The truth is that she was never ours. She belonged to her youth – to those that conceived her. Her first loves. We were only placeholders, the rebound lovers meant to keep her warm until her new beau arrived.
We were (are) Woodgers. She was (is) the Marshall Camp – “the Big Camp.” Her inception was borne of dynamic thinking and enthusiastic work. Sailors, hunters, sportsmen, craftsmen were her kind. Woodgers were none of these. Woodgers were something, sure, but not the something that could hold her attention, keep her vital. We were just there – descendants inheriting a treasure they could not keep.
Only days before her sale, I was in the ocean – her ocean – treading water and looking back and up to the house. The front porch. The porch swing. The lichen-spotted rocks of her step walls. I remembered a time long ago, sitting on those masonry steps, kissing a girl. The prick of mosquitos on neck and hands, the night fog wet in hair, the green buoy keeping the beat of the ocean in time with our breath (or so it seemed). But now the image was harder to imagine, spoiled by adult purpose and unfulfilled promise. Now I saw the remnants of a tenant’s efforts to dissuade the swallows from the porch eaves – scraps of chicken wire stretched across the creases frequented by nests. Now I saw the steady, unrelenting work of the Atlantic – the breaches in the bulkhead, the scarred and scoured bluff. The romance had worn at first thin and then to only a whisper of itself, slight and fragile.
She is an acquired taste, not the one all think of as pretty. She is more Katharine than Audrey Hepburn – rolled-up jeans and wool sweaters worn at the elbows. Few actually fall in love with her rough-hewn heart, but those that do fall hard. Still, the magnitude of needs tends to temper that love, or at least give pause to the thought of union.
She was never intended as a home, but more as a shelter from the elements. Her people lived as much outside of her as inside. Her surroundings became as much a part of her as any table, bed, or stove. Thus the conundrum of her value – wouldn’t any port in a storm do? If her greatest assets lay outside her walls, why keep her at all? Yet there was an answer to her puzzle, one that was only known to a few. She belonged there. And nowhere else. Like the tomboy whose appeal existed only in a limited environment, she had found her place in the world. And just as this tomboy would feel horribly out of place at an uptown Manhattan party, so too would any attempted facsimile of her feel awkward on her bluff. She may be replaceable but never replicated.
Frank and Molly knew this. As did Bob and Ruth, and Ham and Mary. And her select long-term tenants: the Warrens, the Halls, the Bennetts, and the Flights. They loved her like a parent loves a child, recognizing her faults and loving her all the more for them.
The Woodgers knew this too. But she needed more than they/we could give. Her need was not capricious or extravagant or full of conceit, but borne of a simple need for survival. So we let her go. Finally. To a family that embraced her – that not only desired to maintain her, but knew how to do it. The Fonda to her Hepburn.
I visited her this December as her out buildings were demolished. She stood there stoic, face in the wind and frost on her sides. I searched for traces of our time with her, and they were there, though maybe only noticeable to us. The Marshall Camp. The Big Camp. In love again.