Beach cottages built on a handshake

As published in The Providence Sunday Journal, June 20, 2021. Above, my mother and I at our yellow beach house in Narragansett circa 1962.

My brother Rob recently purchased a home in the Nausauket section of Warwick. After spending months in Rhode Island’s current real estate jungle, he has wild tales to tell.

“I got outbid by $100,000 on a two-bedroom house near Pawtuxet Village,” he said with a laugh. “And they were paying cash.”

“Long way from when Mom and Dad built the beach houses,” I said.

In 1962, two cottages sprouted up in Narragansett on a gentle curve of a winding road that could have been named by a poet: Green Kinyon Driftway. My father had just turned 28, my mother 29.

“Pretty sure they paid $6,000 for the yellow house and $5,000 for the gray one,” Rob said, wistfully.

Mr. Windsor, who lived at the foot of the road in a weathered Cape overlooking Salt Pond, built the houses. They were both under 700 square feet. Before the first lumber delivery from Wakefield Branch arrived, my father asked the white-haired, bespectacled carpenter about signing a contract. More than once, Dad recounted the older man’s response.

“All I need is a handshake,” Mr. Windsor said.

As kids, Rob and I played Wiffle ball in the field between the cottages, which our parents rented out for most of the year. But we stopped our game whenever we heard Mr. Windsor’s green Ford pickup truck rattling down the road. As he drove by, our grandfatherly neighbor would lift his hands from the steering wheel and turn our way, sticking his thumbs in his ears, flapping his hands, and making funny faces. Rob and I howled and waved back.

When we weren’t playing Wiffle ball, we explored the woods that stood beyond the two cottages. Rob would flip over a rock, grab a squiggling snake right behind the head, and thrust it in my face. “Aren’t they cool?” he’d say as I recoiled.

And then there’s the time Rob dropped a hammer from the upper reaches of a maple tree, where he was building a fort. I stood at the foot of the tree, daydreaming. The plummeting mallet conked me on the head, laying me belly to the dirt like one of those snakes my brother loved.

Now Rob was on the ground and in my ear: “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry!” he pleaded. “Mom and Dad will kill us!” I fought back tears and rubbed my head – no blood, just an egg.

Rob grabbed the hammer and climbed back up the tree as I blinked to my senses. His pounding echoed in the salty morning air – until I heard wood cracking and branches snapping. I looked up and saw my brother backwards-somersaulting to the ground. He landed with a clump, and now it was me in his ear: “Don’t cry, don’t cry! Mom and Dad will kill us!”

Still alive, we trudged back to the gray house. 

“What were you guys doing?” our mother asked as she made us lunch.

“Nothing,” Rob said, though Mom must have heard the hammering. He and I exchanged conspiratorial smiles.

Our parents separated in 1969, and the beach properties were sold. Zillow estimates the current value of the yellow house at $395,000 while the gray house, expanded over the years, is pegged at $650,000. If they were for sale in Rhode Island’s booming real estate market today, they would likely garner more. And for good reason. The location is serene, with Salt Pond a short walk away and the ocean song of the Atlantic within earshot. 

I imagine the closings would be bittersweet for the sellers, life-changing for the buyers. And with papers signed and monies set in motion, there would be handshakes all around. 

But nothing like the one my dad shared with Mr. Windsor, long ago in a different and simpler time.

8 Comments

Love this! As time passes it is our memories that sustain us… and those can never be bought or sold! Happy Father’s Day, John!

Thanks for the flashback, and the reminder the try and live a bit more like Mr. Windsor when we can.

John… fantastic as always! Thanks again for sharing your talent with us!
Ernie

John, the journey to our past is lined with memories…times we wish we could relive each day, especially during these turbulent times. I can feel the salt spray from the ocean gently flowing past as the gulls call out, looking for us to come home. Another great article.

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