Cottage for Sale, Must Be Moved

FOR MY MOTHER, MY GRANDMOTHER,
and the long line of bold women who came before them

WHEN LOVE AND SKILL
work together, expect a masterpiece.

—ATTRIBUTED TO JOHN RUSKIN

note from the author

A MEMOIR
is a series of memories with a point of view. In this case, the view is mine. My guess is that if you asked any of the people in this book to tell you their version of events, you wouldn’t hear exactly the same story. I take full responsibility for my own subjective observations, and any mistaken impressions or information I might inadvertantly pass along in the telling. And while I make no claims of objective fact, I do promise I’ve told the tale—and the truth—exactly as I experienced it.

KATE WHOULEY
CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
FEBRUARY
2004

cast and crew

IT TAKES A VILLAGE
to move a cottage—namely, house-movers and house-makers, planners and officials, family and friends. Everyone on this list has a real-life counterpart, though a few names have been changed for reasons of privacy.

MOVERS AND MAKERS

Mr. Hayden
Owner of Hayden Building Movers; he speaks in shorthand and knows how to move a house. Sidekick: Glen.
John Baxter
Owner of Baxter Crane and Rigging; his company owns and operates the biggest crane on Cape Cod.
Rick
Knight in shining armor at the controls of above-mentioned crane.
Ed & John
My builders, father and son; they have home construction and firefighting in common. John’s daughters—and Ed’s granddaughters—are Katelin and Nicole.
Peter
John’s right-hand man, also a firefighter.
Brian
Bobcat-driver and firefighter.
Howard
Retired financial advisor who once owned a general store in Vermont; now works with Ed and John.
Eric & Paulie
The building crew on the six-guy days; both are active firefighters.
Scotty
Tree-man, landscaper, and neighbor who speaks passionately about the oak take- over of Cape Cod’s piney landscape.
Ronny
Concrete forms man and mastermind of the cottage foundation.
Jeff
Concrete-pumping man who comes to our rescue more than once.
Vito
 
Mason, concrete historian, and creator of the smooth foundation wall that links house and cottage; another firefighter.
Stan
 
Electrician and surfer dude, relocated from California to Cape Cod.
Kevin
The plumber, who eventually shows up; Lyle is his principal assistant.
 
 
PLANNERS AND TOWN OFFICIALS
Tom Howes
Keeper of the cottages; he is charged by Eastward Companies with selling the colony to make way for new homes.
Dave
Soft-spoken civil engineer and my friend Erika’s dad. His associate is Nick, the Bog Scientist.
Mr. Van Buren
Chief Conservation Officer; Darcy is his associate.
Ralph Crossen
Chief Building Inspector; Mr. Martin is his associate.
Tom McKean
Tuba player and head of the Health Department; Ed Barry is his associate.
 
 
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
Barbara
My original next-door neighbor, whose father and brother built my house by hand.
Harry
 
Musician, computer programmer, woodworker, carpenter—and one of the Bog Boys.
Tony
Social scientist, cat-sitter-in-chief, careful house painter—and the other half of the Bog Boys.
Bruce
Bookseller and poet living on Martha’s Vineyard; Egypt’s biggest fan and occasionally his cat sitter.
Erika
Elementary school teacher, oboe player, and doctoral candidate; Sara is her sister.
Tina
Flight attendant and independent scholar.
Katrina
Hypnotherapist, counselor, and Egyptian dancer. Her fiancé, Ruben, is an architect-in-training.
Sandy
Jungian psychologist and cat sitter who reinforces my house-marrying fantasies.
Cindy
My best friend since high school; mother of Brooke and Drew.
first sight

I AM A COMPULSIVE READER
of the classifieds. For this reason, I do not get the daily paper. But each week, the
Pennysaver
arrives in my mailbox, and I cannot resist the urge to read:
Wedding Gown: Priscilla of Boston, Ivory Lace. Size 8, Never Worn; Paid $2,500. Sacrifice $1,200.

Imagine selling your unused wedding gown. Soon-to-be-wed women calling you, the disappointed bride-not-to-be. Worse, they come to your house, full of undimmed hope and in search of a bargain; they look critically at the gown of your dreams, decide not to buy.

