January 2011, Round Pond
I’m in my truck in the dirt pull-in of a relative’s summer place, buttoned up for the winter overlooking the harbor. During the summer this is an active, happy place. Gulls wail, dogs bark, and kids squeal as they leap off the town dock into the brisk New England water, but in January not so much. Three lobster boats race counterclockwise in the seasonal “no wake zone” to break up a coat of ice that formed overnight. The water is high and turning, so the bits and pieces will flow out with the tide. In the distance a dog barks to be let in. Otherwise it is quiet, gray, and cold. I consider the scene with a King Ro Market-catered lunch: crab roll, Slim Jim, and whoopie pie washed down with a Shipyard IPA. I expect that there are open-bottle laws in Maine, but my level of concern is pretty low.
This morning I plucked my mother out of her dream home and plopped her in an assisted-living situation. It was not pretty. My mother, a proud, determined woman of failing health, sharp intellect, and dagger-esque eloquence, did not go quietly. Poltergeist-like, she knows what scares you and blasted me over her shoulder as the “on call” extraction team wheeled her out the door to her new forever home.
To be sure, The Lincoln Home is a top-drawer facility. The day before, my father and I had secured her the best apartment, with a spectacular view of the Damariscotta waterfront. But it was not her home and not her idea. My father, who had played “good cop” for the intervention, trailed the entourage, honor intact. Sudz, an indifferent Siberian husky, had left his bed to see what all the commotion was about. He was well on in dog years so very little phased him, except the notion that with all the hubbub someone might forget to feed the dog.
To distance myself I retreated to my favorite place in the world, Round Pond. I have enjoyed an active career as a U.S. Army Green Beret, visiting some amazing and not-so-amazing places globally. Maine remains the only place that I want or ever have wanted to be.
I was 6 in 1964 when I made my first trip to Maine and was introduced to this house. My father had been coming here since he was 6 in 1934, and before that, my New England ancestors (rustication-style) had been visiting since the late 1800s. This particular house, known locally as the “Schroeder house” for the original owners, was purchased by my relatives, the Ulins, in 1932, during the Depression, for around $1,500. Money was tight, but my Great Aunt Betsy, her husband, Alec Ulin, and sister, Aunt Peggy Beattie, loved Round Pond, so they pooled resources and bought the place. Another sister, Madeline Farmer, bought a place up the road toward Northern Point. The oldest, my paternal grandfather, Jed, had his eye on a Victorian place just around the corner. My grandmother, a woman of British practicality and taciturn manner, pulled rank and funding.
The Schroeder house was a diminutive, whitewashed brick cape with an attached New England-style barn built in 1843. There was no central heating nor running water, so the Schroeders made do with a Queen Atlantic wood stove in the kitchen and parlor stoves stationed strategically about the house. For water there was a pump in the kitchen fed from a small creek adjacent to the house that ran down from what appears to be a perpetually cloudy cow pond. Bathroom needs were answered in a privy located in a back corner of the barn. For economy of space and time, the privy was a two-holer, a decidedly awkward arrangement for present-day sensibilities.
Aunt Betsy and Uncle Alec dug a well and installed running water and a bathroom. As a summer place there was no need to upgrade the heating. Aunt Betsy and Uncle Alec were among the first of that cohort of PFAs (people from away) that would purchase a year-round house from a local family for seasonal use. Today many of the old houses with great views in Round Pond have converted to seasonal use. Aunt Betsy and Uncle Alec were not typical PFAs. Over the years they “went native,” working into the local culture, developing deep relationships within the village. Indeed, some villagers would travel south, leaving Lincoln County for the first time in their lives, to visit the Ulins on their farm in Delaware.
As the only brick house in the village, the Schroeder house had an old-school seaside cottage charm. There was no shortage of bricks in Round Pond, with one or more brickyards operating in the mud flats of the harbor and many more brickyards a half-day’s wagon ride away in Damariscotta. But the bricks in the Schroeder house were not local. They had come into Round Pond as ship’s ballast, most likely made in England, as the bricks were consistent with British molding and composition. The main “cape” part of the house sat on a dirt root cellar, while the kitchen addition and barn rested on large granite “reject” slabs from the quarry about 400 yards up Northern Point Road.
