Thursday, July 2, 2009

summer respite

Whenever I hear the caw caw caw of a crow, I am immediately transported to 'the cottage'. There are many things that will remind me of the cottage, but none are as strong or as immediate as the sound of a crow. No idea why - there were surely many other birds there and just as surely crows around our house in the city - but it is a fond feeling, so I don't question it. I merely sigh and allow it to wash over me for a few seconds.

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.........


  1. I love Food&Drink. Everytime soneone comes to visit from Ontario, that's the price of their visit. You're welcome to come to our cottage, though we have indoor plumbing and the lake is across the road.

  2. Memories like those are priceless. I hope you make it out to a cottage soon. With a bathroom. Jazz's is nice.

  3. I'm not sure cottages like the one you remember exist anymore. Cottage country in Ontario, at least, seems to have gone waaaaay upscale. I was never overly fond of cottaging. Too many bugs and the amenities sucked (as you mention). I like sitting on a deck by the water with a BBQ going, but it's nice to sleep in a real bed and have a nice shower. (And, Jazz- OMG, it never even occured to me that you don't get Food & Drink. It's like you live in a 3rd world country or something - egads)

  4. beautiful memories - I have some of these too (except here we called it the "lake house" even though it started as basically three rooms)

  5. Do you have any pictures of The Cottage? It sounds like though it was "roughing" it, you and your brother had such a WONDERFUL time there....
    I must say, I could not make that Outhouse work for me---I would have to sleep in a cot very near!
    You painted such a wonderful picture of that time and how it stayed the same for so many many years...I thought when you said they had to sell it--Oh it would be so wondeerful if you all bought it---And then you said what you did about that....It really is too bad you couldn't buy it.
    I dearly hope you have some pictures of it.

  6. Jazz - like I said, I got over the idea of outhouses being part of cottaging. we'll talk when I get back from the LCBO.

    Geewits: I wonder at the impact it had on us.

    XUP: I hated that outhouse, was terrified of the bugs and the intense dark - but LOVED that place. I have no idea how Betty stood living there for two solid months.

    Char: in Northern Ontario they call them "camps"

    Naomi: I'll have to figure out to get the old pictures on here...

  7. Get yourself to Kakanui! My mum has a wee cottage on her peoperty and it is where we stay when we visit her. It is really a room and a half, with a pot-belly stove for winter and a bed that you have to sleep the wrong way up in to be really comfortable BUT it is about 600 metres from the beach and it is lovely to lye in bed at night and hear the waves pounding and gulls screeching! You'd be very welcome.

  8. It's funny for you the trigger is crows calling - for me it's loons. If ever I hear a loon calling I immediately think of the cottage (every summer they'd return to the lake to nest and every summer we'd watch them teach their new chicks how to fly - very comical believe me).
    There are two cottages in my family, one which we recently inherited on Horseshoe Lake, and my uncle's cottage on Blackstone Lake. Both of these lakes are near to Parry Sound and they're connected through a series of lakes and rivers so we could actually portage between them. Like you we'd be up at the cottage for at least a couple of weeks every summer and like you they are some of my fondest memories.
    The cottage which we recently inherited was built by my family in the early 1900s (before 1910) - I'm always awed by the history of the place. It always feels like it's untouched by time...
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your cottage story - it really brightened my day :)

  9. Amanda: ooohhh, a place to stay in NZ..... I just looked it up - lovely beaches and a bonus: penguins! you've moved up a few notches on my list.

    Pan's Island: I remember, unfortunately, few loons on Lake Simcoe, and even fewer still on Lake Ontario here, so the lowly crow has to be it. Will you be able to get up there this summer?

  10. The penguins are really cute, one night I took my 2 daughters to watch them coming in from the sea...started off looking like a huge "pod" of moving seaweed and as they closer to shore we noted the "wimmin folk penguins" came out of the cliff/nesting area to greet them at the shore. It was just magical!

  11. Do you have pics of the cottage? Sounds like unforgettable summers!

  12. Jeannette: I do, but have no idea how to upload them from the prints. I'll take a photo of the print, I guess, and post it tomorrow for you all. It is very plain, I assure you.

