The cottage wasn't ours, it belonged to neighbours Betty and Fred who every summer invited my mother and brother and I to spend a week or two with them. The cottage next door belonged to her sister and quite often one of her daughters and her family were also there. It was a multi-generational gathering, mostly of women, except for the weekends when the fathers would reappear. I'm not entirely sure how my mother felt about this rustic experience, but for my brother and I it has marked us indelibly.
Because of the age difference between my brother and myself, the cottage is the one thing that we share the same memories of - because it never changed.
It was built on the shores of Lake Simcoe back in the 40s. Very small, with inter joining rooms and a loft bedroom in the back and high rafters in the front. The stairs to the loft were basically a chair beside the built in cupboard which when opened provided the cantilevered shelves as steps which one clambered over to get to the beam which you then climbed over to reach the floor of the boys' bedroom. For years, I was distraught as my legs were too wee to make it up the steep, high, shelving steps. There was a Quebec Heater (wood burning stove) in the front room for heat and a wood burning cookstove in the kitchen for cooking. A large galvanized pail held the daily drinking water, for the water that came out of the taps was directly from the lake and not potable. The outhouse was out back. That bit does not have pleasant memories, yet for years I felt a true cottage did not have a flush toilet - that was a second home, not a cottage. I've gotten over that.
Cottages are for escape, for roughing it in the bush. This cottage was Betty's first home. It was decorated in 1950, and it oozed their personal non-style. By the time it was sold around 1999 it still had the same curtains and curios. The same mismatched furniture. The same Fiesta Ware dishes for the adults. The same Melmac dishes for the kids. The same magazines. It was like walking into a time warp. So very familiar every time, as you knew exactly what to expect and where to find it. I sometimes wonder if this is where my brother and I both found our love of antiques. I inherited one of the dressers and an old quilt that for years had that same cottage-y musty smell. My brother and I helped with the final clearout when all that the family wanted had been taken and for some reason we took all the hooks off the bedroom walls that were used for hanging clothes and divided them between us as a memento.
Coincidentally, he now lives in that same town and for a couple of years I lived in a town not far away. We still get dreamy remembering 'the cottage'. We would have loved to have bought it had we the money. Though with the sale, a new septic tank and indoor plumbing and toilet would have had to be installed. This one was built just before the cutoff date when all cottages in the area had to put in septics in the 80s. So the outhouse remained. Even when the property next door was sold, and the first monster home, with large windows and a spiral staircase, was built in place of the wooden bungalow. One of those large bay windows faced onto Fred's land. The outhouse sat tucked in the trees outside their dining room window. We all felt that was worth the giggle as we sometimes waved to them on our way...
Now, there are very few cottages left on this prime land. It looks like any suburban street, albeit one with a lake at the back of the house and a forest across the street.
I dearly wish I knew someone with a cottage who would invite me for a leisurely visit. I have read all the magazines - I know about house gifts for the cottage owner. I know to bring books to read and share, and that sometimes no conversation is needed as you sit on the dock and listen to the water slapping against the rocks. That the best way to get rid of mosquitoes is to build a great bonfire. And I'm not fussy, I'll eat the fish that is caught (if someone else guts it). I'll even help catch it. Or buy it, if need be.
And I have an ample collection of Food&Drink magazines from the LCBO.........