April 26, 2018
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What the Wayside Inn could have been

By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

Real estate hot-shot Julian Rubenstein knew what he was doing. He wouldn’t even show me the Wayside Inn, up for sale in Martinsville, part of the majestic peninsula that is St. George. Instead, he took me to Martinsville Beach, an isolated sandy plot a five minute walk from the house.

By the time he let me into the house, I was ready to buy the place, as long as it had all four walls. “I’ll take it. What’s wrong with it?”

There was a lot wrong with it, since it had been built in 1888 and needed some updating. I never had enough money to do all the things I wanted, such as a big deck and a farm pond. Hell, I barely had enough to pay Frank Magrogan and his crew to do the little that we did. The house had five acres and five bedrooms, plus a three-story barn, all for $22,000. But that was so much for me that I had to get a second mortgage, from Rubenstein, I think.

My inadequacies were underlined once again this week when I saw the old place in the real estate section, all spiffed up (a new deck, even) for a mere $268,000. What a beautiful house, even if it is a dozen miles down Route 131 from Route 1 and a mere 15 feet from the highway. The previous owner had cut down a magnificent tree in the front yard, in case a car went out of control. I thought it would have been better to hit that tree instead of the house, but what do I know?

One wall after another fell to Magrogan’s sledgehammer and the tiny kitchen turned into a ballroom, just in time for party season. I don’t know why, but my apartments and houses always turned into party central.
Some of us pretended to play softball for the Rockland Wrecks and that team was always ready to party. Naturally, the newspaper gang (there really was one) would join in and the St. Patrick’s Day parties would have 70-80 people, with room to spare.

If memory serves (it rarely does) we had a Tom Judge fiddle band playing in one room, a country band in another room and Rockland radio man Mike Gross in a third room, pounding away on a piano … all at the same time. Of course, a stereo system blared Motown the rest of the time. The goal was to remain dancing until 4 a.m. Ah, youth.

Legend has it that a Rockland mayor and a congressman drove up to the house one St. Patrick’s Day, looked in the window and said, “Uh oh!” and turned around to go back to Rockland. The thing I loved about St. George was that if a stranger drove by and saw all the cars, they dropped in to see what was going on. Even local celebrities Freddie Stimpson and Peter Smith came by.

Any efforts at home improvement were stalled by the traditional lack of money. In those days if you could beg, borrow or steal $1,000, the Farmer’s Home Administration would dig you a huge farm pond, stock it with fish and give you back $900. Honest to God. A new deck overlooking the farm pond would have been gorgeous. But that initial $1,000 might as well have been $10,000, or even $100,000. Didn’t have it.

The rock foundation was a favorite breeding ground for some astoundingly large rats. Luckily we had an embarrassing number of cats to kill them. A legendary feral cat we called “Lassie” walked up the driveway one day and decided to stay. You could not pick her up and pat here or she would strip you to the bone. Apparently she did not have the same imperious attitude to the local tomcats, because she had one litter after another. Her litters started having litters. We had more cats than the kids could name. One ended up “Cla-la-la” when the normal names were exhausted. The obvious solution was to have “Lassie “fixed. But she always seemed to be pregnant and the money for the procedure never seemed to be there.

An electrician was summoned for some problem and he made the house his private project. He said he had never seen anything like it. Obviously, one room after another was added to the inn with electricity to follow, piecemeal. He amusedly traced the wiring from here to there and discovered an 18-inch ball of solder holding all the loose ends together … under the bedroom floor. Another string of wires went back and forth a dozen times in the attic … and just stopped. He could never figure out why the place had not burned to the ground.

New to the world of wood heat, I once took the dead ashes and dutifully deposited them in the compost heap next to the huge barn. Just before the dreaded trip to Rockland, I looked out the window and saw fog blowing across the field. There was no fog. And those ashes were not dead. It was smoke from the timbers that formed the compost heap. Another 10 minutes and the barn and the rest of house would have been on fire.

After I moved out of the place (in Walter Griffin’s borrowed Vega) I prayed for the place to burn down while it was rented to a parade of tenants. One family broke up the stairs in the barn to burn in the wood stove after the oil ran out. When the power was shut off, they got water from an old cattle well.

It’s hard to believe now, but I was tremendously relieved to sell the place after years on the market. Now, when I look at pictures in the real estate ad, I realize how nice the Wayside Inn could have been, if I had a few dollars. Heaven.

New plan for winning the lottery: Buy back the Wayside Inn and live happily forever after, five minutes from Martinsville Beach.

Maybe I’ll have another St. Patrick’s Day party.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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