One of our favorite sections of the Sunday Funnies when we were children was the brainteaser we used to call "the six things." We used to call Peanuts® "Snoopy", and evidently we were on to something because the official site of this venerable feature is Snoopy.com, but that means I don't recall the true name of this much anticipated weekly challenge. The comic strip presented two pictures side by side that were nearly identical, and between them were just six things that were different. Sometimes we could find them all right away, but on other occasions it took us lots more time to see what our eyes insisted on passing over.
I am reminded of this childhood Sunday ritual having just returned from the setting where it always took place: my grandparent's house "Windrock" on the shores of Buzzard's Bay. I always take a mental inventory whenever I enter this most familiar landscape. I notice the trees that are down in the woods along the mile of driveway, and make sure that the moss-backed glacial erratic from which the homestead takes its name has not yet left its perch on the bluff and pitched over the bank and down to the beach.
So in homage to this grand old house and the sixty years it has been in our family, let me present an updated version of "the six things". The black and white image at left has appeared in posts here before, and is the earliest known photograph we have of the house after my grandparents bought it for about $11,000 in January of 1947. It was taken in February of 1948 and was among my Great Aunt Margie's effects when her vast family archive passed to my care. The color photo at right was taken by me last Monday at nearly the same spot and from a similar angle. Let's see what has changed in the 59 intervening years.
The snow does not count, of course, though this season has been unusually warm and snow is scarce as the teeth of the proverbial hens. The vegetation has changed considerably, in ways both dramatic and more subtle. There are many dead oaks and standing snags scattered singly and in clumps in front of the house and outbuildings in the 1948 photograph. The September Hurricane of 1944 ravaged the trees of this property, contributing in part to the decision of the previous owners to sell. The hillside to the upper left is visible as a tree-lined open field but is masked by six decades of growth in the recent photograph. In fact, I can find just three trees that definitely appear in each photograph: a great fir behind the little garage at the far right of the cluster of buildings, another growing beyond the gap between the big house and the smaller one, and the tips of oak branches rising above the highest peaks of the big house. The surrounding woodlands have grown up from coastal scrub and pitch pine to oaks, sassafras, and even transplanted Douglas fir. There is too much salt spray in the wind for White pine to flourish on this side of the houses as it does farther back in the woods. You can see a pine seedling or two poking out of the snow at the edge of an old field that is now mowed as lawn but which for nearly 40 years my grandfather transformed into a vast vegetable garden. Possibly one of the hollies at the extreme left of the modern image is a seedling in the older picture, but I can't be sure.
Besides the differences in the landscape, the big house and its neighbors have seen numerous changes. The most dramatic for our generation is the transformation of the "Little House" from a low cottage build originally for "the help" but generally inhabited by teen-aged boys in the halcyon days of our summers here into a much more substantial two bedroom seasonal rental. The "Little House" renovation was conceived and executed by family love, skills, labor and equity as a means to start adding to a rapidly depleted trust established by my Grandfather to maintain the the property. We gutted the former structure, retaining only a couple of walls and a section of wood floor, and if you fancy a week with your own beach for $2,000 this summer you should make inquiries at Windrock.org.
On second glance, however, our family would marvel at the water tower shown in the early photograph but deemed an unnecessary hazard and pulled down by my Grandfather soon after. The concrete footings are still there, and for a while there was a woodshed perched on some of them, but the water tower itself appears on no other photograph we have of the property. There was a dug well on the other side of the old "Little House" with its own semi-detached pump house that is not visible in the image. I once rappelled down that cold, dark shaft to dig out around the foot valve during a very dry summer and restore water to the family. The well was filled in and a new 150 ft shaft drilled to replace it, but the pump house was saved and moved with "come alongs" and rollers beside the garage where it now stores shingles, paint brushes, and wooden swords and shields for the legions of great grandchildren.
The Big House itself looks remarkably similar in the old photograph to the new. All those impossible eaves and gables are there in each, as the major additions that created them preceded our family's ownership. My grandfather added the picture windows in the big living room facing the sea, and the smaller picture window was added in the late 1980s or early 1990s during work on "the children's room" in the cold part of the house (see preceding post). There are new, white drainpipes in the 2007 image that stand out better than whatever was there in the black and white photograph, and one of these has been reattached to the brick beehive cistern beneath the hand pump that is tucked out of view against a corner of the big house but a favorite feature of the property for Young and old alike. One change is the double row of late 1970s vintage solar panels installed on the roof above the living room. They were meant to heat the water but have not been hooked up for many years. I bet that we'll replace them with modern solar cells in the coming years, and many of us talk about a wind turbine to take advantage of the near constant southwest breeze. If we ever do erect one, the image of the water tower may come in handy if our neighbors down the beach complain that towers are out of character.
In both the 1948 and 2007 pictures, the house presents its most familiar, shoreward face to the camera. I wandered about over the weekend looking at it from other angles, and these pictures are the result. I believe, though others in the family may correct me, that barn red with green trim has always been its color since we acquired it - though maybe my grandfather found the greatest fire sale on red stain of all time and the precedent was established for reasons other than aesthetic. New stain and sidewall go up in stages for economic reasons, hence the patchwork effect of the shingles. There's a barn in the same style just up the road, and deeper in the woods the traveler encounters the latest in a succession wigwams, erected as forts by the children of our family on sites used for this purpose by generations. It was raining when I stepped from the car on our way out the driveway and back to our home in the Litchfield Hills to photograph the newly refurbished "tepee" my nephews and children had proudly restored with fresh pine duff to fill the cracks in its walls. In the summer the siren song of the shore entices young and old, but the winter woods were made for such pleasures. If I could show you a picture of one of the forts build here by me or my cousins in the late 1970s side by side with this latest incarnation, you would think that nothing had changed at all.