Dream House

A photographic exploration

Then there were only the tired but stalwart houses lining the road, with their unapologetic boxiness, white, gray or yellow clapboards, and tall chimneys. She liked to look at them every year, to see how they might’ve changed.

“Sid lived with us for a while, you know,” Cassie said. “But Mom never told us why. She taught him to sail, not me, because he was a boy.”

“Cass, he looks like he was about nine. She taught him and not you because you were, like, six.”

Ginny wished for Sandy now, wished it were summer, when the days outdoors never ended. Instead of Sandy, she got Kit, her next-door neighbor who now stood peering in at her. He was two years older and was a boy, but he was better than no one…They listened to the shush-shush-shush of their neighbor scrubbing the weeds off the bottom of his boat, already hauled out for winter. In a few months, storms would push the water over the rocks; the fort—at least most of it—would wash away. In May, Ginny would build another.

“Wanna go rowin’?” Kit asked.

They climbed over the rocks to the dock and pulled in the dinghy on the outhaul.

She turned and looked out the window where the snow was so deep, bushes spread out like dunes on a wide, white beach. …The outdoor world was so smooth and without lines their house could be set in a cloud; the kitchen, in comparison, appeared cluttered and worn. Ginny wolfed down her eggs, determined to get outside.

On the adjacent wall was a photo of Vice President Nixon enjoying a lobster dinner at a picnic table with Pat, Tricia, and Julie…Julie and Tricia, in matching sun suits, scrunched their faces at the lobster-eating ordeal.

In her mind, Gina too had traveled far from Whit’s Point, but her body still got driven to Maine and parked high and dry every year about the same time that the boats in town got released from their cradles back into the water.

“The tide’s high,” Gina said when they reached the cove. She pulled up the centerboard and dangled her fingers in the water. “It’s soupy! Feel it!”

Mark dragged his hand overboard and smiled.

For every wiggly line that represented a wall of the house, there were four more parallel to it that merely served the purpose of noting dimensions. There was no hierarchy in this kind of sketch, just a mess of lines and numbers that were legible mostly only to the measurer. Yet there was strict, underlying precision in the apparent disarray, which later would translate into a plan that documented the house to within a quarter of an inch.

“Do you remember how I lusted after this boat?” Kit asked when she was settled in the cockpit. “I saw her advertised two years ago and bought her from the Rhode Island guy who bought it from your parents. Such a classic. Your parents took me out on her maybe ten years ago. Your mom really knew how to handle her. How’d your parents manage to have a yacht, anyhow?”

Esther and Ben huddled closer as Gina unwrapped the bundle and laid out six letters on the floor. Esther was the first to register what they were looking at. “Mom!” she gasped, her fingers dancing above the pages. “It says ‘Thomas Jefferson’ on this one! And this one…‘G. Washington’!”

Gina badly needed a nap too, but what she craved, she realized, was a row. She left Lily House and walked to the town dock to look for Kit. Homeward was not on her mooring. She sat at the top of the ramp to wait for him, leaning against the dock railing…Half an hour passed. Boats came and went from the float, picking up or dropping off passengers who talked of more thunderstorms.

Her eyes swept the scenery and she silently named the points of land and the islands, the two rivers and small coves that sneaked inland. Unlike San Francisco, where the earth came to a sudden, plunging end, here the horizontal landscape made its slow reach toward the ocean, low hills rolling into fields that stretched out to marshes and rocks, and more rocks, smaller and smaller until, in some places, pebbles yielded a crescent of sand—a gift to the people who celebrated this union of sea and earth. The intimate landscape fostered a relationship with the water that was more like poetry than sport.