When a Sentinel Falls

It’s a terrible feeling when something unexpectedly changes. There are things in life that are supposed to be rock-solid. So solid in fact that we can comfortably take them for granted. Ironic that the very things we take for granted can be the most important to us.

I take lots of things for granted. I remind myself to stop and be thankful for them and appreciate them, but I never really expect them to disappear or change drastically. So imagine my shock when I opened an e-mail with this photo. It’s the demolition of my Grandparent’s house. I never expected it to change from my last memory. It was supposed to remain rock-solid.

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The e-mail contained just these photos and no explanation.

This house, High Winds as we called it, was a constant in my childhood. It was a constant in my mother’s childhood: the only house she ever knew. We visited my Grandparent’s on Prince’s Point in Yarmouth, Maine so frequently we had our own neighborhood friends and knew their phone numbers.

The experience was always the same as was the decor. I can recreate every room in my mind’s eye conjuring details like the linoleum brick in the hallway, the oriental rugs in the dinning room and library, the slam of the screen door that opened to the garage, the click of the old-fashioned thumb-press hardware on all the doors, the shotguns that leaned against each other beside the crank out window in the kitchen ready to shoot a squirrel, the eight track player in the kitchen we loaded music from Annie. The list is endless.

The house was big and small at the same time. It had five bathrooms, two staircases and four to six bedrooms depending on the holiday. It had the quirky layout of old homes expanded to accommodate growing families; like having to walk through my Grandparent’s bedroom to access the other side of the house. And stuff.  Piles of stuff.  Old-fashioned toys and tools. Weird exercise equipment that we loved to use and no adult ever touched. Strange artifacts picked up on exotic trips. Gag gifts like the fake throw-up. Naughty things like pin-up girl calendars. Explicit decks of cards and a few Playboy magazines buried in a bedside table. We explored and knew every inch of that house.

The activities were always the same too. We’d arrive on Friday evening in time for dinner. Nana cooked straight from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Everything on our plate was unrecognizable but we ate it because dessert was always half gallons of ice cream that Grampy dished out with a “spade”. Ice cream always arrived on the dining room table but no one ever remembers putting a container back in the freezer.

Saturdays in the summer were spent on the boat in Casco Bay followed by swimming in the pool; the water a balmy 60 degrees. Saturdays in the winter meant snow mobile rides in the woods while my Dad and Grampy pruned and burned sections of the one-hundred acres of land. They would come in smelling like chainsaws, grab a few Coors and settle in the library to watch college football, eat peanuts and trash talk each other while playing cribbage: fifteen-two, fifteen-four, drop my voice and say no more.

There were always Italian sandwiches and arguments about which establishment made them better: Bill’s or Amato’s. There were always pancakes and Jone’s breakfast sausages on Saturdays and codfish cakes on Sunday. “Bob, you’re stinking up the house!” Soda was abundant and accessible. Most of it predated my birth. Some of it predated my parent’s birth. Those were the cans that looked full but had completely evaporated. We would dust them off and examine their unfamiliar labels then put them back in exactly the same spot.

That house and all its contents are etched so strongly in my mind I can describe every nook and corner as if I were standing in it today. It’s a tribute to how strong childhood memories are because my Grandmother passed away when I was just fifteen and by the time I was in college my Grandfather was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and our visits were much changed and less frequent. I still miss them terribly.

My memories are so strong that seeing its destruction shook me to the core. I cried as I studied those two photos. I couldn’t bring myself to call my Mother because I didn’t want to hear validation. I should have called her because it turns out the current owners love the house. They were having water problems so they were remodeling the back half while maintaining the integrity of the front. What a relief.

Thankfully a tenet of my childhood remains and the sentinel of Prince’s Point still stands strong.

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