The House that Pop Pop Built
My grandfather died when I was 10-years old and my memories of him are filtered through a child’s eyes. But very rich memories they are and these memories were enhanced over time by all those who knew and loved him, especially his daughter, my mother. His name was Ed Hildebrand, but he was my Pop Pop. Pop Pop bought a piece of property in Southold in 1941 for one thousand dollars, and built a house on it himself in that year on his weekends off from work and vacations from Consolidated Edison, probably never realizing he would create lifetimes of memories for five generations and beyond. My grandmother, mother, and uncle lived in the house during the week in the summers in the 40s and tended the family’s Victory Garden during the war. They would go grocery shopping by row boat as my grandmother did not drive and Pop Pop needed the family car for his Con Ed job. I still marvel that my uncle would row to the Southold Bohack’s grocery store traveling up Town Creek across from the house to do their grocery shopping. The original house was framed on stilts, and my mother vividly recalls that, as the basement was being dug, the house shifted in the middle of the night off its pilings in a rain storm and the three took refuge with the neighbor next door. The basement was added and that became Pop Pop’s tool and storage room. To this day, you can go into the basement and find his spider web encased workbench, mounted baby food jars filled with any kind of nail you could imagine, as well as ancient vise grips and other tools. The nine-window porch was added as the true family living room and the place where my grandmother would valiantly try in vain to keep wet bathing suits off her furnishings and sand from being tracked around. The lattice work entry way and the flag pole followed. It was Pop Pop who taught me the oh-so-patriotic lesson of how to display and fold a flag. My parents met out in Southold. My father was a lifeguard at Founders Landing beach and quite handsome. He lived in just a garage structure on Terry Lane probably equidistant from the beach as was Pop Pop’s house. I once found a whole role of pictures of my parents on a day trip to Montauk with my beautiful mother posing in cropped black pants and a white shirt à la Marilyn Monroe on the boulders. They married after he graduated from the City College of New York in 1955. In the mid-60s, I remember my siblings and I would be loaded in the tan family station wagon in our pajamas by my mother every summer Friday night, and we would pick up my dad at the Syosset train station and drive out to Southold to be packed off to bed on lumpy cots in the attic upon arrival at my grandparents’ house. There were six of us, six beds, and we slept head to toe along the walls, three on each side. I’m pretty sure I spent all those weekends at the beach in pilled hand me down stretched elastic bathing suits, complete with bathing cap, with a parent or grandparent minding me. We virtually lived at the beach on those weekends, and I would stay so long in the water that the skin on my fingers would wrinkle. That is until the jellyfish would arrive in late August. One jellyfish sting was enough for me. And then there was the summer I took American Red Cross swimming lessons in the Long Island Sound at 9am and came out of my class an hour later with blue lips from the cold. But the bribe of an ice cream cone at Jack’s Shack motivated me, and I was very proud to get my Guppy Swimming Certificate. When Pop Pop would swim with us, we would hold onto his toes as he floated on his back as he made choo choo train sounds. Besides making sandcastles, eating push-up ice cream pops sold at the Wharf House, and swimming in the Peconic Bay, we would also catch blow fish by the beach jetty and add them to our sand pails filled with water. Pop Pop would tell us to tickle their bellies to make them blow up. At night, he would take our pails of blow fish and release them back in the jetty waters. In 1967, Pop Pop built the two-story double garage out back with two rooms and a bath upstairs and an outdoor shower. The family of six was split with three of us girls sleeping in the attic and my brother and parents sleeping outside in the upstairs of the garage. My grandmother would use an intercom system installed by Pop Pop to announce when breakfast was ready to the garage inhabitants, and we all loved playing with the intercom. My grandmother would host family gatherings making her signature Sauerbraten dinner in the fall, potato salad and ambrosia complete with mini marshmallows for our summer meals, and double crumb cake always. After Pop Pop died, his bedroom was converted into a washer and dryer room. Even though the room was reclaimed for a utilitarian purpose, memories of Pop Pop’s snores emanating from that room remain to this day. In the early 90s, I moved to the Southold house for two years and worked in the vineyards between law jobs and performed in musicals at the North Fork Community Theater. By then, the house was in need of upgrading, and I remember one night I was getting ready for a cast party and moved the shower head only to have it snap off in my hand. This is how my family’s long relationship with Mike at Hardy Plumbing in Mattituck started. Around this time, we started the family yard sale tradition to fund a lobster dinner each summer. My siblings and parents would pool our cast offs and usually we raised enough funds to feed the whole family a lobster dinner. We would set up the yard sale on tables the night before in the garage and bring out our wares at dawn. In spite of our Suffolk Times ad instruction for “No Early Birds,” we always had some and we also would inevitably end up selling some of Pop Pop’s treasures in the garage. People were always more fascinated with what was in the garage instead of what we had on the tables. I still remember the year we sold his clam rakes. Another year, my oldest niece got into the spirit and set up a lemonade stand at the yard sale. This fourth generation was soon captivated by the fun we had at the Southold house. In 1999, my rehearsal dinner and post-wedding day brunch were, of course, held at Pop Pop’s house, which that year became my parent’s retirement home. My father drove the architect for the house crazy by insisting that the house needed to look exactly from the front the way it did in 1942, in spite of having him double the footprint of the house. All the upgrades were made, and my father, who revered Pop Pop, enjoyed Southold life until his death in 2011. It should come as no surprise that my father’s own grandchildren called him Pop Pop. Pop Pop’s relatives would gather in Southold for my grandparents’ anniversary around Labor Day weekend starting in the early 70s to spend a day together and allow the families to swim at Founders Landing beach. Thus began an annual tradition that continues now every Fourth of July to this day hosted by succeeding generations. While the family reunion rotates around the East End, this year it was held where it began in Southold at the house Pop Pop built seventy-three years ago hosted by my 81-year old mother . Pop Pop died suddenly in his sleep one night and relatively young at age 67. The indelible mark of the physical structure he built in the Southold house pales in comparison to the remarkable lifetimes of memories he gave and continues to give to his family to this day. As the fifth generation begins, my two-year-old great nephew has only just begun to find the joy in the house that Pop Pop built. His building the house was the consummate labor of love for his family.