Legends of the Little House
Updated: Feb 8
It was the summer of my eleventh year, and the timing was perfect. Not that moving away from your hometown isn’t riddled with uncertainty, but what unfolded was a chest brimming with unplanned treasure.
Indeed, it was hectic—my parents and their five daughters dragging their belongings from one old farmhouse to another. It was only a few miles down the road—one town away—yet the possibilities were limitless. The farmhouse, barn, and surrounding property were spacious and promising. But, what couldn’t have been better for me was the existence of a small two-story, two-room house across the driveway from the main house. This was complete with a front porch. The downstairs consisted of a kitchen and the upstairs a bedroom. Neither my older nor younger sisters had any interest in this small dwelling. For me, it was a dream come true. In addition to the wondrous barn, this was a new world sprawled out before me. My only question to my parents was, when can I move in? And when they responded with a look of bewilderment, I explained that I was not talking about the farmhouse but what I immediately named The Little House.
I could not move in as in the sense of living there full-time, but I could inhabit it on the weekends and during my time off—when I wasn’t in the barn playing the piano. There was electricity running to the house, but it was never turned on. The same held true for the plumbing connected to the kitchen sink. Looking back, I am a bit startled that my mother allowed me to use candles. But that is what I did. I carried a flashlight, but candles served as my primary light source. My parents gave me an old bed. Why I didn’t simply place the mattress and box spring on the floor mystifies me. The bed constantly fell apart, requiring me to put it back together during all hours of the night.
Not long after moving to Center Harbor, another new girl, Joanne, came to town. We bonded immediately, becoming best friends. I taught her how to play the trumpet so that we could both be in the school band. We rode bikes, went swimming, read comic books, ate candy, and did just about anything that eleven-year-olds did at that time. But what gave us an edge was The Little House. We fixed it up and stayed there until the weather turned cold, then we would return in the spring.
For some reason, my parents had a bright red cardboard fireplace. I am unsure why we had it because we had a fireplace and mantle in our house, but it doesn’t matter. I have a vague memory of my sisters and me hanging our Christmas stockings on this thing in Sandwich, beside the actual fireplace. They told me that I could have it. I was thrilled to drag it into the Little House. To me, it appeared cozy and comforting—something about the fake flames did it for me.
I had countless sleepovers there, from junior high and into high school. We waited until the lights were out in the main house before striking out. One by one, we dashed from the Little House, first hiding behind a small tree, and then we raced across the road and waited for everyone to show up before heading to the Center Harbor town beach. For us, it was risky and fun—liberating. We were good girls breaking the rules, running around on the beach in the twilight hours in our pajamas. Back then, Center Harbor was quieter than it is today. Our chances of getting caught were nil. There was one town police officer, and we were confident that he was home sleeping. Besides, he was a soft-spoken, friendly man. He clearly didn’t want any unpleasantries. He apologetically asked folks if they were jacking deer. It was his ice-breaker when he was checking out the scene. This happened to my friends and me more than once when we swam at night at High Haith.
There was somewhat of a snag when my father—a diehard basketball player and coach—mounted a basketball hoop on the back of the house. He arranged to have a small court paved, so this was serious business for him and my two younger sisters. We would often wake up to the sound of the ball wailing against the rim. As the years passed, it became a quieter place. I was no longer afraid of the dark and used to go there to draw, write, and listen to music. (We had cassette tapes back then.) I learned how to rig up the bed, so it didn’t collapse as often. With the comic books and candy no longer a focal point, this had become my safe place—my cave or creative womb. I used to paint designs on the windows with tempera paint. It was my version of stained glass windows in a simple little place that had become my sanctuary. A few years ago, I was a guest speaker for a book club in Center Harbor. One of the questions, outside of my book was, are you one of the Pettengill sisters from the Little House? They asked to hear the stories. It was said that we were in there during all hours of the night, jumping on the beds and screaming. Like many legends and stories, this is simply untrue. Sure, my friends and I had a few nights when giggling and talking continued until the morning. However, my sisters weren’t involved, and jumping on the bed wasn’t an option, for it collapsed at the mere thought of it. I was amused learning that my time in the Little House had become a part of a myth from years gone by. The Little House—once quaint and full of secrets—still stands and sadly was painted brown. I would have kept it white, added window boxes, and fired up the electricity if I still lived there. And for those who have heard the stories of the Pettengill girls being wild in the night, you can come to your own conclusions. I have set the record straight.
Excerpt Ballad of a Sandwich Girl (unpublished)