The classified ads, for me, are like reading stories, or maybe like reading the skeletons of stories, waiting for me to invent their skin. But my compulsion is not merely recreational. I am a dedicated finder of desired objects. Seven years ago, I bought an all-in-one washer-dryer from a woman who told me she needed a large-capacity machine to handle her husband’s heavy work clothes. My stackable is still running, and I bought it for a quarter of the price I’d have paid had it been new, pristine—and without a story. Through the classifieds, I found the slate to build my patio and a full-size gas stove to replace the two-burner model with the oven door that had to be tied shut. I’ve located daylilies to plant on my hillside, an Adirondack-style love seat, handmade. But I don’t shop only for myself. I take assignments. My mother’s first computer came from the classifieds, as did her most recent fridge. Not to mention the deep blue canoe I once found for an important man in my life. A beautiful canoe, with a maple leaf embossed on the side, and shiny padded seats. Orange life vests came with it, along with varnished hardwood oars.

I mention all this by way of explaining why I am reading the
Pennysaver
on my lunch break today, a Wednesday in early December 1999. As I scan the aptly named “Things and Stuff” listings, I am looking for nothing in particular. At least nothing to purchase. The stories today suggest simple lifestyle upgrades: a few pieces of living room furniture, a couple of TVs, a computer and a printer. “Wanted to Buy” is just as mundane. Dealers of antiques wondering if I have any to sell; a man willing to come to my home to buy my books. He’s always in there.

I move on to a new heading, “Buildings,” with a single listing:

Cottages for Sale. $3,000 each. Must be moved.

I imagine these cottages, all in a row. Waiting to be adopted. I wonder where they are. I don’t recognize the exchange.

$3,000 each.
That doesn’t seem like very much money for a completely assembled cottage, even a very small, completely assembled cottage. Even a very small, completely assembled summer cottage with no insulation.

Must be moved.
I wonder how much it costs to move a building.*

*
I LIVE ON CAPE COD
in a three-room house that was built in 1950. It is a quintessential seacoast home: weathering cedar shakes, yellow shutters, summertime window boxes filled with lavender impatiens, a white picket fence out front. To reach the house, you travel a long dirt driveway and climb six brick steps, walk through the arbor and along the slate path that separates the shade and sun section of my perennial garden. Knock on the front door—there is no doorbell—or come around and rap on the glass panes of the kitchen door. I am more likely to hear you there.

The house sits on a flat bit of land in a hilly landscape; the downslope from the south-facing patio leads to an ancient way, now a gravel drive for my neighbors to the rear. From the kitchen you can see past the drive to the overgrown cranberry bog, home to cardinals and catbirds, doves and quail, robins, purple finches, crows, jays, red-winged blackbirds, the itinerant warbler. Turtles occasionally climb up the hill from the wetland; I find them nosing around in the myrtle or behind the house under the holly tree. A woodchuck makes his way, regularly, slowly, low to the ground, in the opposite direction. I know where his hole is: just outside my bedroom window, on a rising hillside, overgrown with white pines, chokecherries, and wild raspberry vines.

Though people are not far away, I am shielded by hills and trees from all my human neighbors. It is the birds and animals I see and hear more often. Raccoons arguing late at night; skunks small and beautiful, more white than black, moving silently on their nocturnal errands; a red fox that circles the house just before dawn. At the feeders, I host chickadees and goldfinches, titmice and nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows, pine siskins, and winter juncos. Gray squirrels make acrobatic attempts to rob the birds, but the fortress-like feeder forces them to the base for scraps, which they share with their furtive red-squirrel cousins and small striped chipmunks. The bunnies live closer to the road, preferring grasses and the apples that fall from the ancient tree. Egypt, my large gray cat, is sometimes less than hospitable to the smaller ground-dwelling animals, but all in all we live peaceably on this tiny patch of Cape Cod.

As long as I have lived in my small home, I have contemplated enlarging my space. I work from home, too. File cabinets and clothing fight for space in my bedroom closet; my printer sits atop my dresser and my fax machine is on the kitchen counter. The space—any space—would be welcome. Yet when I think of adding on, I think of the disruption it would cause us all: Kate, cat, home, business, and animal bystanders. Because my house is built on a four-foot concrete block foundation, adding a second story would mean first lifting up the house to make new foundation walls. I imagine disconnected plumbing, a house on stilts, and the rumble of bulldozers terrorizing Egypt’s dreams. When I think of expanding into the hillside instead, I realize I cannot bear to displace the ruddy old groundhog, who sometimes suns himself in early spring at exactly eye level from my desk.

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