For the past twenty-five summers, we have had the same landlord on the coast of Maine: Charles W. H. Dodge, a native son of Maine known to one and all as Charlie.
Frank and I have rented two different houses from Charlie Dodge: The Captain’s Cottage, where we spent twenty summers, and The Playhouse, where we – now, I – spend the summer. (Author’s aside: Yes, many houses in Maine have names: the Captain’s Cottage because that’s what it was at one point; the Playhouse, once Charlie’s playhouse, has been handsomely restored; the elegant, towering Dodge family home, called Spite House, was named, I’m told, after a family feud years ago.)
We are tenants, of course, but we feel more like guests, thanks to the gracious goodwill of our landlord Charlie Dodge. Standing at six feet seven inches, with a shock of white hair and large, lively blue eyes, Charlie has to duck his head to fit under the doorframe when he and his wife Marylee come to pay their first visit of the summer.
That first visit is a hard and fast tradition with this gentleman landlord. Marylee brings flowers from her glorious yard; we drink coffee or whatever is appropriate to the hour. Charlie asks us if everything works properly, or if there is anything we need to have them fix for us. He tells funny stories about their past adventures or how they weathered the last winter; Marylee corrects a few of his details and they banter a bit. We laugh a lot, they invite us up to Spite House for drinks before too long.
Sometimes the Spite House visit is delayed because Charlie, an avid, if not addicted, fisherman never says no to a fishing trip, anywhere. When he turned ninety, a friend cautioned him about an upcoming fly fishing trip in Newfoundland. “When I told him I worried about him having a cane and fly rod in a rushing stream, he just chuckled and said, ‘If I go, I want to go toes up, downstream.’ ”
We have always felt that it is a privilege to be Charlie’s tenants. Each year the Playhouse is immaculate when we arrive, and I think the unspoken agreement is that we will keep it that way as much as possible. Nothing is written down; the lease agreement was made between Charlie and Frank with a simple handshake. But, rules or not, we care for the house and the grounds around it as if they were our own. We are guests on that particular part of God’s earth, and being keenly aware of that fact makes us more responsible and eager to leave it at least as well-tended as we found it.
Spending all these years in Maine as guests of the Dodge family has awakened me to understanding that we are all guests on ‘this fragile earth, our island home.’ We are guests, not owners, guests who gratefully take responsibility for the care and nurture of the spaces we are blessed to occupy: the land, the sky, and the sea temporarily entrusted to us. I will always be thankful for this awakening.
Charlie Dodge died on April 8, just shy of his 93rd birthday. He was not on a fishing trip, but in the loving presence of Marylee and their four wonderful children. Rest in peace, Good Landlord. You have taught us well. Amen.