Thursday, July 06, 2006

She Sells by the Seaside?

Ah, what a shame it is when a summer long weekend is over. I spent much of my visit home taking daily walks to the beach and splashing around in the breathtakingly cold New England water. I love love love the ocean and can't get enough of it. I love NYC too, but the beaches here just aren't the same, and when I arrive back in the sticky hot city after being away, I find myself missing those sea breezes.
The house I grew up in, where my father still lives, is about half a mile from a rocky little beach. The interesting thing about the walk is looking at the houses along the way. Our house is a very modest one (modest as in tiny, 1200 sq. ft. if that), on a street with mostly similar houses built in the mid-1930s. As you head towards the beach, the houses start to get bigger. Most of them are quite well-preserved early 20th century bungalows, with a few Victorian houses, and 50's-style ranch houses that were probably squeezed in when someone decided they had extra land to sell. (The area used to be farmland and orchards, and started to be developed in the 1920s.)
But when you get to the streets right near the water, there are some spectacular Shingle-style houses and assorted other mansions -- well, not quite mansions, but just beautiful big old houses in classic styles. Right as you get to the beach, there is a big cliff that overlooks the ocean, with a few small private streets. The houses there all have big porches and picture windows facing the water.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in one of those houses, and I still do. I'm sure they are all well into the millions of dollars these days, and occupied by very wealthy people-- with the possible exception of one house, which has always fascinated me. Even when I was little, it was already kind of a wreck. The trees are overgrown, and there is a rusty chainlink fence around it, with a few equally rusty cars parked there. The paint has almost been worn off by storms, some of the windows are held together with duct tape, and the shades are always down, though it is definitely not abandoned. The thing is, it's one of the biggest houses in the area, and it has the best view, as it is at the end of the cliff with no other houses in front of it.
In the '70s, it wasn't all that odd to see big old run-down houses in our town-- it was always a desirable place to live but the economy was bad and I guess people could barely keep up with the taxes. But now, after real estate booms in the 80s and then the last few years, all these gorgeous old wrecks have been snapped up and renovated, so I'm surprised that the family that owns that house hasn't taken some millionaire up on his offer to buy them out. But if that house was mine, I don't think I'd sell either. It would be hard to resist the big money, and I'm sure the offers would be enormous-- after all, anyone can build a McMansion, but there are only so many cliff-top locations with 180-degree views of water. Some things are too precious to give up.
Anyway, all this was a reminder of why I have to keep saving my pennies. I don't think I'll ever be able to afford that huge house on the cliff or anything remotely like it, but if I could live within walking distance of a beach somewhere when I retire, I'd be happy.

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