My husband’s parents have had a summer and weekend place in Delaware near Bethany Beach for 31 years. This month, the house will be sold, shuttered and marked for demolition. This past weekend, my nuclear team and I spent an impromptu 48 hours at the house saying good-bye, being a family and doing our best to be in the moment while doing our best to not forget the time we had left in the house.
My heart is heavy when I think that this place will not only be sold, but that it will actually, go away. Like… be gone. I admit it: I have a thing for houses. As far as I’m concerned, they have souls. I look at them, I drink them in. I linger a little too long in their hallways, taking them with me in my mind…. I have had docents of famous houses call me to come re-join the group during tours. I literally feel them. I might sound crazy. I don’t care.
I officially joined this family in 1994 at our wedding. I met this family in the summer of 1990 and the house, when I first met it, welcomed me with a sleepy yawn onto its slate front porch (which faced the circular driveway with its flagpole). I was invited to attend an annual weekend-long family event, “The Field End Olympics,” which was in its second or third year and generally held in September. The Games consisted of volleyball, tag, pull the boat up from the water and put it in the garage, frisbee, bad soccer, bring in the furniture from the back porch, horseshoes, sing while making dinner and drink beer. That’s my kind of athletic event.
I remember one Olympic year, probably among the last ones when the house inexplicably lost water pressure. That meant no showers. Luckily, some of the men didn’t mind “sprinklering” in the neighbor’s yard with a bar of soap and some shampoo. We have pictures of that, somewhere, hidden.
Twenty-nine people of an original 31 populate the Field Clan. My husband, who is No. 4, has two brothers and three sisters. When the entire family unit grew to more than 20ish people (that’s more than 40 bare human feet under one roof for two days), including grandchildren, the Olympic fever had broken. I participated in a couple Olympics and I loved the way my father-in-law was (and still is) so fiercely competitive. He comes from frisky and hearty stock. His wife of now 57 years simply witnesses his ways which have clearly endeared him to her despite her sweet and loving protestations. They make a great pair and it has been an honor to witness them love each other.
I had one of my bachelorette parties there. I think. No, I did. Right?
As the years grew on, my husband and I would regularly visit the house in the offseason when Bethany was closed for winter and all that was open was Hocker’s (I know, nice name, right?) Supermarket, Holt’s Dispensary (a package store) with the funeral home across the street and a Grotto’s “Pizza” in town, oh and a gas station. We would bring our first golden retriever, Maggie, and another couple we’ve known for a very long time (the “she” in the couple won’t let me say how long) would join us with their dog who was Maggie’s half-brother (he wasn’t her full brother because their mother was a whore), Cormac. We loved going there in the offseason because the shores were empty and the ocean was often raw and furious and the dogs could do their best to break their necks chasing tennis balls that their human dads would thrust into the pounding surf for them. I remember one time when we Literally. Lost. Maggie. In. The. Surf. But she came out, about twenty seconds later and one hundred feet down the coast wagging her tail and that ball was still in her mouth. Good girl! I almost died of panic.
The homestead is called “Field End” because the house, once all by itself, is situated on a hill overlooking the Indian River Bay, at the end of a road. The road, as it was described to me this last weekend by my husband, was something like a two-mile long driveway as there was nothing along this road but farms. Before this weekend, we hadn’t been back to the house in five years, opting for the easier water access of Lake Erie and the ease of bringing The Murph with us. I was surprised to see how much had changed and how much had been built in the areas surrounding the house.
I can’t blame the new builder for wanting to knock it down and I am very relieved to hear that a lot of the house’s parts that are still strong will be be repurposed for Habitat for Humanity. There should be, in my estimation, many parts for repurposing. I suspect however, that the new owner will build something higher than its current single story which will destroy his new neighbors’ view of the water although I hope he won’t. I also support my parents in-law for doing what they choose to do in selling the place and securing their retirements. The world, the financial markets are a crazy place these days, and my parents in-law have done a fine job of preparing themselves for their futures … they are truly unique and I am inspired by their foresight.
My obsession with houses has been fueled by my love of architecture. I dig Frank Lloyd Wright’s oddly progressive (when you think about the style of his day) flagship prairie stylings. I instantly loved this house for it reminded me so much of those prairie lines. It has these massive three-foot-deep cantilevered overhangs jutting from the roofline off every exterior wall.
