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9780684845173

The Big House; A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780684845173

  • ISBN10:

    0684845172

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2003-05-20
  • Publisher: Scribner

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Supplemental Materials

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Summary

In this intimate and poignant history of a sprawling century-old summer house on Cape Cod, George Howe Colt reveals not just one family's fascinating story but a vanishing way of life. Faced with the sale of the treasured house where he had spent forty

Author Biography

George Howe Colt is a former staff writer at Life magazine whose articles have been published in The New York Times, Civilization, and Mother Jones, among other publications. The author of The Enigma of Suicide, a critically acclaimed work of nonfiction, he lives with his family in rural western Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

Contents



Prologue: Winter

PART ONE
I Arriving
II The Family Tree
III 1963
IV The Discovery of Cape Cod
Rooftree
VI Renovations
VII Fishing
VIII The North and South Faces
IX The Barn
Plain Living
XI Money
XII Sailing
XIII Tennis

Midsummer

PART TWO
XIV Hidden House
XV The Big Cove
XVI Missing Cards
XVII Rain
XVIII The White Elephant
XIX Full House
XX Florida
XXI Leaving


Epilogue: Indian Summer

Notes on Sources
Acknowledgments

Excerpts

Prologue WINTERThe doors that are always open have been closed and locked. The windows are shut tight. The shades are drawn. No water runs from the faucets. The toaster -- which in the best of times works only if its handle is pinned under the weight of a second, even less functional toaster -- is unplugged. The kitchen cupboards are empty except for a stack of napkins, a box of sugar cubes, and eight cans of beer. The porch furniture -- six white plastic chairs, two green wooden tables -- has been stacked in the dining room. The croquet set, the badminton equipment, the tennis net, and the flag are behind closet doors. The dinghy is turtled on sawhorses in the barn, the oars angled against the wall. The roasted-salt scent of August has given way to the stale smell of mothballs, ashes, mildew.Here and there are traces of last summer: a striped beach towel tossed on the washing machine, a half-empty shampoo bottle wedged in the wooden slats of the outdoor shower, a fishing lure on the living room mantel, a half-burned log in the fireplace, a sprinkling of sand behind the kitchen door. Dead hornets litter the windowsills. A drowned mouse floats in the lower-bedroom toilet. The most recent entry in the guest book was made five months ago. The top newspaper in the kindling pile is dated September 29. The ship's clock in the front hall has stopped at 2:45, but whether that was A.M. or P.M. no one can tell. After gorging on summer for three months, the house has gone into hibernation. They call it the off-season, as if there were a switch in the cellar, next to the circuit breakers, that one flipped to plunge the house from brimming to empty, warm to cold, noisy to silent, light to dark. Outside, too, the world has changed color, from blues, yellows, and greens to grays and browns. The tangle of honeysuckle,Rosa rugosa, and poison ivy that lapped at the porch is a skein of bare branches and vines. The lawn is hard as tundra, brown as burlap. The Benedicts' house next door, hidden from view when I was last here, is visible through the leafless trees. The woods give up their secrets: old tennis balls, an errant Frisbee, a lost tube of sunblock, a badminton birdie. Out in the bay, the water is the color of steel and spattered with whitecaps; without the presence of boats to lend perspective, the waves look ominously large. On the stony beach, the boardwalk -- a set of narrow planks we use to enter the water without spraining our ankles on the algae-slicked rocks -- has been piled above the tide line, beyond the reach, we hope, of storms.A summer house in winter is a forlorn thing. In its proper season, every door is unlocked, every window wide open. People, too, are more open in summer, moving through the house and each other's life as freely as the wind. Their schools and offices are distant, their guard is down, their feet are bare. Now as I walk from room to room, shivering in my parka, I have the feeling I'm trespassing, as if I've sneaked into a museum at night. Without people to fill it, the house takes on a life of its own. Family photographs seem to breathe, their subjects vivid and laughing and suspended at the most beautiful moments of their youths: my father in his army uniform, about to go off to World War II; my aunt in an evening gown, in a shot taken for a society benefit not long before her death at twenty-eight; my grandfather as a Harvard freshman, poised to win an ice hockey game; my cousins in the summer of 1963, gathered on the sunny lawn. I am older than all of them, even though many are now dead.In this still house, where is the summer hiding? Perhaps in the mice whose droppings pepper the couch, the bats that brood in the attic eaves, the squirrels that nest in the stairwell walls. They are silent now, but we will hear and see them -- and the offspring to which they will soon give birth -- in a few months. For if the house is full of memory, it is equall

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