Thursday, March 25, 2010

Losing a Legacy

The Briarpatch is more than a place, a piece of land, or a house. It's a family legacy, a legend, a place of refuge. And it has to be sold after all these years. It breaks my heart that my kids won't get to spend summer vacations there, learn to sail there, catch their own crab dinner there, sleep on a docked boat there, and enjoy the privilege of such an amazing treasure. I thought we had all the time in the world. "When I have more vacation time, we'll go back." "We just don't have the money to fly this summer." "Next year."

The logical, mathematical, rational side of me understands estate taxes and that the trust wasn't set up properly and that if it had, my grandfather's dream of the retreat place for church groups would still be functioning as he intended for generations to come. I do get it. But my sentimental side, that person who less than a month ago had to be the oldest grandchild and stand up at the church and speak for all of us, is still grieving and it just KILLS me that some stupid lawyer didn't listen carefully enough and didn't do his job well enough and now it's all going to be gone. Sold. Ok, not just grieving. I'm a bit mad, too. Grandpa Schnebly deserves more than this sad end to his dream.

John Thomas Schnebly was an amazing man. An eye surgeon who served in the army, Grandpa Tom spent the rest of his career as a philanthropist. Most of his office furniture was received as "payment" for services. He was always behind schedule because he took the time needed for each patient. I have so many stories told by mother about it him (and that's all I have, I only met him twice, being the grandchild who grew up in Sweden and lost him when I was only 8). He volunteered with the Lions Club, at his church, and of course, took in a foreign exchange student (who married my mom, but that's another post). In the 40s, he bought a parcel of land, covered in briars, with the thought that one day he'd build a lodge and lend it out, free of charge, so that church groups would have some place to go for retreats. He figured the family could camp there until that happened, and wasn't it nice, it was on the water and people might like to swim, or go out in a canoe.

He had a friend who was an architect who drew up some plans for a simple A-frame structure, one room and bathroom on the first floor, another room and a bathroom on the second floor. Pull-out double sleeper sofas on all the sides, pull-down sleeping bunks on all the walls. Lots of sleeping pads upstairs where there was no other furniture. Even a crow's nest loft for the adventurous few. Slept a total of 30 with no crowding. They built it. It was a true 1960s masterpiece with green, gold, avocado and shag carpet. A gorgeous view of Mill Creek (a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, this was Annapolis, MD) The groups came. Keys were sent in the mail. My brilliant, organizing, take charge Grandma Vivian organized it all. For a refundable $25 deposit, the 2 1/4 water front property was yours for the weekend. Clean up after yourselves and leave the heat at 55 degrees.

Family of course used it too. "Grandma, is there a group this weekend?" Ok, then we'll just take the boat out and not spend the night. We knew that Grandpa had bought the property for others to use, and the groups knew that family might pass through on the way to their various watercraft, might use the bathroom coming and going. Grandma, though, knew how much we loved the place and gently encouraged the groups (who knew what a treasure they had access to year after year) to schedule their retreats not during boating season.

As I look back on my childhood, what I remember is spending every weekend, of every summer, at the Briarpatch. Because that's what it ended up being called. As any good summer home, it had it's own name. The briar's had been tamed into a manageable grove of incredible berries that we picked. There was a boat ramp, a "ditto" (a miniature copy of the main house that kept all the boats, canoes, life preservers, fishing equipment, etc), a dock, a beach, a fire pit, a hammock, a porch overlooking the "creek".

Our immediate family owned a series of boats. "I think we need a bigger boat next year," I'd hear my father say. (He'd taken me to see "Jaws" on a special father/daughter date and it's been a favorite quote of ours ever since) We started off with a sunfish and ended up with a 26' cruiser that slept 6. Oh, those were the days. To this day there's nothing more relaxing to me than sailing. I can get so lost in the rhythm of the waves and the wind and the slapping of the sails and the hypnotic monotony of it all that it finally releases that last little control freak brain cell in me and I'm truly calm. I tell you it doesn't happen often to me but it happens when I'm sailing. And lying there with my eyes open, staring at the sail meeting the mast with the clouds rolling by and the listening to nothing but the wind and the water and pretty soon and hour of what most people would call silence has gone by. There aren't a lot of people today who are comfortable with silence, but my beloved father is one of them. We have gone sailing together and communicated more with each other in two hours of just BEING in the cockpit of a sailboat on a long tack of blissful quiet solitude than you can imagine. And it's been too long.


Tina said...

As you can see, I just pushed post at the end of the day. Knew that I could never do the place justice and that all of my cutting and pasting and fonting was for nought. I love you Grandma and Grandpa. Thank you for my childhood memories. Thank you for my legacy of memories. Dear Lord, please help me find the pictures I want to post.

Amanda Lee said...

It's always like that -- that feeling of having "all the time in the world". It's that way with babies, and toddlers, and teenagers. And parents. I'm glad you will have time to savor this place this year. I would suggest you stay for as long as possible -- not just a weekend. And how fortunate you are not to have to schedule your visit around your employer's life!

Amanda Lee said...

Tina, why don't you start doing the alphabe-thursday link parties? The one coming up is for the letter "K" (they go in alphabetical order). :) This is my favorite link party -- a really interesting group of contributors. Your writing is wonderful, and others might enjoy reading your posts.

Pondside said...

Good morning, Tina. Thanks for visiting Pondside. I've had a good time reading back on your posts - you've had a time to challenge anyone - talk about journeys!
I'm sorry to read that your family is losing its special place. We had something like that happen in our family, except my grandfather, in his wisdom, left the family holiday property to one, unmarried son - all of it. No one knows what will happen, as the buildings fall to ruin because no one wishes to spend on a place that may be sold at one person's whim. So sad.
I hope you'll soon be on a journey of healing - perhaps with better weather will come better health.

Jenny said...

Oh, what a poignant and touching post. I am going to read back further. Where is this lovely place? Is there no way everyone in the family could band together to purchase it as a group? Oh, this is so sad.