The barn was kluged together “Mainer-style” from two barns conjoined to create a two-story structure, including a workshop, stalls for a couple of large animals, a hayloft, and the privy. A large sliding barn door opened to the road. Another door gave access for the harbor side, and two small doors could be opened to muck out the stalls and privy. Outside by the muck access was a stone garden filled with tall daisy-like plants. My grandfather, Jed, called these “s—house” daisies. Indeed, in the old days, golden drops (Rudbeckia laciniata) were planted in the vicinity of privies for privacy and as a natural air freshener.
The best part of the house was the screen porch with a postcard view of Round Pond. On the hottest day, the porch captured and held the sea breeze in cool eddies. Later in the day, you might need a sweatshirt as the sun, low on the horizon, bathed the harbor in an amber hue.
The Schroeder house was the anchor point and hub of our Maine adventure. From the hub we would spoke out to Pemaquid Point, New Harbor, the Rachel Carson Salt Pond, Pemaquid Beach, Biscay Pond for a freshwater swim, or into the big town in Damariscotta for a Mad Magazine for me and a Tiger Beat for my sister at Clark’s Spa.
The hub-and-spoke capacity notwithstanding, there was plenty to do around the house and Round Pond. On an adjacent meadow there was a point of rocks jutting out from the property where we swam and messed about in skiffs. The rocks were known as Bill Point for Betsy and Alec’s son Bill, who passed away from illness in his early 20s. As recorded in Shirley Ross’ “Round Pond Village” column of the July 1958 Lincoln County News:
“The sympathy of the village is extended to Mr. and Mrs. Alex Ulin in the passing of their son Bill. He will be remembered by many in the village as he grew up here summers as a boy and had many friends here.”
Aug. 18, 2016
I’m back at the Schroeder house. Instead of the familiar dirt pull-in, I am parked awkwardly off to the side. A large dumpster is in the yard and a dormant excavator rests nearby. By day’s end, the Schroeder house will be packed in the dumpster. I’m here to witness the death of the old house.
Sadly, this is the result of blended-family estate planning. Following the deaths of Uncle Alec, Aunt Betsy, and Aunt P, my Uncle Hedge (son of Betsy and Alec), inherited the property. Earlier Hedge had subdivided the property into three parcels: one each for three children from his first wife. The parcels included a corner lot, the lot containing the Schroeder house, and a meadow with Bill Point. Villagers know the meadow as the Lupine Field for the yearly explosion of lupines in June. Hedge passed away, leaving the three partials to Peggy (second wife.) She sold the corner lot to neighbors, mindful of a clear and present threat to their view. Peggy passed on, leaving the remaining lots to her children, who sold the meadow, or Lupine Field, to the Round Pond Village Improvement Society for public use. Then the Schroeder house was sold with prejudice to a developer who would demo the house in lieu of a more suitable structure.
From my vantage point across Northern Point Road, the excavator sputtered awake, coughed a plume of exhaust, and trundled to a corner of the Schroeder house.
I wept, for every brick and stone and leaf was charged with memory …
The sights, sounds, smells of the old house come to me. The warmth of the Queen Atlantic wood stove cutting the chill of a late summer morning. The aroma of Aunt Betsy’s Round Pond haddock chowder simmering on the wood stove or Aunt Peggy’s raspberry tarts baking within. In the field below I smell fresh-cut hay and see dancing lights from a game of flashlight tag. I hear voices from the porch laughing with a happy hour punchline.
The excavator takes a couple of exploratory bites and digs in. The double-layer brick construction was not as sturdy as thought. The house was frail, old, and ready to die, and so was my father.
As I watched the Schroeder House die, my cell buzzed. It was The Lincoln Home. The voice was garbled and the call dropped. There is no such thing as a good news call from the home. To be fair to my parents, when I was growing up there was no such thing as a good news call from my school either. Muttering, I moved to high ground until one bar flashed.
“The hospice nurse says your father is folding his tent.”
Hospice brevity code for deathwatch. I took a moment to let that sink in. I idolized him as a child and bucked his authority as a teenager. I struggled to earn his approval as a man. Then the roles reversed – I was now caring for my parents as age robbed them of capacity. It was not pretty, involving hard decisions, tough love, and bitterness. Now two years since Mom’s death, my father and I had rekindled our relationship. We enjoyed weekly breakfasts at the home followed by coffee in his room. And now that all was good between us, he was folding his tent …
I stopped by the camp to grab “Dozer,” a 95-pound boxer-Great Dane mix. He was a gentle soul who had found us four years earlier at a humane society booth. Dad loved Dozer, so I thought Dozer might lighten the mood. We arrived to find Dad’s hospital bed positioned in the center of the room so he could see down the Damariscotta River. In better days he would look out the window commenting on the oyster operation, a boat on the ways at the boatyard, or a particularly pretty sloop motoring out in search of a breeze. Today he was semiconscious, resting peacefully, Ellen (Dad’s 85-year-old girlfriend) at his side. They had found each other following Mom’s death. Ellen was a lovely lady who buffed out Dad’s quarrelsome patina. The room was quiet, melancholy. One of the staff took Ellen down to lunch, giving Dad, Dozer, and I a private moment.