  13. Amanda: I got to see penguins on Phillip Island in Victoria, but it was almost too dark to see them waddling along the beach and we were kept far away.

  14. One of my favorite memories from childhood is staying with my girlfriend and her family at her aunt's lake cottage. It had a very small bathroom with a metal shower and the kids slept up in the loft reached by a ladder.

    I loved sitting on the screened porch at night under the yellow light bulb playing cards and board games. The best thing was the Friday night dance at the pavilion on the pier. That was for the kids. Saturday nights were for the adults. It was a blast!

    It has since fueled my desire to own a lake cottage myself. But it has to have the right setting, you know? Like the picture in my head. I hope I get to have it while I'm still young enough to dance.

  15. What wonderful memories! Never had a cottage, or knew anyone with one, though I do have very happy memories of holidays by the sea at the same place every year.

    We did have flush toilets though!!

  16. We will be at ours this weekend. It has very similar traits that you write about, and so many wonderful old things that were left when my parents bought it. They just left everything!

    And I have an idea . . . more later . . .

  17. I'm afraid I would not be happy in a musty smelling cottage as I have an allergy to mold and get eczema from it. So my cottage would have to be new and not musty smelling. I think I would prefer a cottage by the seaside for that reason and enjoy the blustery wind.

    But it's nice that you and your brother share such good memories together and that it's a bond that ties you. I hope you get your cottage one day.

  18. Susan: I know! My dream house varies depending on my mood, and could be almost anywhere, but a cottage need just the right approach, and view, and trees, and rocks...

    Gilly: I think that is as much a part of the memory - going back to the same place and seeing the same people again.

  19. Ruth: from what you've shared of your cottage it sound wonderful...

    Irene: yeah, that smell....
    I finally threw out the quilt as I could not get rid of it and it made my eyes water and my throat close up. It hit you full force when you opened the cottage every spring - and onced you'd aired the place out it wasn't so bad.

    I've never stayed by the sea (she says wistfully)

  20. Fond memories! When I was a child my family was fortunate enough to be invited to spend summer vacations in a cottage on a family compound on Narragansett Bay...No running water, no heat, no toilets...just fun! Many of my sister's and my summer memories involve this place...where children ran wild, mothers sat and chatted all day, and fathers were away at work until the weekends...The place is now a nature preserve so at least I can hike there and it will always be beautiful.

    Now we spend summer vacations at a camp on a pond in Maine and my children will have fond memories of that...wish I could afford to buy it!

  21. Oliag: oops commented on wrong post. anyway, it is better to return to a nature reserve than a subdivision. in most areas here, a cottage on a lake will cost more than a house in the city (Toronto excepted).

  22. Enjoyed this post and the photos of the cottage & outside loo in the later one.
    Great to remember.

  23. Maggie May: when you grow up in a large city, this was a world apart.

  24. I should be up at the cottage a lot this summer I think. I'm moving back in with my Mum for a bit and she lives in Barrie so I'll only be about an hour away from the cottage :)
    Have you ever made it to Kempenfest in Barrie? It's a wonderful festival on the lake that occurs annually in August - if you've never been you should go this year - I'm already getting excited about it!

  25. Pan's Island: I lived in Barrie for 2 years and when I went through there last weekend and took pictures of the Spirit Catcher (for my June 28 post) I was shocked at how much the city had changed.

  26. Hi Violet
    this is a lovely nostalgic story that makes me think of our bach in NZ.
    It was on the exposed coast, accessible only by boat, no running water, an outhouse loo in the pump shed, generator for light and coal range for cooking...and what rugged healthy, walking, digging Maori sites...

    Happy memories...

  27. Delwyn: I'd like to think, as an adult, I would love such a primitive setting - but I'd probaly last one weekend before wanting the modern amenities back!

    Digging in Maori sites would be interesting - did you ever find anything worthwhile?

  28. what wonderful memories, and love the photos you have posted. Sounds like the perfect way to spend at least part of the summer. Sometimes no conversation is needed..
    hoe you have alovely summer, Katie

  29. Katie: thanks. summer by the water is a must, I think.


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