I’m having a hard time figuring out what tense to use in this post. If I say “had” and “did” then I suggest the house is gone, but it’s not. Yet. So I’ll try to stick with the present tense. The house’s bricks are very stylized: narrow, a certain custom color, baking treatment and shape you see in discriminating builders and designers. The fireplaces have brass vents surrounding them. Nooks and carve-outs adorne this home and when I think about it, they truly have no business being in a home on the hill near a bunch of farms in Delaware. It has recessed lighting along the step down to the living room. All the bedroom closets have glass mirrors built-in and some rooms have two closets. All the closets, even those that line the long hallway from the front door to the bedrooms have lights that turned on the moment you open the door. They are like refrigerators for clothes. The bathrooms are all tile to four-feet high with privacy glass to let the light in without fear of losing your modesty. The cedar closet… oh my! During discussions about selling the place, my mother-in-law said to her children, “Let me know if there’s anything you would like from the house…” I jealously thought, “THE CEDAR CLOSET!” but I knew that wasn’t going to happen… I mean, how can you remove a cedar closet?! Right? RIGHT?! If you have an idea, let me know… there’s still time!
I knew in my heart that this design was a gem among the rubble and the endless lesser designs of tract-home architects to come. Were the roof tiles brown and the window casements a neutral to brown tone, this house would easily evoke homage to FLW. With its massive pane-glass picture windows, some six feet by five feet (three on the water side of the house) I am doubtless that the house belonged to Someone when it was built, some (I’m guessing) seventy years ago.
My personal account of its history is sketchy, but I understand the home belonged to a Bill Murray (not of the silver screen) who was a real estate mogul of the area. He took a liking to my father-in-law and offered, along with the house’s purchase, the opportunity to also acquire several hundred acres (including the land for the now-built golf course), should the ability present itself. My in-laws demurred, but they did buy a couple extra lots to maintain their privacy and it was Just Right.
My father-in-law also explained that the dining room had a massive mirror placed perfectly opposite the picture window in that room. “What that did, was allow guests whose backs were to the water to see the water too. The designs were just magnificent in the house and we are so lucky to have shared it.”
My husband tells me his adolescent summers at Field End were numbingly boring after the first two weeks. He shares the story of the time he and his older brother got caught in a hurricane’s approach on their Hobie Cat. I usually leave the room or pass out when he tells it, so I’m not too familiar with it. There’s also a tale about him riding a dirt bike or a moped on the area behind the house which was eventually a golf course. He got in trouble and that created some friction between his family and the mean old curmudgeony real estate buffoon who built the course. All was made well again though when my father-in-law joined the country club… The thought of him living within forty feet of the greens was too much for anyone to bear, methinks. I mean, what’s the point of having all those plaid pants if you can’t wear them on a golf course?
Field End sleeps at least 15 in a bed of some sort and then there is the massive open area we like to refer to as the living room area which could easily host another 12 mattresses, or sleeping co-eds if needed. Its roof has held up my husband, his brothers, their friends when they jumped off it several times, you know, for the hell of it. The roof has eaten a few frisbees, kites and other items. We used to hit golf balls into the bay. The first time I ever used a driver was on its side yard. I remember whacking the hell out of that poor ball and watching it sail into the air and land, >plunk!< in the water probably terrifying legions of horseshoe crabs. My father-in-law said, “HOT, MOLLY!” and slapped me in the back sending me three feet forward after I hit it. The first time I ever played golf was on the course behind the house a few years ago. I can still hear the metalic >clink!< of the drivers hitting the ball from the 13th hole. Or is it the 7th hole?
Field End has safely sheltered the nuclear Field clan: its eight original members, the spouses of its six children and their sixteen progeny from dramatic and sweeping coastal storms with slicing winds buffeting its façade. Snug as bugs in rugs, we were like many little pigs laughing at the big bad wolf, watching the horizontal rain fly by under the flood light’s glare.
If my timing is right, I think four Field grandchildren have been conceived under its roof. The house has stood by, like a guard at post, through the sad departures of two of this family’s beloved men who were taken from us way too soon.
