Like many people I have always loved lighthouses. All their beauty, history, and inherent romance intrigued me. From the time I was a little girl I dreamed of living in one. How wonderfully beautiful, mysterious and romantic it must be! Little did I know then that as an adult I would get the chance to live out my dream.
It all started when my husband, a Captain with the U.S. Coast Guard was assigned in 2003 to the USCGC CHASE stationed in San Diego, California. We dreaded trying to find a place to live in southern California's expensive housing market. Luckily for us the Coast Guard happens to own three houses that are used as government living quarters. And not just any houses, but the three houses that comprised the lighthouse keepers quarters at the Point Loma Lighthouse. One house was available. We quickly applied and became the new tenant. Lighthouse legend and lore soon gave way to reality.
Our house, Quarters C, was circa 1890s with all the charm and quirks that that implies. Modernized over time to include indoor plumbing and a current-day kitchen the house none the less remained true to its original form with white clapboard siding, copper gutters and downspouts, and lovely red gingerbread trim. The lighthouse stood right outside our backdoor and our back porch afforded a view of the Pacific that in California real estate terms was literally worth millions.
The reality of lighthouse life hit home fairly quickly. The first year we lived at the light the compound was not secured and often I would find lighthouse lovers on my porch enjoying the view or peeking in our windows. I fully understood their interest and really didn't mind.
I considered it a small price to pay for the privilege of living at the light. My dog Jules, a 130 pound Bernese Mountain Dog, was unrelentingly social and greeted each and every visitor to the lighthouse. He soon became known as the Lighthouse Dog. Curiosity about "our" house was compounded by the fact that it was the Top Gun house; so called as it was used in the filming of the movie Top Gun. (For those familiar with the movie it was Maverick's CO's house which he visited after the death of his wingman Goose.)
A little harder to deal with was the foghorn. I had noticed a sign the first day we moved into the house. The sign was posted on the wall by the lighthouse and read "DANGER Intense Sound Fog Signal. Keep 50 Feet Away". The back of the house, including our bedroom window, was within that 50-foot limit. The first time the foghorn sounded was a rude awakening, to say the least. The house gently vibrated with each sounding. Jules liked nothing more than to howl along with the foghorn. The quiet seconds between the horn sounding were filled with his answering howl. He somehow managed to match the tenor and tone of the foghorn. It is amazing what a person can get used to however and the foghorn, and the howls, quickly faded into background noise. Several times throughout our two years at the light the foghorn got stuck ON and sounded day and night non-stop even during the sunniest, fog-free days. The Coasties worked valiantly to correct this problem. Still, I believe the record was a full week of non-stop foghorn. Stepping outside, seeing a brilliant blue sky and then hearing the foghorn always caused a bit of mental confusion. We began to jokingly blame any forgetfulness, tardiness, spilled milk, stubbed toe, crazy idea, mishap — basically everything and anything — on the foghorn. It became a convenient excuse.
These minor inconveniences aside, life at the light WAS wonderfully beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. What a pleasure it was to come back from a day working in busy San Diego to the calm and relative isolation of the lighthouse. The hectic, craziness of city life was non-existent on the little point of property we affectionately called land's end. We were lucky to be able to share this experience with the many friends and family who visited us at the light. It's surprising how appealing you become when you live at a lighthouse! We played host to a surprise marriage proposal atop the lighthouse and witnessed a wedding on the lighthouse grounds.
With modernization and automation the light no longer needed the constant attention of a keeper. The light kept its vigil without much interference from us; allowing us the luxury to just enjoy it. I loved stepping out onto our porch at night and watching the rays of the light sweep through the dark sky. The Fresnel lens had been replaced with a modern light system a few years before we moved to Point Loma. But all the mystery and wonder of the light in the night remained.
We left Point Loma Quarters C for the last time in July 2005 as my husband was reassigned to Alaska. Our last days at the light were spent taking photo after photo in an attempt to capture and remember the experience. But how do you capture a dream? For this truly was the dream I had since childhood. I wrote a children's book JULES THE LIGHTHOUSE DOG, in the hopes of sharing a bit of this dream come true. Living at a lighthouse was an experience of a lifetime and a rare privilege. It was all that I had imagined it would be. And so very much more.
About the author: Patricia Turner Custard worked for many years as an education specialist for the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service. While serving as the Education Director at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon she authored award-winning educational children's books currently used in classrooms throughout the United States. She is the owner of Black Plume Books, a small independent children's book publisher. Black Plume Books first title JULES THE LIGHTHOUSE DOG was released in December 2006. It is available at www.blackplumebooks.com
This story appeared in the
March 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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