Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house

I grew up on the wrong side of town. Now, I realize that many of you sincerely doubt that there is such a thing as a “wrong side of town” on Cape Cod, but I can assure you that there is.

On the north side, there is lovely, scenic, historic Route 6A, lined with beautifully kept houses, pristine little antique shops, and thoughtfully turned out B&Bs.

On the south side, there is tawdry, grimy, overtly commercial Route 28, lined with T-shirt shops, ratty old duplexes, and run-down old cottage motels.

I grew up just off of Route 28, on the south side. Now, don’t get me wrong. My neighborhood (and home) was lovely and safe and delightful in every possible way. But when I took the bus to school, or went tooling around town with my mom, I could see the difference clear as day.

And all those well dressed little girls in elementary school — the ones who accumulated ski lift tickets on their winter coat zippers and who got cabbage patch dolls the year they came out and who had puffy Strawberry Shortcake stickers on their notebooks — those girls all lived on the north side.

So I’ve always had a kind of a thing about houses on the north side. It’s kind of like George Jefferson’s dee-lux apartment in the sky, you know?

Part of me still thinks that when I’ve really made it, I’ll live in a beautiful old house on the north side.

Incidentally, my home right now is right in the geographical center of town, midway between the two extremes.

Occasionally, when the mood strikes me, I indulge in a little aspirational house hunting. Not that I’m in any position to buy myself a house, especially at the prices old houses command around here. But I do, as you already know, have a wildly active fantasy life. And sometimes… sometimes I direct that energy towards beautiful old houses. On the north side.

Would you like to stalk see my current heartthrob with me?

It was built in the 1820s, just above the old mill in Brewster, the next town over from me.

Stony Brook 1

Can you even stand it? Already, my heart is lost to me.

About fifty years after this main section was built, somebody built a lovely addition onto the back. Then, later still, another.

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It has a white shell driveway that crunches softly underfoot as you walk.

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And several acres of land, all encircled with perfect privacy within a thick curtain of old lilacs, lindens, chestnuts, and birches.

I’ve lived here all my life, and I never knew this house was here.

So the other day, they had an open house. And I got to go nosing around inside.

I’m so in love with this house I can barely stand it.

The real shame is that they’ve already cleared the house of most of its contents. Apparently, they were mostly 19th century treasures, and the local estate sale auction house got them all. All I can do is imagine what wonderfulness used to fill these rooms.

The view out the front door, from the front room of the original 1820’s structure.

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The old staircase to the second floor:

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What it looks like at the top of that staircase. No, I have no idea what that wheelie thing there is. Do you?

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There are two tiny, tiny little bedrooms upstairs.

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Sooooo tiiiiiinyyyyyyy.

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Somebody in one of these rooms liked Marilyn Monroe…

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…and WWII model airplanes.

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Old ceiling beams, old floor planks, old attic.

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Back downstairs, there is a perfectly cozy little sitting room.

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And a library, of course. With beautiful old casement windows…

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…and painted antique furniture galore.

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The house still has a few hidden treasures, tucked away into forgotten corners. Maybe they’re not worth a lot, but they hint at what was here before.

Like this marble top table in the first floor bathroom…

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…and this old carved wooden chest in an upper hallway.

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And let’s not even talk about the kitchen, which makes me absolutely crazy with all of the awesomeness contained therein.

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A nice, modern staircase off the kitchen leads up to a newer master bedroom:

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Which was constructed so thoughtfully that it hardly seems new at all. And you know that I mean that in the very nicest way possible.

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If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about what to do about these walls. And that floor. And those curtains. You can see the curtains, can’t you?

And can’t you already smell the coffee wafting up from the kitchen on a quiet Sunday morning?

Because I can.

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With quilts like these on the bed, I can only imagine what was considered valuable enough to auction off. Sigh.

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Back downstairs, in the library, I waited for the other visitors to leave, so that I could be alone with this house for just a few minutes longer.

And oh my god. I found so many old friends waiting there for me.

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And then I might have quietly lost it.

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That’s right, it’s the exact same edition as the Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre that I grew up with.

Here are my copies, for comparison:

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

And here is the inscription in mine:

Inscription in Aunt Eva's Jane Eyre - 1908

…which is not on the frontispiece…

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…and the inscription in theirs, which is.

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Did they know each other, do you think? Living only four miles apart, with only one town line and a few gentle, rolling hills separating the two homes, the two women, the two collectors of wonderful, wonderful books?

Or was the north-south divide enough, even then, to keep them apart?

Wuthering Heights Frontispiece

3 Thoughts.

  1. Oh and oh again. Thank you for this wonderful post. I can smell that old place and the books and hear the creak of the floorboards and the sound of the wind on the cold Cape nights. Wonderful. Can you imagine living there…eh of course YOU could. Someday you will. Keep at it friend.

  2. LOVE this post. I think you should use this concept of two women reading such thought-provoking books together, but on the opposite sides of town (and yet so close) as the basis for a next novel!
    i also grew up on the Cape, but yes, in the ‘hood, the most notorious part of town. it was lovely and delightful for me, but certainly not known as the nice part of town.

  3. Sooooo… any reason you didn’t make an offer on the books at least? I’m guessing it’s an “everything must go” kind of situation over there. Perhaps it’s not too late! Run, Lady Dunn! RUN!!!

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