Have you ever decided to do something that for most of your life you’d never have even dreamed of doing? I guess it’s time for a confession. Although I’ve never signed my name to any of the hundreds of “House for Sale” articles I’ve written and photographed for Yankee since 1958, I am the “Yankee […]
By Judson D. Hale
Jul 13 2014
Chauffeured in the beautifully restored wooden Chris Craft owned by island neighbor and friend Ron Konig (at the wheel), Judson and Sally are off to a favorite lakeside restaurant for their 50th wedding anniversary dinner, September 6, 2008. Family members followed in another boat for a festive evening.
Have you ever decided to do something that for most of your life you’d never have even dreamed of doing?
I guess it’s time for a confession. Although I’ve never signed my name to any of the hundreds of “House for Sale” articles I’ve written and photographed for Yankee since 1958, I am the “Yankee Moseyer.” There. I’m finally “out”! Have I written all of them? Well, no–I occasionally had a “Guest Moseyer” during the 1990s. I’d surmise that I’ve done about 90 percent of them.
But there was one “House for Sale” article in all that time that never appeared on the pages of the magazine. I’d visited the property, interviewed the owners, and taken the photographs, but Yankee readers never saw any of it–and therein lies the beginning of my story for you this month.
“Hey, Jud! This is Paul Sweetnam. Remember me?” I was at my Yankee office. It was March 1971. And, yes, I remembered him. He had been one of my fraternity brothers at Dartmouth, class of 1955. “I have a ‘House for Sale’ story for you,” he said, and went on to explain that he and his wife, Fannie, were thinking of selling their house on the northwest point of one of Lake Winnipesaukee’s largest islands, Sleepers Island. “You gotta come see it,” he said. It so happened that I needed to find a property to feature in our September 1971 issue, so I went right ahead and accepted his invitation. We’d meet a week or so after ice-out at Gilford Marina in Gilford, New Hampshire, where Paul kept his boat.
My wife, Sally (we’re celebrating our 56th anniversary this summer), and the oldest of our three boys, “J.D.,” then 11, were with me that spring Saturday a month and a half later as we headed for Gilford. Coming over the crest of the hill on the Laconia Bypass (Routes 3 and 11) before heading down toward the Laconia airport, we had our first view of Lake Winnipesaukee spreading out before us, filled with its myriad islands, points, and coves. In the distance we even spotted a snow-capped Mount Washington. Of course we didn’t know it at the time, but this would be a view we’d always look forward to seeing every summer Friday evening for the next 43 years.
The trip out to Sleepers Island in Paul’s bright-red 18-foot outboard didn’t take long–maybe 15 minutes. My only recollection of that short voyage was being instantly thrilled to be out there on that huge expanse of lake, which, after a long winter and ice-out the week before, seemed to me to be just waking up. But I had to keep in mind that for me this was a working trip. I’d need to interview Paul and Fannie and take lots of photographs (black-and-white back then). All of this I proceeded to begin doing as soon as we’d tied up at the dock (far bigger than anything allowed these days) on the northwest point of Sleepers Island and climbed the short path (later to be a wooden walkway) up to the house. It was a large triple A-frame structure with decks on all sides, built in 1965, and surrounded by the tallest, straightest pines, which, 300 years ago, could have been selected for the king’s Royal Navy.
The northwest half of the first floor had a stone fireplace (now with a deer head over it) and comfortable furniture, all of which we eventually replaced. Sliding doors opened to that part of the deck overlooking Rattlesnake and Diamond islands. The southwest part of that first-floor space had more furniture back then, but later we purchased from an island neighbor an antique pool table for that area. It had originally been in a Boston pool hall. It was in constant use from then on. I can still hear in my mind today the gentle clicking of those pool balls late into our summer evenings.
But I’m getting ahead of my story.
From the deck outside the pool-table area, we looked southwest to Gunstock Mountain, which became the major ski area for our family, and farther on down toward Alton Bay, destined to be one of our favorite lake towns for breakfast, ice cream, and, when our grandchildren were little, miniature golf.
After looking at the three bedrooms and bathroom (one of three on the property) upstairs, we walked through the kitchen, with its six-chair table in the center, to the deck on the east side, where morning sun was streaming through the pines. The view from there, Paul explained, was toward Wolfeboro. “It’s about a 20-minute boat ride,” he said. Little did we know then how many dozens of dinners we were destined to enjoy over there. And, oh, those gorgeous rides home in the moonlight!
During our chats while meandering about, we learned that Paul and Fannie were newlyweds, a second marriage for both, but I couldn’t get them to fully explain their reason for selling–and somehow I didn’t feel comfortable pressing the matter.
