In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Autographed house

Here is William Acker Perry's signature etched in the kitchen window. It is his autograph, written with elegant loops and swirls. He was proud of the house he had made, I think, and so like an artist he signed it.

William's parents, Jonathan and Martha Hagar Perry, married in 1834 and settled on the island soon after that. William was born here in 1837, the second of their nine children. You can still see the stone cellar of the first house the Perrys built, below the lower orchard, and the traces of their first stone walls. For some thirty years they raised their family there, and after Martha died Jonathan remarried and lived another twenty years in the old house. After his death one of his married daughters kept on living there until she and her husband moved away to Boston in around 1900.

William and his brothers and sisters were island born and grew up along this shore. By then the main road and the lower road had been cut out of the forest, and fields cleared, and the lighthouse built. Other families had settled on the cove and along the southern shore between the cove and the lighthouse. There were pastures and gardens and orchards, stone walls and wells, pigs and chickens and oxen and cows, flocks of sheep, short cuts and paths, neighbours and neighbourly ways, and always the sea.

William became a fisherman like his father, and together, I think, they built this house when he was a young man, before he married Abigail Bower. William and Abigail lived together in the new house -- so promising a beginning -- for only three years, when she died. They had no children.

A few years later William married Ann Maria Allen from Lockeport. They had five children in this house, all girls. Florence Abigail was the oldest, born the year after her parents married, and Annie Maria three years after that. Both girls married fishermen, like their father and their grandfather, and they both married young, at seventeen and eighteen. They both had island weddings, most likely in this very house.

The third daughter, Bertha Eugenee, was born when the older two were five and three. They would have made a happy trio of girls to greet their father when he came home from the sea. Bertha Eugenee died when she was nineteen months old, of scarlet fever that swept the area that month. Helen Catherine came next, less than a year after Bertha Eugenee died. So then there were three daughters again, and a wash of sadness.

The fifth Perry daughter, Augusta Jane, was younger by sixteen years than Helen. Helen Catherine and Augusta Jane were spinsters. Maybe they continued to live with their parents and take care of them. It's an odd symmetry: the first two daughters married young and blossoming into family life, the middle daughter dying, the youngest two living into great old age unmarried.

When Ann Maria was dying in 1911, William sold the house to James and Bertha Goulden and they moved across the harbour. William -- island born and bred -- -- lived in Churchover for another six years, gazing over the water at McNutt's. He was eighty when he died. The couple are buried at St. Paul's United Church in Carleton Village, just across the harbour, with all their daughters.

For most of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth -- for the better part of a century -- this house and the house below the orchard were anchors of a sort, the scene of births and deaths and courtships and weddings and wakes. Three or four generations of ordinary island life went on here in that quiet daily way that we rarely pay any attention to until afterward.

The autographed house held so many daughters then, though they have left no such certain mark that I have found. Sometimes at twilight I think I see young girls' dreams floating along the rafters and collecting in ceiling corners, but maybe they are only cobwebs.

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