When I saw “Dollhouse” I was flooded with memories from my youth. Growing up, my family and I spent every summer weekend in a place called Muddy Gut. The name doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it was a beautiful part of Virginia, nestled next to the Rappahannock River surround forest of evergreens.

The river— a mile wide at that point— fed into the Chesapeake Bay, boasted white-sand beaches and was teaming with a rich supply of blue crabs, catfish, water moccasin, and much, much more. The land was equally fertile. Fields were ripe with everything from corn to strawberries. Fruit and vegetables grew wild in the nearby forest; nourishing deer, possum, rabbits, etc.

We lived off the land. My father taught me to fish and hunt— among many other practical things— and my mother taught me cook. We spent the weekends water-skiing, going on long boat rides, having picnics in boat “graveyards,” catching lightening bugs in mason jars.

Muddy Gut was pulsing with life, not just outside. Our 2-bedroom, cinderblock cottage was home to my parents, grandparents, my six brothers and sisters and me. The only drawback was… our cottage was behind a big, wooden beachfront house, which meant we had a narrow view of the water.

The “rich” people, who owned the big house, also had a big family. They were called the Stewards. Because they had more boys than my family, (I had five sisters and one brother) I’d hang out with them and go hunting or fishing for the evening meals, or play cards on the porch when it rained. Truth be told, they had a sister who was easy on the eyes too.

The Steward house was white, with a red roof and they had a watch tower, similar to the painting.  After a long day, out on the river their place served as a beacon, guiding us home. The house— once enviable— seemed to shrink with every passing year. Hurricanes lifted the structure from its foundation and ripped off rooms piece by piece as if the home was built with Legos.

Soon family members moved (or passed) away and the house became uninhabitable.

The last picture I took of the Steward place shows an empty shell, leaning in the sand, but to me it will always hold valuable memories.

About a year ago, my wife (that cute Steward girl) and I moved to the west coast. We wanted something to make our house feel like home; something that reminded us of our childhood. When I ran across “Dollhouse,” I had to have it. But first, I wanted to see if the painting had the same effect on my wife, Anna. I asked her to scroll through the gallery to see if anything jumped out at her. She gasped when she saw “Dollhouse,” and said, “That looks just like the old river house!”

Without hesitation, we bought the painting. Now, it hangs above the fireplace. Beneath it, the mantle is loaded with ancient photos of us and our families including the old Steward place. Even though time and circumstance left the house in ruin, the happy memories are unscathed.

The little cottage where I lived with my family now has a panoramic view, but without the Steward house, it doesn’t feel the “the River,” any more. Besides, the forest was cut down by a developer and the river and land that was once abundant with flora and fauna, is a thing of the past.

But, this painting transports us back to some of the best memories of our lives. In fact, the last picture I took of the Steward place was taken the day I proposed to Anna. She’s standing outside, grinning from ear-to-ear, showing off her engagement ring… and her gorgeous legs.

The house might have been reduced to a shell, but the marriage was built on a solid foundation. That’s what we see in your painting; happiness, promise, hope and a lifetime of memories together. I can’t tell you how happy we are to have purchased Dollhouse. We’ve joked that even if we lost everything but still had Dollhouse we’d feel like we were at home in a cardboard box. Many, many thanks to the artist for resurrecting our magical past!

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