Meanwhile, Sally and J.D. had inspected the bunkhouse (a few years later, our son, Dan, would spend his summer expanding that building–ending up with a capacity to sleep 12), and then they proceeded to walk the entire 100-acre island on a path that, a few years later, would be greatly upgraded by members (including us) of the Sleepers Island Association.
“It’s a beautiful island,” Sally said to Fannie upon their return, “but you have the best spot.” Fannie agreed, saying that a friend of hers had bought the entire island in the early 1960s and then divided it into lots for sale. He offered Fannie first choice–she could have whichever lots she wanted. She bought the three surrounding the northwest point.
Now we come to the key moment of my story. It occurred on our drive home to Dublin, New Hampshire, later that day. Here’s how I remember our conversation …
Me: “I think I’ve got the makings of a good ‘House for Sale’ story for our September issue. I loved the place.”
Sally: “Might we ever think about owning it ourselves?”
Me: “Wow, do you really think so?”
J.D.: “Yeah, Dad, yeah! Yeah!”
The next point in time in my story is the late evening of July 4th of the same year. We’d signed papers with Paul and purchased “Liberty Street.” The name came from a metal street sign in Atlanta, Georgia, sent to us that summer by Sally’s brother-in-law. It was, we felt, the perfect name. And so now Liberty Street was ours. I’d have to mosey around to find some other property to feature in Yankee‘s September 1971 issue. We were about to spend our first night, and Fannie and Paul’s last night, together at Liberty Street.
With our three boys–J.D., 11; Dan, 10; and Chris, 6–tucked away next to us in one of the upstairs bedrooms, Sally and I turned in for the night. But for a long time we remained wide awake. Excitement was maybe one reason, but also we couldn’t help hearing Paul and Fannie downstairs arguing in fairly loud voices over who was responsible “for letting this place go.” The only thing they seemed in agreement on was that it was “a mistake.” They went on and on until, with the lovely sounds of water lapping against the rocks directly below our open window, we fell asleep there on the island for the first time.
The next morning, Fannie and Paul left us on our own, taking with them a few things but leaving dishes, furniture, fishing equipment, even clothing. I wouldn’t see Paul again for many years. By then he and Fannie had long since been divorced. (We hope their selling Liberty Street didn’t play a part.)
So the summers went by, one after another. Early on we sold Paul’s boat (he left that for us, too) and acquired from Sally’s father his 22-foot wooden Chris Craft Sea Skiff, which we re-named WahHooWah (Dartmouth grads will understand). But in even moderate waves it turned out to be incredibly wet. Then came Fried Chicken, a 23-foot Penn Yen. But it proved to be too wide for easy landing at our dock slip in a heavy northwest wind. So, finally, the perfect boat: a bright yellow 1977 23-foot Thunderbird Formula we named One Egg ( for reasons too silly to relate here). We still have it–and love it more than ever.
For a place on the mainland essential to islanders–for cars, boats, garbage, drinking water, etc.–we joined with 13 neighbors in purchasing a plot of land in Glidden Cove, directly across from Sleepers Island. We called it the Smith Point Marina Inc.
As our boys grew into the teenage years and began cruising around everywhere in one of a series of Boston Whalers we had, pretty young girls began spending time at Liberty Street. A few were, at one time or another, with us all summer, working as waitresses in the local lakeside restaurants while J.D. and Dan pumped gas at a marina in Wolfeboro. They also worked in restaurants, and one summer even little Chris landed a busboy job at our favorite restaurant, the William Tell, in West Alton. Sally and I treasure a certain photograph of him in one of our old family albums. He’s standing so very proudly in a tuxedo uniform just prior to going across to the mainland and his new job in Pudda, a 12-foot metal rowboat on which we’d put a 4-horsepower engine. He so loved Pudda.
One summer Dan went into business for himself. Have Boat Will Travel his flyer proclaimed, ending with a recommendation that “Daniel is a good boy” and signed by “his mother.” As a result he had so much business–painting, cleaning, cutting brush, etc.–all around our part of the lake that he had to hire his older brother, J. D. “He hated it,” Dan remembers today, “because he knew I made money for each hour he worked, and I always gave him the jobs I didn’t want to do.”
It was around this time that the boys began referring to the tower bedroom Dan had built over the second floor of the bunkhouse as “the love nest.” (Sally and I tried to be understanding.)
In those days, Sally kept the place going all week while I’d commute every Friday, returning to work in Dublin early on Monday mornings. “With all the kids off to their various jobs around the lake,” she recalls today, “and my cleaning and cooking under control, I’d be sublimely happy down on the dock in the sunshine with a good book and our dogs.” (Yes, there have always been a variety of dear dogs.)
