ABOVE Author Nick Fuller Googins and his wife, Liz Mulkey, sit next to the new sectional in their Biddeford living room — a strategic choice made to ensure the sofa stays pristine for their summer renters.
TEXT BY NICK FULLER GOOGINS
PHOTOS BY DANIELLE SYKES
My wife, Lize, and I purchased our first house during the early days of the pandemic. After living with family for years, and saving up, we now own a three-bedroom, two-bath raised Ranch in a dreamy Biddeford spot. Set against the salt marshes of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, the house is close enough to Fortune’s Rocks Beach for us to hear the thrum of the surf from our bed. But there’s a catch: despite juggling three jobs between us, we, like many Mainers, need supplemental income to afford our mortgage and property taxes. So for July and August, we move out and invite renters to make themselves at home in our home.
Our place had been on the market for almost a year before we bought it, and had long been rented to college students and summer tourists. We thought of it as a “stealth fixer-upper”: cute at first glance (turquoise doors, exposed beams, a stream gurgling through the backyard), but brace yourself when you start poking around. The basement had mold, the wood floors and window casings were warped, the baths were 100 percent original (“original” being 1988), and the exterior needed gutters and a chimney cap. While we were settling in and tackling renovations, summer was fast approaching. Our rental calendar had filled up quickly with families anxious to spread their wings post-lockdowns and the questions were pouring in: Are linens provided? (Yes.) Can we bring our dog? (No.) Can we arrive earlier than check-in time? (Sure.)
ABOVE Fuller Googins records flora and fauna sightings in a “Naturalist’s Journal” he leaves out so guests can contribute their own entries.
Forget moving in, it was time for us to move back out. Liz and I are teachers, allowing us summer flexibility. While families from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania enjoy a week in our home (a week being the minimum stay, per the unwritten rules of Maine summer culture), we crash with family and friends around New England, and field questions and complaints.
We cannot, for the life of us, figure out how to turn off the fan over the dining-room table!
I can’t find the dishwasher detergent — sorry.
We don’t see a lobster pot. Is there one hiding somewhere?
I’m curious if there are more towels? Am I looking in the wrong place?
We arrived last evening and, to be honest, we are pretty disappointed. The house smelled terrible when we entered — dank and musty.
Ouch. That last one stung because, not only have we remediated the basement mold, but we also take great pains to ensure our house is fresh for each new family. Every summer Saturday, we drive home to spend four hours between check-out and check-in airing out rooms, vacuuming, scrubbing countertops, toilets, and showers, picking hair out of drains, washing linens, making beds, scraping food from the microwave, giving toilet paper the fancy-hotel fold, and running out back to pick wildflowers for a vase on the kitchen counter.
"Sometimes it feels like we have a third party in our marriage, someone with a generally neutral aesthetic who will inevitably track sand inside and spill a glass of wine."
Sometimes when I’m on my knees, reaching for a stray hair behind the toilet or discovering a new, ambiguous stain on a mattress pad, I can’t help thinking about all the bodies that have passed through our most intimate spaces, doing all the things that bodies must do. But there’s little time to dwell, because the cleaning sessions always seem to bring surprises. Once, the washer decided to revolt during the spin cycle, necessitating a trip into town to finish the towels at the laundromat. Another time, Liz walked through the patio’s screen door an hour before check-in, requiring an emergency drive to the hardware store and a YouTube tutorial, played at twice the normal speed, on replacing a screen.
It quickly became clear to us why some landlords charge extra for young children. Surveying the house after a family with toddlers has vacated can feel like cataloging a slumber-party crime scene:
Toothpaste on hallway walls
Handprints on windows
Hot-chocolate (?) stains on the sofa
M&Ms and Goldfish ground into the rug
Remote control M.I.A.
Pasta sauce on towels
Footprints on the ceiling above the top bunk
Even our adult guests, while overwhelmingly respectful, have left behind:
A broken ceiling fan
Incomplete Tupperware sets
Sometimes it feels like we have a third party in our marriage, someone with a generally neutral aesthetic and a lot of friends, who is mostly careful, but will inevitably track sand inside and spill a glass of wine. Liz and I now factor this person into every decision we make regarding our home — from which rugs, furniture, and artwork to buy, to what color to paint an accent wall, to how to rearrange a closet. Typically, the calculation boils down to:
Will they like it?
Will they ruin it?
ABOVE The couple keeps a beach wagon stocked for guests.
Take the sectional we recently purchased: a six-seater in innocuous soft-green synthetic velvet that is easily cleaned. Now that it’s installed in the living room, I sometimes find myself sitting on the floor next to it, not wanting to risk spilling on the cushions, or wearing out the fabric, before our guests can enjoy it.
We also bought a new bed frame and mattress, where I occasionally lie awake, thinking that, by the end of this summer, eight couples will have . . . Nope. Better not to think about it. Better to focus on the distant roar of the Atlantic; the rhododendron blossoms pushing up against our bedroom window; and the sunsets that paint the sky over the salt marsh pink and orange. And feel grateful for this little patch of paradise, and all the families who have also been able to experience it, while helping us to make it home.
Nick Fuller Googins is a fourth-grade teacher and author of the novel The Great Transition, a post-climate-crisis utopia, due out August 15 from Atria Books. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Health, the Paris Review, The Sun, and elsewhere. For 10 months of the year, he and his wife live in Biddeford, where, on calm days, they can hear the faint roar of the ocean through the trees.