Road Trip: Norwalk.

Family is an interesting thing. Even when you have a good one, it can be easy to let familial duties slip through the cracks- routine visits and reunions that should be an annual event never come to fruition, phone calls get pushed back to “another time when I’m not so ____.” Growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time around family. Summers were spent in Maine in a cabin with my cousins, who also came to visit at Easter and Thanksgiving. In the winter my mother would often pack us all into the car and drive up to visit our close friends in New Hampshire. And of course, there were plenty of trips up to Canaan to visit my Grammie and Grampa Austin. Then we moved to Pennsylvania, and the visits got fewer and farther between. Life got busy, my parents separated, and amidst the chaos there just wasn’t anyone to keep that familial energy going.

Now that I have my own children, I think a lot about the importance of extended family. I have a great family spread across so many beautiful parts of the country, and I would never forgive myself if my children missed out on all of the fun family trips I remember taking as a child. At some point this summer, I realized that I had not seen my Grammie since my Grampa had passed away- in 2005. Shameful, and completely unacceptable.

So this weekend, the kids, my mother, and my brother piled into a rental car and took off for a long weekend of visiting family and friends throughout Connecticut! We packed our stuff in a Chevy rental on Friday morning (after packing in the dark on Thursday night thanks to a power outage- ARGH) and took off with a loose plan: drive in the morning and let the kids recover from a weird night in a dark house, and make a stopover in Norwalk, where we have close family friends and lots of family history.

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Norwalk is where my mother spent the first 40 or so years of her life, and where my brothers and I were born. It is also a place of happy childhood memories. My mother’s parents lived in the same house that she grew up in, and for most of my childhood I lived just a short drive from my Barppy and Yaya. They lived on Assisi Way, and I always thought of my grandfather, Frances Patrick Golden, as my Saint Frances of Assisi.

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This is the street that my mother grew up on.

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It was strange for me, seeing it after so many years- I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. Once upon a time, this was her home.

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And for as long as I can remember, across the street from my Barppy and Yaya lived our very close friends. They knew my grandparents for many years, and were instrumental during the final years of their lives. I have been playing in their house since before I can recollect, and to be back to visit, watching my own children play in the same rooms that I did, was a real experience. Steffie used to babysit me when I was younger, and I have few memories of my childhood that don’t involve Steffie in some capacity. For all intents and purposes, she is the older sister that I never had.

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I felt such warmth sitting with these people who had known and loved me for every minute of my life, and I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to reconnect. They got to meet Jack and Carolyn, and we had a great time talking and catching up. Too soon, it seemed, it was time for us to go.

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At this point it was raining pretty steadily, so we did a driving tour of our old hometown. We stopped in to Stew Leonard’s, where I remember going for groceries years ago.

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It’s a unique grocery store. They have a window into the dairy area, and you can watch the milk cartons coming in on a conveyor belt.

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They also have a number of “shows” around the store featuring different animated foods. Cindy Celery and Larry Lettuce were my favorites! I was so excited that they were still there 🙂 But even better than Cindy and Larry was…

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…the wishing well! I don’t know how many pennies I threw at those targets, but I never got tired of trying. I looked forward to this through the entire store, and I had to marvel at its permanence. It has been almost fifteen years since the last time I set eyes on it, and there it was, as if I were a little girl again.

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We picked up some food for the road at Stew Leonards- gorgeous red cherries!

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Also these delicious freshly-made kettle-cooked sweet potato chips. Humongous and delicious! We also stopped for some real lunch at a place that my Mum has been going to since she was in college.

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The Lime, home to the most delicious veggie burger I have ever tasted. So good, in fact, that it is my mother’s favorite thing on the menu- and they have a good sized menu with a variety of different options.

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They make their burgers with bulgher-wheat, carrots, zucchini, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. They serve it stuffed in a pita with lettuce, more carrots, cabbage, and avocado. A sweet brown rice salad and hunk of juicy watermelon come on the side, along with a container of the most delicious dressing I have ever tasted. It was creamy and tangy and vegan, and I kept wishing I had ordered a second cup!

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I also got some black bean soup to warm me up. It was a good thing I ate this before the burger- the soup was good, but nothing could have compared to that burger.

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We also shared the carrot cake and flourless chocolate cake. Although Jack had more to do with these than any of us…

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That’s what vacation is all about!

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After lunch we did a bit more touring around before heading North. We passed by the church where my parents were married…

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…as well as the main drag of South Norwalk, where I used to go when I was younger. It has always been full of so many interesting stores and restaurants, and I was thrilled to find that all of my favorites were still there!

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A Taste of Holland, where they sell all sorts of collector’s items and trinkets from Holland, including the infamous wooden shoes! I have never seen a store like this anywhere else, and I remember going here once with my Aunt and just marveling at all of the beautiful and unique things they sold.

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Another old haunt- Beadworks! I used to looooove going here and looking at all of the gorgeous beads and jewelry. They always had a giant chest full of assorted beads, and you could scoop them into a bag and pay by the pound. Even in my earlier years, I was clear about my passions for creativity and bulk shopping.

My visit to Norwalk was lovely and strange. My memories of it are through a child’s lens, and so returning as an adult meant seeing this place in an entirely different way. It has changed a lot in the years since we left, but it was a great comfort to know that there were still some old friends to be found. My big dream is someday, when they’re old enough, to take the kids to Calf Pasture beach for the Fourth of July. We used to go every year with snacks and blankets to watch the fireworks over the Long Island Sound, and it is something I am looking forward to doing with Jack and Carolyn.

After our tour of Norwalk, we buckled up for the second half of our trip- although it seemed that some of us had gotten our fill of activity in Norwalk.

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And as this post is getting rather long, I think I’ll save our adventures in Canaan for part two of the road trip series. 🙂 Now I’m off to study- this is my last week of the second summer semester, and I’m plowing through finals and projects. We’ve got a busy week ahead of us, so I’m trying to knock all of my work out tonight after Jack goes to sleep. Here’s hoping!

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