Then there was Liberty Street in winter. “Men’s Weekend,” as we always called it, occurred on what was then Washington’s Birthday around the middle of February. A half-dozen of my buddies, and often our boys and their friends, were part of this winter experience every year. No females. (Well, one time Chris brought along his girlfriend.) Ice fishing and ice boating were supposedly our activities, but we seldom did either. We simply socialized.
“What does it take to drive a car out on this lake?” a man asked Bill “The Barber” Austin, one of my lifelong friends, now almost 90, and me one February day as we were temporarily parked on a road leading out onto the ice. “Oh, usually just one, but sometimes two, shots of vodka,” Bill replied, and he was only half-joking. I remember that the very first drive out on the ice to Liberty Street each winter was close to full speed–with my left arm holding the car door open. Sally always walked or skied.
Was it cold out there on those winter weekends? Well, I recall one time when the temperature in the house was around zero. But thanks to the fireplace and the eight electric heaters I had installed early on, it warmed up enough to be reasonably comfortable. Of course, a few adult beverages seemed to help.
As we all grew older, we eventually changed “Men’s Weekend” from winter to spring, where it remains to this day. Last year we called it “The 42nd Liberty Street Adult Beverage Spring Fishing Carnival.” Did any of us fish? Well, no. But we raised our glasses to those of our group who have passed on.
Throughout all the years, we were always doing or planning projects. One winter we had the entire dock rebuilt with pressure-treated lumber. That spring we expanded the breakwater. Because we felt the house could use more light and better access to the views, we added, over a period of two years, a dozen five-foot-high picture windows throughout the living room, pool-table area, kitchen, and even upstairs in our bedroom. Wow–what a difference they made! Early on I purchased a fourth lot on the east side (putting our overall water frontage today at 679 feet).
Other projects included building a combination workbench area and dining room off the kitchen, large enough to seat about 20. Oh, yes–and 10 years ago we put a brand-new (and more powerful) engine in One Egg.
Time went on, summer after summer, until, lo and behold, the “girls” at Liberty Street became wives. J.D., Dan, and Chris married Cindy, Carolyn, and Catherine. At last we had daughters–well, daughters-in-law. It doesn’t seem that it was very long thereafter that eight grandchildren came along–four boys and four girls. How they all loved to stretch out on the dock for hours, slathered with suntan lotion, occasionally swimming out to the floating raft. Dan anchored out there each spring. Lots of water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and sailing, too. When my sister’s family, Vermonters all, spent the weekend with us, always bringing their guitars, banjos, and singing voices, Liberty Street was filled with music. Beautiful music.
Now comes the difficult part of my story. Are you ready? Okay. We as a family have decided to put Liberty Street on the market this summer.
Why? Why? our friends have been asking us–and I find it difficult to answer them. Maybe the best I can do is to quote Sally’s late mother, who, when she moved into the same retirement home in which Sally and I now live, said, “It’s time to turn the page.” So true. When one goes beyond 80, as I have, age is more than “just a number,” as our younger friends maintain. It’s when it’s suddenly quite difficult to get into One Egg–and even more difficult to get out! It’s when that staircase up to the bedrooms at Liberty Street seems pretty darned steep. How did that happen? And the boys? Well, most of their children are either in college or scattered far and wide. Need I explain more?
It’s hard for all of us in the family to imagine summers without Liberty Street. On the other hand, I have to assume that it’ll always be with me. Always. So I’ll end my “House for Sale” story this month with something I wrote years ago. When I was young. It always chokes me up a little–especially now. But here goes …
“At a certain time when I’m old, I know where I’ll be, wherever I am. It will be very early on a calm, warm late-June morning on Lake Winnipesaukee. I’ll walk down to the water’s edge below my house on Sleepers Island, rest on the bench we had built there years before, and sip from a mug of hot coffee. From the distance, I’ll hear the faint sound of an outboard motor, but the huge lake before me, lying there in its myriad of undulating reflections, will be otherwise free of human activity. Then, far down near The Witches and Forty Islands, I’ll see a dark, faintly ominous-looking band of ruffled water creeping slowly toward me along the entire breadth of the lake, from Meredith Bay to Moultonborough Neck. There’ll be long-ago voices and laughter like distant music. A solitary leaf on the poplar tree leaning over the shore near me will flap lazily as if in preparation for the daily summertime wind–inevitably on its way, as always. While I wait for it calmly in the temporary magical stillness of early morning, just as I’ve done a thousand times before, I’ll look across the water to the hills that rise over the faraway shores and then on and on beyond for miles and miles of misty blue mountains to the north.”
Well, at least, after 43 years, Liberty Street has made it onto the pages of Yankee Magazine.
Read stories about Liberty Street written by Jud Hale’s three sons.