That House on Seadrift

My grandmother had a house on Stinson Beach for 40 years.

Stinson was a special place—her family had made that trip to the beach from Mill Valley for years.

In a horse and buggy, that is. Literally.

Mamoo told us stories of their buggy getting caught in the mud, stuck halfway up its wheels. She remembered the first cars they drove over Mount Tamalpais, before electric headlights, when they only had oil lantern headlamps.

She loved it there. But her family made fun of her when she bought her first empty lot on Stinson in the 50s.

“What are you going to do with a plot of sand?” they said.

We loved her house in the gated community on Seadrift. We spent weeks there every summer. But when Mamoo was in her late 80s, it made sense to sell that house—my mother was increasingly worried about her driving the windy Panoramic Highway over Mount Tamalpais. We were well beyond the horse and buggy, but she had cataracts and a giant white Cadillac and the road had many blind curves.

Mamoo sold her two-bedroom ranch for a quarter of a million dollars, and considering that she paid less than $100k for it, it was a great investment.

Today, that same house would be worth at least $4 million.

We could look out her giant front picture window and see the waves of the Pacific crashing. Down one small path, lined with salt grass, we could put our toes in the water. We collected sea glass on the beach, and walked down to the lagoon. Most days, you would not see a single other person on the private beach.

On those foggy Marin mornings, we would stay inside and simply open the Dutch doors, and the air that smelled of salt and sand came right in the house.

How cool was that, to be able as a kid to open the top half of a door but keep the bottom half closed?

Even her kitchen counter was better than ours—it was bar height, and the rattan bar stools swiveled when we sat in them.

I remember the sound dominoes made on her round wooden table as we played a game or two after dinner. We would drink mugs of tea and eat Famous Chocolate Wafer Cookies spread with butter. (I know, the butter part is weird, but they are amazing that way—a simpler, tastier Oreo.)

One of my jobs when I was staying with her was to water the plants. I remember the sound of the hose scraping against the sandy flat rocks of the patio. My favorite succulents were the ones that looked like artichokes, although they were impossible to water.

We sat in canvas rocking chairs on that patio for long hours in the sun, long before we knew about skin cancer and the drought that would come years later. We filled our days with Scrabble and trips to Mill Valley for lunch and raspberry pie.

But eventually, Mamoo had to sell the house. Some family named Hamm turned it into a New England-style Cape. Who does that? A New England-style Cape on Stinson Beach?

We knew better. We had been there longer. We made fun of them.

Today, Seadrift is even more exclusive than it was back then—a place where only the richest can go. They're having community meetings to discuss sea level rise. Maps of the impact of 20- and 100-year storms show the entirety of Seadrift potentially being demolished. Bolinas Lagoon, a tidal estuary between Stinson and Bolinas, is slowly turning into a marsh as it fills with silt.

It would break Mamoo’s heart.

But she had decades of good years there. So many family gatherings. So many sand dollars collected, so many kingfishers counted.

She always had a basket on that tall kitchen counter, full of Starlight peppermints. Every time we went to her house, my sister, my brother, and I were each allowed to take two for the long ride home to Los Altos. I’d unwrap the thin plastic slowly, and try to make each of my two mints last.

But always before we got halfway over Mount Tamalpais, driving slowly up those switchbacks, long before Stinson was out of sight, I would find myself crunching the mints in my mouth. One, and then the other. And then they were gone.