As we prepare to say goodbye to 2021, Tom and I would like to thank all the visitors, guests, friends, family and neighbors who made Fancy Free part of their lives over the year. We truly appreciate your coming to Fancy Free and wish you and yours a joyful and meaning-filled holiday season. While we hope to see you again in the future, we understand that some of you will be travelling on to explore other places and might not be able to return. We hope your memories of Fancy Free in the summer of 2021 will remain in your thoughts as a very special place and time.
Isolarii is Italian for “island texts” and is a term for a genre of small books from Renaissance-era Venice that were dedicated to a single idea or perspective. The name references the concept of an island as a unique place in itself, a place that is splendid in its isolation. As we all emerge from a year of isolation and dislocation, the concept of an island as a place of respite is one that resonates for many of us.
Island keepers are something like lighthouse keepers. They tend to be stewards of their special landmarks. In this respect Tom and I could be called radical preservationists. We delight in keeping Fancy Free largely as it has been all along and refraining from imprinting the 21st century on it.
I remember my first glimpse of the living room, with its movie-set-like quality. It felt like I was stepping back in time. The overstuffed sofa and chairs, the chintz curtains, the photos and memorabilia on the walls, and the antique hutches with vintage china on display, the stuffed fish- it was like being in an Agatha Christie book. I expected Hercule Poirot to come around the corner at any moment. Or to walk into the living room and find the characters from Murder at the Vicarage turn around to look at me.
Thankfully Fancy Free has not seen anything like a Christie plot in real life. As far as we know, it’s been a peaceful retreat for the whole of its almost 150 years, nestled among the oaks and pines of its island. In fact it seems to be permeated with kindness, with its generous proportions, perfect setting, and restorative views of the water. This is not to say it hasn’t had its share of life’s ups and downs. Like many old houses, it has a few mysteries.
So here’s a gift of a story for you- one of the mysteries of Fancy Free, explained.
If you have sharp eyes, you may have noticed the short message penciled in upper case letters on the red brick of Fancy Free’s living room fireplace. It’s a stark few words:
“Pat Left Aug 26, 1947. Sad Day.”
What does this mean? Who was Pat? Why was Pat’s leaving commemorated in a note to posterity?
Here’s the story.
Tom’s father, Arnold Gough, like many rural men, was a hunter and fisher in his spare time.
Just after World War II was over, Arnold returned home from the army and resumed civilian life in Smiths Falls. The year was 1947. Arnold had recently married his wife Margaret Anderson in Seattle and the couple had one son, John, born in June. Along with his family, the light of Arnold’s life was his hunting dog, Pat. They would spend hours hunting together. Where Arnold went, Pat went.
Hunting dogs at that time spent their lives outside, not in houses. When Arnold was staying at Fancy Free, helping Aunt Margaret, Pat would often decide to swim over to the mainland in the evening and hunt around, being very much an outdoor dog.
One night in August there was a fierce storm. Pat had swum over to the mainland, as he often did. When the storm hit, he tried to swim back to the island, but he must have exhausted himself in the roiling waves and not been able to swim around to the canoe landing. Very sadly, Arnold found him lifeless, floating just off the island in the morning.
He was so close to getting back home.
Heartbroken, Arnold took the extraordinary step of recording the event on the fireplace bricks. He was not a man given to expressing emotions very much, but he must have truly loved that dog.
That’s the story behind the cryptic words.
You can still see Pat on Fancy Free. He is the dog in the photo that has the frame in the shape of a dog house, hanging just over the large sofa in the living room. He was an Airedale.
The next time you’re in the living room at Fancy Free, take a moment to look at the faint message on the bricks. It’s a cry from the heart, a tangible momento of the love between a human and a dog. It’s also a reminder that dogs have always been a part of the Fancy Free island experience as beloved members of the families that come here, and for this reason we have always maintained a dog-friendly policy. In fact, despite Pat’s untimely demise, Fancy Free Island is generally a very safe place- and a very fun spot- for a dog to be. And of course their humans have a great time too.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the past. From all of us to all of you, have a wonderful Christmas and a safe and happy 2022.
Pam and Tom