Were you to cross George Howe Colt’s recent classic, The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, with John Grogan’s beloved Marley & Me, you might end up with what Brenda Gilchrist has created in Waltzing With Bracey: A Long Reach Home.
In this brave and thoughtful memoir, Gilchrist tells the story of learning to claim her place in the world—Deer Isle, Maine—and the wonderfully bossy little corgi, Bracey, who helps her to do so. After a girlhood spent abroad in various world capitals, Gilchrist has never felt entirely at home anywhere, or indeed, particularly confident about who she is. Her family’s Deer Isle summer cottage might qualify as an anchor of sorts. But there are so many ghosts up there—so many august forebears to live up to.
As a middle-aged New Yorker she confronts her Aunt Eleanor’s bequest of the Deer Isle property. Moving to Maine full-time with her corgi puppy in tow, she sets out to claim not just this big, rambling, shingle-style pile of a house but also her own life. Bracey is vital to this process, serving as companion and example. There is a great deal to learn from this energetic little alpha, who seems never to have known a self-doubt in his brief, well-furred life.
Here is a love letter to the glories of the Maine Coast and to the human/animal bonds that can so enrich a life.
From Chapter Two:
“On a windy July day forty years on, I drive down toward my aunt’s—my—house on Deer Isle for the first time since inheriting it. The house gives the illusion, from a distance, of being engulfed by waves—a ship foundering at sea. Quite different from the image of the tiger I entertained as a child. Breakers appear to crash right up on the porch, though, of course, they’re actually a hundred feet beyond, too far to do damage. Pummeling the rocks down on the beach with true, foamy fury, they send spray over the tall bank and onto the rough grass and juniper between the house and shore. . . .
Standing there, I gaze at the familiar islands: Bradbury with its tight capping of spruce; Butter, its ocherous meadow; Hard Head, its freshet of surf.
Apprehensive, scared of facing my responsibilities, my ghosts, I’m poised to cross an ocean of avoidance. I remind myself how many times I’ve been to this house, how many times I’ve rolled about in the Atlantic between two lives. Beached on this shore as a child, I regarded the house as a kind of haven, if never really a home.”