I talked Dad through a lifetime of achievements. He rowed varsity lightweight crew for the University of Pennsylvania as a walk-on; enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean conflict and earned a direct commission to lieutenant; went to medical school on the G.I. Bill; was a small-town physician, retiring as a corporate medical director; followed a dream and got his pilot’s license; raised and educated two moderately intelligent, yet independent kids; and then retired to Maine, which anchored us to the area.
I congratulated him for a life well-lived. His hand moved toward mine as if reaching out. The Beatties, of Celtic origin, do not suffer shows of affection, so I assumed a spasmodic flinch. Now I am not so sure. I told him the Schroeder house was coming down that day, that nothing lasts forever, that it was time for the house and his time as well, it was OK to let go …
He did not let go. Around dinnertime I took Dozer back to the camp, grabbed a few things (laptop, flask of whisky), and headed back to the home. Into the night, as the oxygen machine clicked-gurgled-hissed out a rhythmic dirge, I wrote the obituary and read it to him. An unconventional piece, but a good read, I thought. I was alone with him in a one-sided conversation, drifting off when the cell announced an inquisitory text from my wife, Katy. His breathing, episodic earlier, had settled in at a regular pace in sync with the click-gurgle-hiss of the oxygen machine. Restless, I got up and paced about the room, which was filled with ship paintings and sketches done by his grandfather, my great-grandfather, Clary. As I studied the detailed rigging in one sketch, I realized that something had changed. I moved to the foot of the bed, watched him swallow once, and his fires went out. I made note of the time, 0409 hours, raised the parting glass to 87.8 years of a life well-lived, and that was that.
Later that afternoon I returned to his room to gather personal effects and prep his quarters for clearing. The room was still, the rhythmic click-gurgle-hiss of the oxygen machine was gone, the hospital bed stripped and empty. Dusty, the local funeral director, had policed up Dad’s earthly remains and his spirit had gone to the other side. Soon the room would be rented to a new tenant who I hoped would enjoy the room as much as Dad. I felt the first wave of sadness. My weekly visits with my dad at the home were done, forever, and I had not prepared for that.
I returned to an empty lot on Northern Point Road. The Schroeder House was gone, the foundation dug out, and the ground leveled for new construction. A handful of villagers upset by the demolition blamed the PFAs for unwelcome change in Round Pond. As an objective PFA, I understood why someone might want to raze the old house to make way for an improved version exploiting the view. As a subjective PFA from a small town in Delaware, I understand the specter of change on a small community. Round Pond, along with other Midcoast villages, is transitioning from a tight year-round community to a seasonal commune. It ain’t right. It ain’t wrong. It simply is what it is.
“The old house spoke: child, here is naught for grief
Change works no ill, and time is but a name;”
All in all, given the memories and the sense of incredulity wrought from unfortunate estate planning, nothing lasts forever and, in the end, I was relieved that the house and my father had completed their earthly journey. I headed back to the camp where hungry dogs, jealous of my absence, snoozed Wyeth-like on the bed.
“What the heart loved it keeps. And all is well.”
– From “Old House” by Nancy Byrd Turner
Two years have passed since the day the Schroeder House came down and my father passed away. Katy and I have retired and transplanted to our forever home in Bristol. An incredible, freshly completed house occupies Northern Point Road where the Schroeder House once stood. Designed and constructed by local contractors and suppliers (44 North Architects, Ledgewalker Builders, Jon G. Poland Plumbing and Heating, Hanley Construction, Rightway Electrical Services, and Hancock Lumber), it boasts New England lines and style, and is well-suited to the Round Pond skyline. The house will provide much happiness to generations of occupants to come.
And two years, two months after my father’s death, I have a grandson who resembles his great-granddad. He too has a bright future and will provide much happiness as he gets about his own story.
(Taylor V. Beattie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer and proud Maine transplant living on Biscay Pond in Bristol with his wife, Katy; three well-intentioned dogs; and a mercurial cat.)