.

When Millicent was in her prime
She was known as a lady sublime
Who was always tres chic
But who often would sneak
Off with demimonde friends in Old Lyme.