The Working Waterfront

Sharing a summer house

Family history leaves its mark

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-09-19
Last Modified 2023-09-19

In September I will have lived on Islesford, as a year round resident, for 47 years, but I have spent part of the summer here for every year of my life. My connection to Little Cranberry Island goes back to two sets of great-grandparents who happened to build summer homes near each other on the north shore of the island.

I imagine my grandmother, Barbara Seelye, knew my grandfather, Francis Bottome, when they were children. After they married it was the Bottome house that remained in our family, and is now shared by my brother, me, and our three cousins.

When I was a child, our family usually stayed in the house for the weeks at the end of June and early July. My grandparents stayed for the middle weeks of summer, followed by my aunt, uncle, and cousins who were there for the last weeks of August into Labor Day.

There is no heat or insulation in the house, but on a cold wet June day the living room can be kept warm and cozy with a fire in the fireplace.

The adults never saw the need to overlap these visits since we all lived in Rochester and saw each other frequently for family occasions. As a youngster I didn’t really understand this. It was always fun to be together with my cousins.

One clue I had that our family and my aunt’s family had different styles for occupying the house was the annual tradition of my father grumbling his way up the stairs to the third floor where the double doors to the living room and dining room had been stored by my uncle. He then grumbled his way down to the first floor carrying one door at a time.

There is no heat or insulation in the house, but on a cold wet June day the living room can be kept warm and cozy with a fire in the fireplace and those doors closed. At the end of the season the days tend to be hotter and the house has soaked some warmth into its plaster walls. Upon my cousins’ arrival, I picture my uncle grumbling his way up the stairs, carrying those same doors that seemed unnecessary to him.

I don’t know if he complained or even if he was the one to move the doors. I just know my father had a hard time understanding why people didn’t do things the way he thought they should be done. It was a spring ritual.

Now, all of us have grown children and we get to watch the next generation work out schedules for when they might like to stay in the house while considering the plans of their parents. There are enough people to fill up time slots for the whole summer so we haven’t yet come to any consensus about renting. We don’t have a system for who uses the house and when. It usually starts with a group email, during the winter, from whoever thinks about their summer schedule first.

“We would like to use the house from June 25 to until July 2, if no one else has plans for it then,” was the message from one of my sons. Everyone started to figure out schedules from there and the house is set to be steadily occupied this summer.

“It’s great that we all get along so well,” my brother says about this method.

Maybe one of the reasons we get along so well is that we still don’t overlap our visits much. Just as each family has its own approach to parenting, everyone has their own style while staying in the house.

I haven’t slept in the house for over 40 years, but I so enjoy seeing my sons and their families able to use it. They have managed to share a few days in the house together for the last four years and the cousins have a blast.

One of my favorite childhood memories is the time our family came back to the island in August to stay for a few days with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Two visits to Islesford in one summer was the best thing ever to me. The house felt wonderful to be so full of people. I remember endless laughter as we helped get ready for meals in the way children do.

If there was friction among the adults, I never saw it. Yet, somehow our parents never chose to repeat the multi-family visit.

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at