Heaven, my grandfather used to say, is a day just like today: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there’s a little breeze blowing so it’s not too hot.
And that’s exactly what Eastport, Maine was like on the day my husband and I first saw it, fifteen years ago. Downtown, the tiny shops were selling souvenirs and ice cream, and hot dogs from Rosie’s hot dog stand out on the breakwater added a delicious picnic-lunch perfume to air already tinctured with sea salt. In the neighborhoods uphill from the waterfront, people were busy painting clapboards and repairing shutters, putting up shingles and mending steps on the big, old houses.
In short, it was the kind of island-summer day that makes unwary innocents like us move to Eastport, and as fate would have it, one of those old houses was both empty – the rooms, through the wavery-glassed old windows, shimmeringly vacant – and for sale. Nearly two centuries old, the house had three full floors plus an attic, three red brick chimneys, and forty-eight double-hung windows, each with a pair of forest- green shutters.
Reader, we bought it. In a move that turned out to be the classic little-did-we-know plot twist, we got ourselves out of the I-95 corridor and onto Moose Island, three hours from Bangor and light-years, it felt like, from anywhere else…That was in August, and by December we were living in the house and had already begun buying tools.
Lots of tools: saws and hammers, screwdrivers (flathead and phillips), wrenches and prybars and putty knives and power drills and… Well, suffice it to say that I now have my own pair of steel-toed work boots, I know how to use plaster buttons, skimcoat a ceiling, and rehabilitate a 200-year-old window, and I can operate a belt sander without too much trauma (though I still cringe without apology at the metallic ker-whang! of a chopsaw).
As important as all we’ve done to the house, though, is what the house and its surroundings have done for me: Being here in Eastport and working pretty steadily on This Old Money-Pit have given me the material for fourteen books (and counting) in the Home Repair is Homicide series starring (of course!) old-house fix-up enthusiast Jake Tiptree (The newest in the series is KNOCKDOWN.).
Because for one thing, it turns out that fixing up an old house can inspire more murderous urges than anything else I’ve ever tried, and they had to go somewhere, didn’t they?
Also, much like our old house itself, Eastport is such a specific, nowhere-else-like-it sort of place: in its look and feel, its language and customs and food and history and geology, and in its individual (some very much so!) inhabitants. As Gertrude Stein might’ve said if she’d ever visited, ‘There is a there, there.’
It’s not quite heaven, and especially not in February. But Eastport – like just about everywhere in Maine, it seems – is a writer’s dream of a location, to write about and to write in.
Or anyway, it has been for me.