An Inspired Tribute

Dorothy Chaffee’s Edgartown house and garden are a celebration of a life well lived with her late husband, Henry. The homes they shared together are depicted in a hand-painted dining room mural, and she continues his gardening legacy in a charming backyard landscape.

The mural that wraps around the dining room depicts Edgartown harbor with the Edgartown Yacht Club, the town wharf, sailboats, and more.
Brian Jolley

Each night at dinner, Dorothy Chaffee sits cocooned by the places that have sheltered her life: a stately red brick Georgian Colonial in Providence, a peach-stained Bermuda-style home in Vero Beach, Florida, and a many-windowed house perched in solitude beyond the shores of Edgartown Great Pond. Painted as blue and green soft-edged memories, her past dwellings form a pastel time line encompassed within a mural that cloaks the four walls around the dining room of the Edgartown property she now calls home.

The painting also includes a view of Edgartown harbor from the water and the corner of a gray-sided edifice that represents this new home, nestled on a northward wedge of town, just a short bicycle ride beyond the bustle of shops and eateries. She never thought she would move so close to “the big city.” Rather, she has always kept a seasonal house apart from the Island’s whitewashed village. Yet seventy-seven Vineyard summers later, she finds herself happily settled here in town.

Her friends call her Doro: Poised and polished, she has matching strawberry-stained lips, fingernails, and toenails. In fine weather, she hits golf and tennis balls around the Island’s courses and courts before retreating to her home, a spacious house that accommodates a half-dozen guests when her children visit the Island – though she is the sole occupant for most of the season.

Before she moved into town, Doro spent summers alongside her husband of thirty-one years, Henry, at their home at Job’s Neck Cove. Tucked two miles down a dirt road, along Edgartown Great Pond, the secluded, expansive lot included a flourishing flower bed, a tree swing, a boat launch, and a bluff where the family golfers drove balls onto a scrap of sea-locked land punctuated by an osprey nest. Here Doro would spend the early dawn hours tucked in bed, gradually waking to the rustle of her pajama-clad husband as he tended the vines growing outside their bedroom window, watering roots and trimming overgrown leaves. For twenty-two seasons, this artfully landscaped homestead was a placid summer playground for the couple and their visiting children and grandchildren.

“We had so many happy times in that house,” Doro says, focusing her gaze on the Job’s Neck Cove home illustrated on her wall. A younger, yellow-haired Doro is painted there in the window, smiling over her garden. “This house was a big part of our summers. It was a big part of our lives. I adore them all, but that house I love the most.”

Five years ago, when Henry fell ill, for safety and soundness the couple sold their beloved summer spot and purchased an in-town nest. Doro commissioned artist Linda Carnegie, a longtime Vineyarder who has since moved away, to paint a mural across the four dining room walls. The painting commemorates their Job’s Neck Cove home, as well as their winter getaway in Florida and the Rhode Island house where they spent eighteen years as newlyweds.

Scattered in the yards of the different properties are fourteen Polly Pocket–sized grandchildren – twelve little boys and two girls – and a Wheaten terrier named Arlo. In the Job’s Neck Cove lot, Doro is shown admiring the garden. Henry, who is painted larger than the rest of the clan, waves to shore from his sea-bound Boston Whaler.

“Linda finished the mural the day my husband died,” Doro says. “When she came in that day to paint, she said, ‘Oh, do you think I should stay?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ It was sort of perfect closure.”

Henry lives on in Doro’s memory, in the mural, and also in her garden. Nestled against the foundation of the house are catmint, sedum, and raspberry coral bells transplanted from the flower bed Henry tended at Job’s Neck Cove. These candy-colored blossoms add texture and flecks of vibrant color to the backyard panorama, which Doro enjoys from the deck where she breakfasts on nice mornings in summer and autumn.

“During the [Second World] War, my husband’s mother tried to get him into vegetable gardening,” Doro reflects. “He told me, ‘I think my mother thought I was a sissy,’ because he didn’t like vegetable gardening as much as he liked growing flowers. And my favorite thing in the world was always interior design and decorating. Then my husband got me interested in gardening and they just all go so well together. A pretty house opening onto a garden is part of the whole look.”

Mixed in the garden – manicured by Donaroma’s in Edgartown – are yellow, pink, and pearl white rocket snapdragons, oriental lilies, and globe thistles curled around a cherub statuette wreathed with stone flowers. Goldfinches and the occasional cardinal and chickadee drop into this medley of blossoms for a splash in the nearby birdbath. A thick patch of blue lace hydrangeas fills the view from the window of Doro’s pale blue-themed bedroom.

“My husband would have loved this house and garden,” Doro says. “He really would have. And in a way, it’s kind of nice that he was never here because I don’t have any memories with him in this house – only the mural. But he would have loved it. It’s a composite of how everything was.”