Thursday, February 25, 2010

On This Spot

North Water Street, 2008

I took this picture at Martha’s Vineyard in the fall of 2008. As is my habit when I’m there, I’d been out wandering along the Edgartown waterfront since before sunrise and was headed back to our rental house to see what the rest of the family was doing for breakfast.

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked by this house at the corner of North Water and Morse streets through the years. Probably hundreds. It’s a huge place, one of the stately “whaling captains’ homes” that line North Water Street. But until this day I’d apparently never looked up at it and noticed how its porch, like the porches of a number of nearby homes, was painted a light aquamarine.

The light was right. The composition was interesting. I took the picture and continued on back to the house for breakfast.

A month later I showed a copy of the photo to my wife’s uncle, whose aunt had once owned an equally grand summer home across the street.

“Oh, that’s the house where my father proposed to my mother,” Uncle Terry said, nonchalantly.

In the years between WWI and WWII, Terry’s mother summered at her aunt’s house on North Water Street. Sometimes so many family members and friends would visit that a second house would be taken to accommodate the overflow and their children, maids and cooks. In the summer during which the following takes place, the rental home was the house shown above.

This particular summer, Terry’s father, an up and coming investment banker, followed Terry’s mother to the Vineyard to court her. Each weekend he took the train and boat up from New York and rented a room nearby. They were very formal people, living at the tail end of the Gilded Age that Edith Wharton wrote about so well. So the courtship was undoubtedly formal and probably chaste.

At the end of the summer, Terry’s father was ready to propose. That morning Terry’s mother happened to be at the “second house,” the one shown above. He didn’t want to propose to her in front of all the relatives sitting on the front porch. So he walked around to the Morse Street side, where he heard her talking in the kitchen. From the sidewalk outside the kitchen window, he called out her name, pledged his love forever and asked her to marry him.

More than eighty years later I stood on pretty much the same spot, turned to the right instead of the left and took this picture without having any idea of the tender moment that took place there so many years before.


  1. Good story. What a beautiful blue against that sky! Looks like it must be a wonderful house. "Probably chaste, eh?" Haaa!

  2. Cool story and I love the porch. Around here the porch ceilings are painted blue as well but it's closer to sky blue or robin's egg blue. I keep meaning to get some shots but haven't yet.