Soobie’s Island (San Juan Islands, Washington State)

We call it Soobie’s Island after my grandmother. Despite all the places we’ve been it remains the most special place in the world for me. My great, great grandfather, U.C. Bates, bought the island in 1919 after the first world war. The story goes that he was flying over in a Navy sea plane when he spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign on the land. He purchased it immediately for the grand sum of $6,000! We feel so lucky that it has remained in our family ever since and has been a special place for generation after generation. I think it would give him immense pleasure to know his great, great, great grandchildren walk its shores today.

My great-grandfather, Soobie’s father, built and decorated the house in the 1950s, and apart from minor renovations it has remained in the same condition ever since. He filled the house with mid century furniture, art and decorations, as well as Native American artwork and baskets (even some artefacts found on the island). It is a time capsule from the ’50s — a reminder of the years my great grandparents were alive and enjoyed this wonderful place.  My great-grandfather’s stationery is still in the desks in his office, along with letters he wrote, the typewriter he used, and the books he read. Throughout the whole house there are reminders of my great grandparents, the times they enjoyed here and the lives they lived.

My grandmother, affectionately called ‘Soobie’, born Susan Scripps, grew up visiting this island with her sister — spending long summer days running around its paths, collecting sea shells and finding the beach treasures that had washed up on it. My mom and her siblings did the same, as did I, my siblings and our cousins. Generation after generation, meeting in the same magical place, walking the same paths, seeing the same sights, watching the same sun dip beyond that beautiful horizon across the sea.

There are photos of my grandma and her sister as young girls playing on the island, as well as photos of my mom and her siblings when they were little. Some of my favourite baby photos of me are from the island — a photo of me, 3 months old, in the arms of my great grandmother, sitting in the same arm chair that we sit in today. So many of my fondest childhood memories are from moments on this island, playing with my siblings, exploring tide pools, digging up treasures, building forts, picking veggies from the garden and raspberries from the berry patch, eating aebleskivers served by Soobie, playing cards at the card table, building card towers in the gazebo’s shaggy carpet.

I have a feeling when arriving on the island that is unlike any other for me. It is the same feeling I had when arriving as a little girl. Until this summer I would see my grandparents waiting on the dock, waving and welcoming us as we arrived in the little boat from nearby Lopez Island. Soobie always wore a bright red fleece and red lipstick (never mind that it was only family she was greeting), LP, my grandfather, always wore his matching shirt and shorts.  Upon arrival, the familiar sights, sounds and smells of the island welcomed us; the dried moss that crunched under our feet, the root of the tree that always tripped us on the narrow path toward the house, the salty sea air mixed with the smell of evergreen pine needles, the dry summer grasses, the freezing cold water, the rocky beaches.

Returning as an adult revives all of the feelings from childhood and reminds me of those who enjoyed this place before me. Sadly, Soobie passed away last year while we were in Chile on our family gap year, but I feel her presence here more than anywhere. She’s in the sunset — I can hear her voice stating how ‘magnificent’ it is. I am reminded of the stories she told, the food she cooked, the way she always sat in the sunshine on a lawn chair in the same spot, how she always had the loudest ‘good morning’ greeting and how she always waved goodbye until you were completely out of sight. The last time I saw her was on this island, waving goodbye as she always did, as we set off for our year of travel.

I feel so grateful for this place and its traditions. To watch my kids explore this place just as I did, just as my mother did, just as my grandmother did, makes me happy in a way that is impossible to describe. I imagine my mother must have the same feelings when she brings us here. How lucky we are to have this place in our family. I hope to watch my grandchildren explore its welcoming shores one day.

31 thoughts on “Soobie’s Island (San Juan Islands, Washington State)

  1. Lovely account of your family home! I’m happy for your good fortune, as we all know what it means to have special places, family, and memories to hold dear. From one Mama to another, Mary

  2. The landscape is breathtaking beautiful, as your whole family is! To me it looks a little bit like an Austrian alp at the sea – my two favourite spots! Please, can you adopt me ;-)?

  3. What a beautiful post, I can feel the connection and nostalgia you have for the island in your writing. How lucky you all are to have such a treasure to pass on down through the family!

