Nothing perks up conversation on a road trip more than an unusual house. On Maine Route 1, near the Moose Point State Park turnoff in Searsport, a dilly of a conversation perker-upper takes our collective breaths away. Our attention has been focused on the other side of the road - to the panoramic, unobstructed views of Penobscot Bay. But here it is, what will soon be referred to by us simply as “The House”.
We are a group of four, my niece Elizabeth, and Richard and Emily Pennyworth. The Pennyworths hosted Elizabeth, as an exchange student, several years ago at their home in Cornwall, England. Elizabeth, who has just announced that she wants to be known as Liz, studied modern English literature, and wanted to “absorb the quaint English countryside” of her hero, Agatha Christie.
It is hard to obey the Do Not Enter and No Trespassing signs and do our exploring from only the edge of the overgrown weeds, but we manage. We each are eerily silent as we let our imaginations hold sway, obviously lost in personal thoughts. With an almost palpable anticipation to share our thoughts, we get back in the Bentley (Richard had insisted on arranging for this car) and head for the B&B where we would spend the night. It is Liz who comes up with the idea: rather than talk in the car, let’s each tell a story, over dinner tonight, about what The House might say, from our own perspectives. “Spot on!” is how Richard signs himself and Emily on to the task. Knowing Elizabeth, I know how much this means to her, so, of course, I’m in.
We had left Atlantic Oakes Resort in Bar Harbor, Maine after breakfast and headed along the coast route to the Silver Fountain B&B in Dover, New Hampshire. We made the 220 miles along Route 1 in about five hours. We were now positioned to get the Pennyworths to Logan Airport for their return to the UK tomorrow. We are looking forward to our dinner in Dover.
Our storytelling dinner is a most lively experience. Cliches like “things that go bump in the night”, “if walls had ears”, and “if this place could talk” are mentioned as each of us draw on our personal experiences to unfold our stories.
Richard Pennyworth is a retired naval officer from the British Navy. His tale imagines The House as a seaside haven waiting for its sea captain master’s return. From the tower windows the captain could monitor the comings and goings of the frequent and unpredictable fog banks on Penobscot Bay. The House is large enough to accommodate the captain’s six children, wife, cook, and small staff. During family sing alongs, the music from the pipe organ reverberates throughout The House to the point of causing water in goldfish bowls to ripple.
Emily Pennyworth, having spent her entire married life as a naval officer’s wife, sees The House as the scene of summer parties, with gentlemen callers, young ladies strolling through topiary gardens, shiny gazing balls punctuating the grounds, a string quartet playing in the music room, and maids serving tea, cakes, biscuits and cucumber sandwiches. The House might have hosted a debutante ball or two.
My take on The House is slightly more modern – a Maine version of Grey Gardens, the story of a decaying, rotting, dilapidating house of substance, owned by Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale. The Waltons’ spinster Baldwin sisters also come to mind. Throw in a dedicated gardner, obsessed in his time away from the grounds, to silencing the creaking staircases in The House, and you have an eccentric cast of characters.
It was Liz whose story really took us over the top (remember her affinity for Agatha Christie). Liz envisioned séances, insanity run amok, brutal murders that fueled Searsport’s gossip network, rival crazy uncles conspiring to be written into the will, and a host of gruesome strange happenings that became the stuff of local legend.
That’s our take on The House. Have you had a similar experience while on a roadtrip? Care to share? Or, what might the above photos evoke in your imagination?