November 6, 2012

Our First Home: Cayuga Lake 1968

“It’s $110 a month,” Mrs. Schooley told us.

“$110 a month?” I wasn’t sure we could swing it.

“$110 a month, including heat and electric,” she said. That was one third of Vic’s graduate student stipend.

I glanced over at Vic. He gazed longingly at the dock. He eyed the front yard, a narrow strip of grass that dipped down to a shale beach and Cayuga Lake. He craned his neck to see the top branches of the massive willow trees.

We would have to hike the steep driveway from the road when it snowed, but we didn’t care. We hated our cluster fly infested second story apartment in Interlaken. We froze last winter while we experimented with brown rice and hatha yoga. The only warm place was under the covers. Our wedding date was one month away and the Interlaken place would put a bitter curse on our marriage. Cold = tight shoulders = anxiety = arguments.

The drive from Interlaken to Ithaca where Vic went to school and I worked was half an hour in the best conditions, but much longer when Vic’s black VW wouldn’t start. On many a frigid morning, I sat in the driver’s seat and steered while Vic pushed the car down the slight incline of Route 96A. When the bug began rolling, I slammed in the clutch and gave it gas. It usually started, but sometimes it took a few tries and prolonged cursing.

Playing on the dock at Cayuga Lake: photo by Rufus Diamant

We needed a home and Vic had that determined look he got when he wanted something. His clarity reassured me.

“Look at this place, E. It must have been spectacular in its day.”

“It was the third cottage built on the lake,” Mrs. Schooley said, “but I can’t keep up with it since my husband died.” Her sad eyes and tight mouth sent a stab of pity through my heart, but I quickly returned to planning my own charmed future.

“The roof needs new shingles,” Vic said as he inspected the outside of the house.

“Yes, yes, it does. I haven’t gotten around to that,” Mrs. Schooley apologized.

“May I work off some of the rent by putting on a roof?” Vic asked. I knew he could fix motorcycles and toasters, but I didn’t know he could put on a roof.

“That sounds good,” Mrs. Schooley said.

“Don’t worry. We can afford it,” Vic said as he squeezed my hand.

The house had wide porches, spacious rooms overlooking the lake, upstairs sleeping porches with lumpy mildewed mattresses and rusted screens, and that sunlit dock. A beautiful old house, rotting, crumbling, sagging, and moldy. The first house we called home.


Do you have stories to tell about your first home? You might enjoy another story about living on Cayuga Lake, The Crone of Cayuga Lake, or other stories about my land and home: Coming Home and My Mysterious Home.


  1. November 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Pamela King


    Lovely portrait of that time, Elaine. Beautiful, understated touch that matches the simplicity of youth and your early start together. I really like this.

    1. November 8, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you. Your encouraging words are food for my soul. Life was simpler then and that love was oh so sweet.

  2. November 7, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Elaine, thanks for this beautiful portrait of your first home. You’ve brought back memories for me that I might put on paper, too.

    Thank you!


    1. November 8, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks Lynne. I look forward to reading what you write. When I write about my marriage, I know how fortunate my life has been, but the memories open up a pervasive grief and longing, too. So both things together–joy and sorrow.

  3. November 6, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Ava Hayes


    Lovely, again. And what a great RD photo! You manage to make these memoirs sing with life and love.

    1. November 7, 2012 at 6:45 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your encouraging response, Ava. I have a few great photos taken by RD at that time including portraits of Vic and me that hang on my wall.

  4. November 6, 2012 at 7:36 pm



    I have such fond memories of the old homestead–whataplace! Full of love and caring and anchored by your’s and Vic’s growing relationship.

    1. November 7, 2012 at 6:40 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      And you were there, taking photos that I cherish now. A magical time, and I was smart enough to know that then.

  5. November 6, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Jill Swenson


    The enchantment. The dreams. You capture your memories in sweet sepia tones. $110 a month. Sigh.

    1. November 7, 2012 at 6:37 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Jill. Times of hope, innocence, and the power of love.

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