The Surfside Beach Cabin

When my wife was asked, “Do you take this man for richer or poorer . . .” she answered, “For richer.”Anonymous

“A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.”  Michel de Montaigne

When we were in our mid-thirties, wife Pat and I were all wrapped up in our three kids, with another on the way, and I with my law practice.  One weekend we went from our west Houston home to Galveston and stopped by the beach front home of our neighbor’s father.  Nice place, and I thought no more about it until the following week, when Pat asked, “How much money could we spend if we wanted a beach house?”

The question took me a bit aback since, like most budding families, we had little cash resources.  Not wanting to totally discourage her, and knowing that in the ‘70’s beach cabins were going for forty or fifty thousand, I told her we could afford about ten thousand dollars.  I figured that would end the matter without having to argue the principle.

So one morning the next week, after the kids were in school, Pat headed toward Galveston and discovered that the further south one drove, the cheaper the housing.  After crossing the San Luis Pass bridge, she came upon a sign in front of a row of six cabins, all close together, announcing that all six were for sale.  She called the number and Sam quickly appeared.  I later found out that Sam was a reconstructed barber who used to work nearby my office in downtown Houston and had quit his career out of boredom.  His nickname in Houston was “Sam the Slash.”  Not someone you would seek out to be your realtor.

Of course, Sam wanted about fifteen thousand for the rather ramshackle cabins.  Apparently the builder had gone belly up and the bank foreclosed on the six houses.  Knowing my admonition, Pat told him that all she could pay was the ten thousand.  They finally agreed on ten-five, and we became owners of a Surfside beach cabin.

Of course the beach cabin was unoccupied, and my dollar limit didn’t figure in that we needed furnishings.  My resourceful wife found two bunk beds very cheap, I suppose since the metal end bars had some dents in them.  I later found out that the seller had told her they had come out of a mental institution.  Then we got a bargain on an old stove.  The problem with the stove was that it was twenty years old, a name brand, and in excellent working order.  However, it weighed a ton since it was made out of double plated stainless steel.  I can’t remember how many friends I had to enlist to carry it up the stairs (the beach house was on stilts).  Suffice it to say that when we sold the cabin we included the stove.  I installed a shower, believe it or not, and we gradually filled in with a big bed for us, a kitchen table, a couch of dubious heritage, and plenty of chairs.

We had many happy days there with the kids as they grew up.  We could sit on the porch and watch the waves roll in, and the kids spent many an hour under the cabin building ponds and castles under the beach cabin.  That deserves an explanation.  The water company on the island was a minimalist venture.  Apparently the company simply dug a deep well on the barrier island we were on, and piped the water to anyone who wanted it for a flat fee of fourteen bucks a month (probably twenty-five in present dollars).  The water, of course, was so brackish that one could not drink it, so we subsisted on bottled water for coffee and occasional drinks, but more often beer for proper hydration.

We put in a small metal fireplace, one of those small round tings, to warm us when we came down in the winter.  It may sound odd to you that we spent some winter weekends on the coast, but that may be the best time to be there in some ways.  No tourists, few people.  We picked up wood along the beach, and there is a particular smell from burning wood from the ocean.

Of course, there were mishaps here and there.  The roof leaked incessantly when it rained, notwithstanding my patching jobs.  The offset was that the floor had plentiful cracks between the floorboards, and whatever water came in just leaked out.  One early morning when my mother-in-law was visiting and it was raining, we found her putting pans from the kitchen underneath all the leaks.  She was never convinced that doing that was unnecessary given the porous floor.

Surfside over time became run down, and of course, given the bargain prices for housing, not the best of humankind visited the area.  As the children grew up they became more venturesome and often went across the road to a run-down bar to play early video games.  However, one evening as they strolled home, they had fun breaking the headlights and taillights of an abandoned car.  An hour after they returned, an irate, homeless-looking guy showed up complaining that my boys had ruined his car.  After numerous apologies from me and from the boys, we settled by my peeling off twenty-five dollars to make amends.

I wasn’t and am not now a fisherman, but I thought we could learn surf fishing.  The best and most numerous fish are whiting, a species at home in shallow water.  We fished several times, but that ended when our older son in casting his hook into the surf managed to hook himself in the calf of his right leg.  Surf fishing hooks are triple hooks, and since I hate the sight of blood, we took our son to the hospital emergency room.  The wait was extended…the doctor came out and apologized for the wait since a full-time fisherman was brought in having almost cut his thumb off and they needed to take time to re-attach it.

We learned that keeping up a second home, especially one on the coast, was a costly process.  First, we had to find a trustworthy handyman, a difficult task, and then repairs frequently had to be ordered up.  Turns out that anything on the coast that is steel or iron (think window air conditioners, metal hinges on doors) rusts rapidly in the salty sea air coming in regularly with the onshore breezes that make coastal living so pleasant.  We began thinking of alternatives.  At the same time, Pat’s parents were getting older and we needed to see them more, so we decided to look into the hill country for an alternative weekend venue (see other articles posted here).  We put the beach house on the market after we bought property in the hill country, and the ‘For Sale’ sign was up for at least six months before I got a call.  The buyer low-balled us but I was ready to get out.  I checked out the buyer.  A plaintiff’s lawyer!  I was so desperate that I took her bid, but I had nightmares for a month or two worrying about whether she was going to see us for the numerous undisclosed defects in the cabin…like it swayed in the wind, and periodically the roof would leak in a heavy downpour.

Moral:  If you buy a weekend place, find one close to you that you can visit frequently.  Find someone reliable to keep the place up.  And remember that it is easier to buy a house, car or other possession than it is to sell it.  Keep that in mind when you buy.

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