CHAPTER 1: GATEWAY HOUSE
The real estate agent turns her signal on. We are traveling down a county road dozens of miles from the nearest small town that held her office. I find myself leaning forward against the seat belt in anticipate that we must be getting close but I can’t see where the next turn is among the trees ahead on either side of the narrow, paved road. From all reports, the property we are nearing by the mile is a steal, almost a give-away … perfect for what I have been looking for.
I turn from the road ahead to search the face of the agent. Marge. Marge something. She’s about mid-50’s, pudgy (is that unkind?), hair dyed to eliminate any sign of grey, and dresses that too young for all that. She’s widowed. Ten years now, I think she said. She’s always smiling. Honest smiles, too, not fake. Not sales smiles. She’s also the town’s bookstore owner and self-designated town and region historian. The town is only a couple thousand people and this first visit of mine to it made me wonder if they were also counting the local livestock in that number.
It wasn’t until she had the car slowed to a crawl that I saw it, a very narrow, two-track path leading into the woods. I looked from the narrow tract back to Marge in surprise. Her full concentration was in making the turn with her large domestic SUV from the paved road. I wasn’t expecting this entrance to the property that had caught my eye in my search from half way across the country. The two-track was winding and rising through the trees. Soon, we came to a widening in the view, a small clearing amid the trees and rolled to a stop at a tall wrought-iron fence and gate.
Marge slipped the vehicle into park and her shoulders seemed to visibly sag and relax as if the narrow tract had been tense for her. She smiled at me. “Almost there.” She dug a key out of her purse at her feet, opened her door, and moved to the gate. I leaned forward. There still wasn’t much to see. The road, driveway, whatever continued beyond the gate up the rise. The woods continued to obscure any view but the road continuing to wind ahead. The fence and gate were obviously very old but sill maintained. Above the gate was an arched structure of wrought-iron and a word … or name … ‘GATEWAY’. The listing had referred to the property as Gateway House. I knew the property was old, historic even, but the name hadn’t meant anything or caused much curiosity. Now, sitting here in front of the name, I wondered about it.
What I was interested in was a house, seclusion, isolation … starting over. If the looks of this road and its distance from the town were indicators, I may have found it.
The house was perfect in every way and detail beyond what I could have hoped for or even imagined. The house was built in the mid-1800’s, become vacated, then renovated several times. It was now on the National Registry so the renovations had brought the house up to current code but maintaining the architectural styling and details of the original. The property sits on about ten acres along the Pacific Coast of Northern California. Thick woods hide the property from the small road. The house itself sits at the top of a rise with intermittent trees and mature plantings. The back of the house overlooks an open area with a view of the ocean and a 50 foot steep drop to the rocky shore below. A crude foot path is just visible leading down to the shore. It must be high tide because I am told there is a small sand beach below at low tide.