Monday, July 20, 2009

This Was The View That Was

Edie’s View, 2000

This is a view that no longer exists.

One fall our friend Edie lent us her little cottage on the harbor in Edgartown on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Generations of her family had spent summers at the family compound that included the big house, a boathouse and a little one-room shack behind it for the boat keeper. After their parents passed away, Edie let her sister have the big house. She preferred the boathouse property.

The boathouse sat on a narrow spit of sand and grass between the harbor and a herring pond. A sluice running between the two created a moat separating the boathouse from the big family house. A marine railway once ran up from the harbor up into it.

During the 1950s Edie had the boathouse refitted into a small, no-nonsense Cape Cod bungalow with one tiny bedroom downstairs and one up. The mansions of the rich and famous surrounded it. But Edie’s summer place was furnished from the local church thrift shop. It sat so close to sea level and was so subject to flooding that Edie made sure all the electrical outlets and appliances were installed at chest level.

A few days into our stay, a hurricane approached. We had to get out before the storm surge came. Other friends offered us a rental house that had become available unexpectedly. It's a grand place in an exclusive community atop a hill well inland from the water, the kind of place where you felt like you had to dress a little nicer, serve better booze and use the good china. A famous Hollywood producer had rented it, but left early when his wife got scared they might be marooned if the ferry to the mainland stopped running during the storm.

We moved into the rental house. The hurricane came and went. Afterward, the sun came back out and we contemplated the house with every modern convenience, enough bedrooms and bathrooms for every person and dog, beautiful landscaping and a swimming pool.

We weren’t happy. The house on the hill was a gilded cage.

We packed our bags, gathered up the dogs and moved back down to Edie’s cottage. We sliced cheese with old U.S. Navy flatware and ate Triscuits out of the box. We read books, sailed and fished, had friends over, drank our gin and tonics from plastic cups and dangled our feet in the water each afternoon as the sun set.

Two weeks after we left, a crew came and demolished the cottage. Edie had a new place built, no bigger than the old boathouse, but higher above the water and suitable for year-round living.

The photograph above shows the view from the second floor bedroom of the old cottage. I loved that simple view with its Hopper-like colors. (Edward Hopper painted for many years at Cape Cod and on Martha's Vineyard. One of my favorites is The Long Leg.)

By the way, if anyone needs Jack Nicholson’s private phone number, we’ve got it. The Hollywood producer left it on a bedside table at the big house.


  1. Great story Chris. I would love to see more photos of the cottage. Do you have any?

  2. Fabulous photo and nostalgic tale. It sounded like a treasure. Lucky you to have that memory!

  3. Wonderful story. I would have adored the little cottage.

    (Great ending)

  4. Hi Chris, I want the number!
    These stories by you are very interesting. Thanks!
    I want to do something similar by I have no patience and time to try.
    Next week I will be in Lanzarote so I will try do do a reportage directly ( if I have time) on my blog!
    Have a nice weekend!