Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Passing It On

In the late 19th century, Kezar Lake became a summer destination for relatively wealthy people from regions to our south. They bought the lakefront property from local farmers, many of whom had kept it in their families for generations. The newer owners also tried to pass ownership down to their offspring but that seldom worked for long. It never really does no matter where in the world a given property is located, or who the owners are, or were.

I have fond memories of the Tewksbury, Massachusetts house in which I grew up, but people entirely unknown to me occupy it now. As adults, my wife and I owned four houses and worked hard on them all. I’ve lived in our current Lovell home longest  — over thirty years, but I still feel an attachment to the ones we’ve sold because I spent many hours and days in, on, and under each of them doing repairs and upgrades over several years of ownership. My children lived and grew in three of them. Often I dream that I’m still living in one or the other — and it seems like I actually do until I wake up. I know those dreams mean something but I’m not sure what.

Wee John McLaughlin's house
Ten years ago I searched for the Donegal, Ireland farmhouse in which my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin was born. After three days of driving around and asking questions all over the Inishowen Peninsula, I found it, but it wasn’t a house anymore; it was a shed housing old, rusted tools. A more comfortable house was constructed next to it sometime in the fifties and another, still better one was built in front of that sometime in the 21st century. Back in 1922, the old farm was sold to a family named McGonigle which still owns it after nearly a century. The ten acres farmed by my great-great-grandfather “Wee John” McLaughlin were still intact and all the surrounding farmland was still owned by people named McLaughlin.

My wife and her grandfather's house
The home in which my wife’s grandfather was born was still standing in a little village called Magouliana high in the Greek Peloponnese. It was unoccupied when we visited there four years ago and owned by an unrelated family. Locals told us it had been a store for a while. My wife still had relatives named Kosiavelos living in the village though. That’s the original spelling of her maiden name before it was changed by a clerk at Ellis Island when her grandfather immigrated around 1900.

I’m responsible for a summer home on Kezar Lake designed by Portland, Maine architect John Calvin Stevens a century ago, and it hasn’t changed much since it was built. The property was purchased twenty years ago by the present owners and they’re only the third since the building went up around 1920. For that matter, I’m only the third caretaker, having taken over from the second about thirty-five years ago. I’ve done repairs in, on, and under that building too and I feel attached to it as if it were my own.

The previous owners for whom I worked had inherited wealth, but one of their offspring conspired to squander most of it, leaving little for the others to maintain the property. An adjacent parcel on Kezar Lake stayed in the same family for a century because the original owner had been a judge and tied it up in a hundred-year trust. When that dissolved, so did the property but I believe descendants still own a few lots carved out of the original holding. A new road accessing lakefront parcels bears the original family name.

Magouliana in the Peloponnese
We’ve all heard stories of families who fight over homes, contents, and money when parents pass on. It’s always unpleasant, way too familiar, and the only winners are attorneys hired to thrash it out. Maybe not even them — because they have to listen to selfish, conniving siblings or to the sad stories of their victims.

Gathering of our family
My wife and I have made arrangements to pass on our homes, but we attached no restrictions. We don’t expect our surviving children to live in either of them hang on to them. They can if they want to but I doubt any will. They have their own lives and their own homes to which they’ve formed attachments just as my wife and I did with ours. Each will probably take certain items of sentimental value but most of our things will likely be liquidated. People unknown to us will end up with them or they’ll simply be thrown away because one person’s treasure can become another person’s trash.

The only parcel of real estate I expect will remain ours is the cemetery plot we purchased. That waits for us to take occupancy when this phase of our lives ends.


Jay said...

When my Father passed away my Step Mom divided up his things to those of us she felt could use it or wanted it. She was very kind and thoughtful about it.
When my Mother passed on in ‘09 we all went through her things and tried to do the same. There was only one issue, a candy dish. Everyone seemed to want it. It had been sitting on my Mother’s coffee table for years and she always had something nice in it. Everyone in the family had memories of get-togethers over that dish. Conversation, laughs and sweet stuff.
In the end we decided my daughter should have it. My daughter and her Grandma were very close.
She treasures that candy dish.

CaptDMO said...

Passing it on?
I'm the 4th generation in my house.
Over the years there was much "equally divided", buy outs, and even an "Oh, we're putting a state road through the lower fields!" which cut "the parcel" in half.
Make no mistake, when I inherited the place I brought carpentry, plumbing, electrical, roofing, painting, skills with me. Crawling around every nook and cranny as a youth gave me insight into "the workings" of a place that, when built, had no concept of indoor plumbing, electricity,telephone, or heat other than the fireplace and stove.
YOU BET I did all the renovation and care taking when I became Master of the House 20 years ago, so the "investment" of "I did that" consecrated the ownership.

YOU BET I would have been happy to inherit the compound on Kezar Lake of my step-grandfather Crazy Don the Pirate , but it all (rightfully) went to a different branch of the family.

Pretty sure it was sold off pretty quick, to someone with BUCKETS of cash lying around. There IS that certain cachet of a history of famous folk, quietly summering, on both sides of the bridge.

Jared J Bristol said...

A really thought provoking article, Tom. I've thought a great deal about these issues and the disposition of our stuff to the kids. It's sad they won't probably keep the home I built and in which they had, I believe, a wonderful childhood. But as you say, they have their own lives and investments into their own stuff. I'm sentimental and nostalgic. Not everyone is. I've just built a cobblestone, raised flower bed that may well be our sprinkled resting place...unbeknownst to any future strangers that occupy our dwelling! Love the clear inference of your final statement about "the end of this phase of our lives".