On March 11, 2010, I brought my Aunt Mary home from a physical rehab facility for what would be the final chapter of her life.
On March 15, I started my career at Westfair, WAG’s parent company.
But in between on March 13 at 8:40 p.m., amid a late-winter nor’easter, a 100-foot oak tree fell on our house as my aunt lay asleep and I sat watching TV. It sounded like a freight train coming through the living room, a crash that rumbled on. I think I will hear that sound always.
As I look back on those events with a mixture of emotions almost three years later, I realize that my life changed forever in less than a week. Yet the defining moment was not my aunt’s endgame or my new job but the rehabilitation of the house. Indeed, I came to understand that the way to make my aunt’s last days as joyful as possible and succeed in a fragile economy that offered no guarantees was to save the only thing I really had and could hold on to.
The house in which I had grown up with nary a thought about its survival had come to represent something larger than myself, to give my life new meaning. In repairing the house, I was repairing my soul, much like the haunted nurse Hana in “The English Patient,” who shores up the bombed-out Italian villa in which she takes shelter with her dying charge.
I’ve thought a lot since about fictional stories in which people transform, or are transformed, by houses – the painter Charles Ryder, who finds faith through the memory of love at an English country estate in “Brideshead Revisited”; Bette Davis’ rejuvenated spinster in “Now, Voyager”; and, of course, Scarlett O’Hara resurrecting Tara and her people in “Gone With The Wind.” You’ll meet some of these in my essays on home and the home du jour, Downton Abbey, in this our “Give Me Shelter” issue.
But we wouldn’t be WAG if we didn’t play on “shelter,” would we? So you’ll also find stories about spas as shelters of the senses and the spirit as well as Andrea Kennedy’s take on rainwear as a shelter for the body. Guest Wagger Marshall Fine recalls his recent trip to a city that’s scaling new heights – Dubai. Speaking of grand, Mary Shustack says “Happy Birthday” to Grand Central Terminal, celebrating 100 years of sheltering commuters and shoppers alike.
The bedroom communities Grand Central serves are mined for broad laughs weekly on ABC’s “Suburgatory,” which w’reel deal columnist Sam Barron visits for some chuckles of his own. The sitcom is set in a place that sounds a lot like Larchmont, but surely its well-heeled denizens would be equally at home in the luxe confines of Westport, the subject of our retooled Hot Blocks, now called Hot Spots.
It’s the home of The Whelk, our restaurant of the month, and the hometown of cover guy Michael Bolton, who spoke to Andrea about his love of home and gave a special Valentine’s Day concert at the neighboring Ridgefield Playhouse.
Bolton, who’s becoming as well known for his charitable works as he is for his music, reminds us that in the end, any shelter is about the people who create it and use it, that people themselves can be shelters for others. People like the folks at the SPCA, who are collaborating with us on our newest feature, Pet of the Month, and New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera, who’s helping to rebuild the North Avenue Church in New Rochelle.
For years he was managed by Joe Torre, who told WAG how the love of his wife, Ali, enabled him to confront an abusive childhood, share his story and establish the Safe at Home Foundation to save other children from the same fate.
She has, in the words of Bob Dylan, given him “Shelter From the Storm.”
Come into these pages. We’ll give you shelter, too.