It’s not my house, but it still felt like it was partly mine. My kids and I fell in love with that house from the moment we saw it, tucked back from the road amidst the mansions. It had a little brick fireplace. It had a big screened-in porch, complete with ivy and trellis. There were beautiful hardwood floors in the kids’ rooms, two bathrooms, and a little laundry room with orange and green wooden floors, stencilled with little seahorses and shells.
Most importantly, it looked like a little English cottage, one house away from the beach. And that was where we spent most of our time. We learned about fighting conchs and coquinas. We spent almost every sunset there. We fell asleep and woke up listening to the sound of the waves. Until the neighbor’s sea grape tree grew too tall, we could even see a bit of sand and sea through our kitchen window.
When I moved in there on October 1, 2009, my twins were still in diapers and using their potty seat. I realized that as I was cleaning out the bathroom closet and found a few stray diapers left in a bag. It’s funny the things that will make you cry out of the clear blue, but finding that bag did it.
There have been a lot of tears since the day two months ago that I got the dreaded phone call from the home’s owner. I moved in knowing the day would come that the house would be torn down, but as the days blended into months it seemed so far in the background.
Part of the house was very old. Its first year on the tax roll was 1925, but it had been added onto since. It was originally the caretaker’s cottage for the Frazier house, which is next door on the beach. The dining room windows were very old, with metal cranks you stuck in a hole to open them. They framed the old brick fireplace and really brought that room together. The kitchen remained true to the exterior color theme, with white walls and cabinets and blue countertops.
In all, it was a quaint old place with a lot of characters and more than a few ghosts. I have heard stories of one of the Joiner family, a man named TeeWee, who was the caretaker of the estate next door for a while, long ago. He liked to invite the girls over for bikini volleyball at the house, and I heard that worked out well for him.
Cory and Michael Moffat lived there for a time, as did Boots and Dick Tolsdorf and the Doug and Carol Stewart family. They all have told me how much they loved the little house, too.
We always had a litter of kittens around, and two of the more personable ones (who loved to come up on the porch and antagonize the dogs through the sliding doors) were adopted by local people.
And we always had ghosts. I remember the very first day I moved things into the house, and I sat down on the bed in my room. As I sat there, I heard a cabinet door shut. There was no other reason for it to do so, no windows were open.
In the weeks after we had all settled in, my oldest daughter told me that she kept seeing something out of the corner of her eye, and felt like she was being watched. I explained that she was just wrapping her head around a new place, and not to worry.
“I’m not worried,” she said. “Whatever it is, it seems to be nice.”
We continued to hear doors shut and had televisions turn on after we shut them off. Little, odd occurrences that were somehow comforting, because whatever spirit was there was not malevolent at all. The spirit of that house was happy and content. And while the kids and I lived there, we were happy and content, too.
Where do the spirits go when it’s time for the house to be torn down? Do they stay? In this case, I don’t think so.
I took my son, Keagan, to the house after the firemen went through and did some practice drills. He’s almost 5. He is autistic, and he’s sensitive to things that others don’t notice.
It took him all of two seconds to put into words what I was feeling.
“Awwww, this house is dead,” he said.
“No, it’s just some holes in the walls and some water,” I said.
“What have they done to it?” he said. “It’s all dead inside now.”
He was right, I felt it, too. Whatever had been there seemed to have moved out with us. Believe me, I invited it to come.
Where do the souls of old houses go? As I stood in the living room and looked around at the bits and pieces of my children’s toddlerhood (a piece of Monopoly money in that corner, a broken toy sticking out from under the sofa that was there when we moved in), I realized that a lot of families out here have done that same thing. They had to leave for different reasons, perhaps, but the feeling is the same. One more original piece of Boca Grande gone, more family memories lost.
I owe that house for a lot of healing that took place within its walls. A lot of confusion gave way to peace there. A lot of growing up, both by myself and the kids. The twins were 2 when we moved in, now they’re almost 4. They barely remember any other house. But they’re doing all right.
On the last morning of the Shortuse Occupation of 12th Street, as we liked to call it, the girls taped some pictures they had drawn on the walls.
“We drew them for the house,” they said. “Because we will really, really miss it.”
When the moving truck pulled away and the little ones left with their dad, my oldest daughter and I sat and cried for a while. We had held it together until the girls’ explained why they put those pictures on the wall, and then had cried when it was time to go. But young children are resilient, and as soon as they left the driveway they were on to bigger and better things.
As we looked out the big front window for the last time, and meandered through the rooms looking for last-minute things to take with us, I realized that it isn’t so much a tragedy that we had to move out, but a gift that we got to stay there. A great, precious gift that I can never repay to Kyle Flynn, the owner of the house. He and his wife plan to build a beautiful new house on the property, and will one day reside full-time here on the island. They are tremendously good people, and I am sure everyone here will love them.
So goodbye, my little beach house. The Shortuse Occupation has ended, and a new era has begun.
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