From its perch on the hill, the house has allowed us all to take in the numerous and glorious sunsets that have gently soothed the sunburns and sleepy sighs of all its inhabitants with wine, kool-aid, iced tea, orange juice, ice water or milk served in a sweaty glass or a slurpy, drippy popsicle running down the sandy, sometimes-nubby, and oftentimes mature, athletic hands of its snacker.
There is no such thing as imperfection or a disconnection from God when I see those sunsets. Some of them were so staggering that being in the house and seeing them in their flawlessness wasn’t enough; I’d have to go outside, feel the lulling heat from the big pink ball, just to be sure.
They would leave me utterly slack-jawed, humbled and so entirely lost in their beauty that I wish they would never end, that I wish the sun would just hover there and linger for one more moment… one more breath… don’t go down. Don’t go… Slowing down the sunset would mean a delay in the day, which would mean a delay in the sale and the destruction.
The house is just a house, right? No, it is a home; a place with a soul and its memories will never be lost on me, but this home will be no more. “It’s the end of an era,” my sister-in-law said one night in June. With a heavy sigh, I nodded my head and agreed.
As a woman and a mother, what stings me the most about this situation is not just leaving the house, but that Field End won’t be able to protect anyone else anymore. That the nice idea of imagining a nice new family loving the house as much as we all did will not be an option for any of us. The Murrays got to envision all the Fields sharing the home. But now we just get to envision … nothing. There will be no more “work” for that home; no more sheltering of someone else.
This past weekend, I did not sleep in it very well. It’s because I am ancient, I suspect. The house has no central air and the a/c unit would alternately freeze and thaw me and due to my being of a certain age, if the timing was right, my body would ignite. By the time our 48 hours was up, I was ready to go home, but not without one more trip to the sea where I sat on the edge of my beach chair rapt in fear for my youngest son’s life. He is Thing 3, he is eight and he is fearless of the water and it’s mostly my fault.
Having raised him on the calm, lapping shores of my beloved Lake Erie, this kid has no ocean sense. None. Letting him play in the Atlantic along the Bethany Beach coastline is like giving him a clear bag filled with money and letting him stand on the corner of 42nd and Broadway in a yellow suit. Our final day we went to the ocean and the waves were choppy, robust with white caps as far as the eye could see. He saw these conditions and almost lost his mind with excitement. His older brothers are bigger, stronger, experienced and excellent swimmers. It’s the only way to have children.
For Thing 3, this was as close to rapture as he was gonna get. With a steady wind at eight knots, gusting to an easy 12 knots, the wind-whipped sand was cleansing me in places I didn’t know were accessible. The waves were dark, and granitic looking, which belied the water’s 75˚ temperature. They easily crested at around seven feet and crashed onshore at a 60˚ angle, sometimes exactly perpendicular to the shoreline. Upon seeing this, Thing 3 charged for the water with senseless abandon for he could not contain himself.
Thank God my husband was there to anchor him because I will admit this: I am downright NOT INTERESTED in hanging out in that water if my kids are playing in it. I determined that a vacation near water will never be a vacation as long as my children are nearby. I don’t care if they’re six months old or sixty years old… I will constantly fear for their lives and lose several years of mine in the process. After two hours of that nonsense, we returned to the house sandy, exfoliated and tired, ready for showers, eager to see our dog and to slumber in our beds in our sleepy suburban bedroom community.
We packed up the things we would take from Field End as mementos, most notably a wooden lamp base carved into a Spanish Flamenco dancer. My 14-year-old son took her. (Sideways glance…) I took some awesome mixing bowls and cook books which will make me look interested in cooking. My husband took some vintage cordial glasses and a few tumblers he remembers from his youth.
There is no fight to “save” this house. I can’t help but refer to her as a woman, because she sustains and shelters. There is no fight to never forget her either, because forgetting her is impossible. She has given us all she can, Captain, and now with her sale, she will give my parents-in-law more. Even in her demolition, she will bring security. She has been good to us. She reminds me of the tree in Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree.
Thank you, Field End.
ps – i have heard from my father-in-law that this post is “going around” the family and if it still is, if i haven’t missed the train, i invite anyone to send me pictures if you wish to have me post them on this blog. please send them to me at email@example.com along with some context or a caption. if anyone has pics of the “showerless FE Olympic sunday,” please let me know! xoxoxo -m