In 1926, my great-grandfather wrote a poem that hung nonchalantly for nearly a century just beside the chimney in what was then a simple cottage in Chatham, Mass., that was built in 1860. (It has been expanded a bit since then.) The words were as simple as the house and -- I've realized now that the house is no longer in our family -- just as powerful and just as poignant. For over a century, the house and my family's attachment to it were among the only constants in lives that grew increasingly busy, spread out and independent.

In 1926, my great-grandfather wrote a poem that hung nonchalantly for nearly a century just beside the chimney in what was then a simple cottage in Chatham, Mass., that was built in 1860. (It has been expanded a bit since then.) The words were as simple as the house and -- I've realized now that the house is no longer in our family -- just as powerful and just as poignant. For over a century, the house and my family's attachment to it were among the only constants in lives that grew increasingly busy, spread out and independent.


These days, few extended families, it seems, are particularly good at getting together for extended periods in shared spaces, and the closeness of the family suffers. When was the last time you spent any more time with your extended family than it takes to share a Thanksgiving meal?


When faced with the imminent sale of this family house in 2010 -- following the death of my nearly 93-year-old grandmother -- I was prompted to begin a film to help immortalize the memories and histories associated not just with this house, but with any multigenerational family home.


After over two years of filming and research, the question that persists is whether a family makes a house or a house makes a family. This is the question the film, "Starboard Light," explores, just as I hope it will remind all of us of what we've lost so that we may re-create it and, in the end, bring it back to life. Because, after all, we all should be so lucky as to find our own "Starboard Light."


My great-grandfather's poetics seem all too prescient now. The words speak to times gone by but perhaps not lost forever if we but value them enough.


"Stage Harbor"


  We have a little cottage,


  It is called the "Starboard Light."


  It rests upon a seashore,


  Where the sun is warm and bright.


 


  The rooms are filled with funny things,


  That have to do with ships:


  A lantern -- an old anchor --


  A chart of Pollack Rips.


 


  A stalwart bell of shiny brass,


  That sailed the wide seas thru,


  And rang a chime in many ports,


  Unknown to me and you.


 


  A sturdy box of weathered pine


  Stands just inside the door.


  It holds our rubbers now that once


  Held Spanish Moriodores.


 


  And often in the evening


  By our fire, side by side,


  We leave this world


  Of smoke and steam,


  And sail the ocean wide.


 


  To countries strange beyond the sea


  Where curious things are found,


  And hear the tales of ancient men,


  Whose eyes look out beyond.


 


  The old queer secrets of the sea


  That you could never know


  Unless you dropped an anchor


  In the port of long ago.


 


  We have a little cottage


  It is called the "Starboard Light."


  It rests upon a seashore


  Where the sun is warm and bright.


 


  And when the world is full of noise,


  And heart and mind need rest,


  Of all the places that I know


  It is the very best.


 


  -- W.W. Fitzhugh


 


Nick Fitzhugh is a documentary filmmaker, photographer and producer based in Washington, D.C. Email nick@redfitz.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.