Home To Chincoteague

Back at home again, our life resumed, but not as usual.  For the next week, Bruce talked about Chincoteague.  He reminisced about the nature trail, the quiet hometown feel of the place, Mister Whippy’s Ice Cream Shop, Mr. Baldy’s Restaurant, and the birds. Bruce never talks about birds.

“Remember that seagull?” he asked me one night, when I caught him chuckling to himself.

We met the seagull at the marina one evening.  Bruce and Ryan heard a ‘bang’ on the dock and turned to see. Nothing.  A few minutes later, they heard the noise again, in the same place. Bang. The other witness was a seagull.  They turned and watched as the bird dipped to the dock, picked up something in its beak, flew about ten feet in the air and dropped it.

“Run and get it,” Bruce said to Ryan.

Ryan jogged down the dock, scaring the gull into flight, and picked up the open clam shell.  The seagull had been digging for clams near the shore, and using the dock to open them for a fresh seafood feast.  Clam shells littered the board surface.  We stood and watched as the gull made trip after trip until he didn’t come back again, having reached his fill or retired for the night.

Bruce shook his head, remembering.  “A bird with a toolbox,” he said.

“Must be something magic in Chincoteague,” I answered.

“Maybe the clams are brain food,” Bruce said.

The following weekend found us back for a visit.  Bruce was now the one talking about property and houses.  He felt that house on Bunting Lane could work for us, and he spent hours online, looking for contractors who raise houses and build foundations.  He liked the lot’s size, and the property price was reasonable. The town was quaint, close to a National Wildlife Refuge on the ocean, and property values would only increase.

Now, I was the one having qualms about a new mortgage when we only had two more years on our current one. Bruce is usually the logical thinker in our household. He talks me back to earth from whimsical dreams. There was the time I craved a get-away retreat on Wintergreen Mountain. I also wanted a cabin at Albemarle Lake, and I was enamored with a half acre of sand on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Bruce patiently visited each place, surveyed the area, investigated cost, and returns on investment. Only one met his criteria; he’s tenacious in his research.  I suddenly found myself in his shoes and I felt unbalanced.

Bruce talked me into another trip to the coast.  We left early on the first Saturday morning in March and arrived on Chincoteague Island mid-day.  We drove to the house on Bunting and sat in the driveway for a long time, pondering possibilities.

We backed up, turned onto Ridge Road and drove toward our rental cottage. Bruce wanted to investigate the cost of raising cement block houses and finding replacement masonry pieces.

We stepped out of the car. “There’s the man we need to ask,” Bruce said, pointing to the construction site next door to our rental cottage.

I looked to where a boy stood next to a pickup truck with a sign reading: Island Construction and Renovations.

“Him?” I asked pointing.

We walked over and he turned out to be a bit older than I first thought, but not by much, in his mid-twenties.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

Bruce held out his hand and introduced himself.

“I’m James,” the young man said.

“We’re looking at property on the island and are wondering if it’s possible to  find replacement cement block for a house built in the fifties. They’re different colors, tans, browns…”

“Sometimes,” James said, “but colors from that far back are hard to match.”

“We’re looking at a house on Bunting Lane,” I said.

“I know that one,” he said.  “Elderly couple lived there. She recently passed away. Nice folks.”

“We looked at the house last week,” Bruce said. “Spent most of a day there.”

“It’s really cute,” I added.

James smiled at me and nodded.  “It is. Great Paneling inside too.”

I liked this young man, he had an eye for my style of decor.  “Really is beautiful, isn’t it?” I said smiling.

“Yeah, it’s a nice house, solid built.  It really is a shame that it’s not on higher ground.” Then he stopped and became thoughtful before he said, “I don’t want to discourage you or anything, but Buntin’ Road is prone to high water.

This young man’s a local, so he should know the area well. He was confirming our research—the property is prone to flooding.

“I crawled under the house, but couldn’t see a whole lot,” Bruce said.

“My in-laws live across the street, and I’ve had to replace the duct system three times since I’ve been married.”

“Really?” Bruce asked. The young man didn’t look old enough to be married, much less married long enough to replace duct work at his in-law’s three times.

“Yeah, their house is right on the ground and that creek running along Buntin’ is a tidal basin. So when the water rises, it gets under the house and into the duct work—ruins it. Last time they had to pull up all the carpet, too. A big mess. Lots of expense.”

“So,” Bruce said. “how high do you think the house on Bunting is above sea level?”

“I’d say no more than three feet. I think the duct work is under that house, too.”

Yes, he knew the area well. Bruce was frowning, thinking.

“Current code for new houses on the island says they have to be eight feet above sea level. I always go a little above that,” the young builder said.  “Don’t want to get into your business, but have you thought of building?”