  4. What a beautiful and special place to have and share generation after generation! How lucky you are. Have you read The Summerbook, by Tove Jansson? It really echoes your post…

    • Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks so much for your comment and sweet words. I haven’t read this book, but I will look it up now. Thanks for the recommendation! x

      • It’s available as a audiobook infact !! I totally love tove janssson too Rebecca <3 , and all her moomin stories. For adults and kids alike

    • It reminds me of Island Summers: Memories of a Norwegian Childhood
      by Tilly Culme-Seymour. Lovely family story!

  5. I’m speechless. This is what dreams are made of. Thank you for taking me to Soobie Island on a grey morning with a heart full of worries, and a restless mind. I had tears in my eyes reading this, and it kind of relaxes me knowing that there are places like this, just so full of family, love, care, and aebleskivers. 😉
    Thank you for sharing. Much love to you and your beautiful family, to the ones that roam the beaches as well as the spirits that will never leave this magical place.

    • Thanks for your sweet comment. I’m so sorry you have a heart full of worries. I hope everything settles soon for you. Sending sunshine from Australia. xx

  6. Oh gosh…I just love this. And no surprise that my most favorite picture is the one of the original 5, their loves and kiddos (including the fur variety). Soobie was a beautiful woman, so glad you have this precious place to enjoy. XOXO

    • Maybe some day you guys can join us here?! We would love that. Big hugs to the four of you. xx

  7. What a chance to have a place like this to pass on from generation to generation.
    I have a similar. somewhat novel-like, story. My great aunt moved to Tasmania from Belgium after meeting her British husband during the war (he was a doctor treating soldiers in Belgium). They wanted to get away from post-war Europe, took a boat for weeks with their newborn baby and bought a large piece of land in Tasmania. They build a house and made their life there. She is still a live but her husband died several years ago (they loved each other until the very last day). I had the chance to go there a few times and have fond memories. The house and land is being passed on : her daughter also build a house on it and the whole family meets there as often as possible even though some of them have moved to mainland Australia.

  8. beautifully written, made me tear! what a wonderful tradition, home and haven for you and your family.

  9. Sweat family!!! you inspire us so much…we start to buy clothes made from organic cotton and it is the best we ever! have! lovely pictures of you all…stunning lifestyle! Lots of love from Slovakia

  10. Just beautiful Courtney.
    My husband’s family had a house on the island, their girls would be around your age… It’s a dream of mine to visit one day soon.
    Thank you for sharing.

  11. Thank you for sharing some history about your island, what a magical place! There is something so special in family land. I will retire someday on our family lake property in Northern Minnesota and I will be 5th generation to do so.

  12. Beautiful and heartwarming.

    Thinking about my family, our experience is so different. All four of my grandparents were born in Europe, and were forced to leave either before or during the holocaust (as they were Jewish). They all emigrated to Israel without family or money or anything else, and had to build a new life, learn a new language, find a new job, and make enough money to raise a family. So many of my friends come from similar backgrounds. We’re a nation of immigrants. It’s just fascinating for me to think that anyone can have a house for generations…

  13. This is so lovely it brings tears to my eyes as my family also have a wee bit of land on the Polish countryside and I absolutely loved my childhood there and now I am bringing my boys there to see it. ‘Unfortunately’ we are leaving as far as we possibly could from my beloved Poland on the other end of the world in New Zealand. One thing was always bothering me and I always wanted to ask you how do you deal with homesickness, do you ever get it? Having all your children and to leave so far from your closest family must be very hard emotionally. I personally really struggle with it esp now since I have my own family and my boys dont get to hang around with grandparents on daily basis. We visit regularly but it is such a long way to go plus costs fortune. My heart is broken between NZ and Poland. I go back in my thoughts way too often to my past life back in Europe and I find it hard to focus on now. I just made it to Poland to say goodbye to my dying grandmother and at the moment I find myself guilty of leaving so far away. All the very best your life in Byron looks so vibrant.

  14. What a beautiful homage to this special place and special person in your life, Courtney! I have been going to the same getaway every summer since I was born as well, and it’s a feat to look at such an ever-changing place in your life with fresh eyes, as you’ve done so eloquently. Bravo!

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