We had talked about building, but reasoned that if we could get a house on a lot, for the same price as the land, we’d be ahead of the game.

“You’re a builder?” Bruce asked, voicing the thought in my head. He looked too young.

“Yeah, me and my brother own the business. Worked construction my whole life.  My Dad was a contractor, so we were raised working on houses. I built all these here.”

He swept his hand out, including our rental in the gesture.  Bruce and I had commented earlier that it was a wonderful house, beautiful bamboo flooring, cathedral ceilings, brick fireplace, bright, airy, with a huge kitchen with island workstation. The master bedroom had its own bath with double shower heads, and there is the large screen porch.

“This is a pretty high area, but see here,” he said pointing to the nail driven into a pine tree near us . “I had the surveyor drive a peg into that tree, eight feet above sea level.” The nail was about four feet off the ground.  “See this foundation,” he said, walking over to the house he was working on, “ I go a little above eight feet.  A lot of the older houses were built right on the ground, no room for high water. That house on Buntin’ has probably seen some flooding since it was built.”

“Let me ask you this,” Bruce said, “what would it cost to raise that house eight feet above sea level?”

“Not sure I’d be able to,” he said. “I’d have to go look at it, see if there’s lumber behind that block.  If it isn’t, the cement might just crumble when you start to jack it up. I’ve raised some stick built houses, but none like that one on Buntin’.”

“So how much cost is usually involved in raising a foundation?” Bruce asked.

“I couldn’t tell you exactly, without going to look closely at the house, but generally no less than twenty-five thousand.”

Bruce was calculating in his head.  Things weren’t looking good for the property on Bunting.  Bruce had also mentioned that the wiring and plumbing needed replacement. The old air conditioners should be removed, the block replaced, the roof needed work, and the bathroom floor required replacement.  All the expenses were growing in his head. I began to sense a feeling of relief—no new mortgage.

“Probably cost you less to buy a lot and build,” the contractor said.

“Hmm,” Bruce said, looking around.  “So how much does a lot like this one cost?”

“I couldn’t tell you for sure.  I’m not up to date on the real estate market, but my Mom is.  I can take you over to her office if you want to follow me.”

Bruce got in the car and motioned for me to follow his lead.  He had a new mission: an acreage.

We followed James to his mother’s realty office.  Once inside, he introduced us to his Mom, a life-long inhabitant of the island.  She gave us a list of potential lots she would recommend, and reviewed the new building codes that require houses to be built higher, off the ground, and with ‘greener’ septic systems that could cost as much as twenty-five thousand dollars.

“There are a few lots with septic, water, electricity, phone and cable already installed. One’s on the water. You may want to look at that one,” she said.  “The price is good and it’s ready to build on.”

She provided us with a map, listing information, and directions to find the land.

“Jamie, you know that property just off Mollusk Drive, don’t you?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, I know where,” he said. “I can drive over there. Follow me if you want.”

We followed young builder’s truck to a lot which backed on to Big Glade Creek. We were expecting a stream, like the ones at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, two feet across with moss covered rock and tadpoles. Big Glade is two hundred feet wide, with an expanse of water that ripples in the wind. Several small islands with tall, wetland grasses are sprinkled throughout the waterway.  A floating dock is attached to pine trees near the bank. The lot was large, almost a half acre, flat, and ready to build on.

Those logic filled shoes that I was trying to fill suddenly fell off. I instantly loved the location.  I left Bruce and Jamie to discuss square footage, sea levels, cinder blocks, and pilings.  I took my camera to the water’s edge, sat on the floating dock and inhaled salt-tinged, island air. I imagined myself spinning stories from this very spot: waterside mysteries, shipwreck adventures, a child’s quest for a wild pony.

I’m not sure how long I sat there daydreaming, but by the time Bruce walked up behind me, it had begun to get dark.  “What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s lovely,” I said. “It’s perfect.”

“Look,” he said pointing to the smallest island in the middle of the creek.

I turned and saw them, a pair of Canada Geese, one standing and the other settled on her nest.  The couple had found their summer home. And we had just found ours.

Home to Chincoteague © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. The final chapter of one writer’s obsession to convince the world, and the stars, that she must live and write in Chincoteague, a quaint, seaside community on the coast of Virginia. Click to read previous installments. Or visit her picture book, Call of Chincoteague. Review more of M Dawn’s work in the Now, click her tag.

2 Responses to “Home To Chincoteague”
  1. Stefanie Newman says:

    I enjoyed reading this, all the more so since I can picture the place. The first time we went to Chincoteague with my son, he burst into tears when we crossed the causeway to go back home. I can well understand how the place exercises an attraction !


  2. Thank you Stefani, I appreciate the read. Thanks for dropping by. Chincoteague truly is a magical place.

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