The Mystique of the Cottage

The cottage has always played a big part in my family’s dynamics.  It is a special place.  There are so many memories attached to the place that it made it impossible for me to visit it in the year after Kevin’s death.  In the early stages of our relationship, when we were still dating, I remember when he invited me to the cottage. I had met Kevin in a bar, he was playing in the band, and I was there with my mother and sisters.  Yup, my mother – it was her idea actually.  The bar was the Caribou Club, a large, rollicking, boozy club where Newfoundlanders would go to hear some downhome music, mixed in with a top 40’s band.  Kevin was the keyboard player for the band, “Reflections”, and he’d also back up ‘Mean Gene’ the star performer who’d reel out maritime tunes, while pumping away on his accordion, to the delight of the crowd.  Good fun, and my mother, a Newfoundlander, had wanted to go for the music and for the food.  The Caribou Club had a full kitchen and they would serve up traditional fare, like cod tongue; yum, there’s no place like home.

This is where I met my husband, at the Caribou Club.  It was his 28th birthday and he was feeling no pain.  He was working his way through the club on his breaks, trying to kiss most of the women in the bar, or so he said.  No small feat since the club was always overfull – I have no idea how many people, but well over 400.  Anyway, Kevin succeeded in winning me over and within a few months he had invited me to the cottage.  Word got out in the club and I was cornered by some women one night in the washroom.  Drunk women I might add.  They wanted to impress upon me that nobody, but nobody, got invited to Batch’s cottage – so I’d better not be jerking him around.  Sheesh, the last thing I needed was to be accosted by some rabid females defending him.  Anyway, I told him about the confrontation later that night.  He found it funny, but did say that yup not too many people had been to the cottage, it was a place he liked to keep private.

So the cottage factors huge in my memories of him.  We even spent our honeymoon there, and over the next 30 years would host a great number of occasions there.  There were family dinners with upwards of 20 people.  There were fireworks, games of Risk, card games, barbecues and swimming in the river.  It was entirely a family cottage.  The imprint of my father-in-law, Jack, is everywhere.  He build the cottage from the ground up, using hand tools for the most part since the electricity wasn’t in place for a good many years.  And my mother-in-law, a woman truly larger than life; even today we still call the main bedroom, grandma’s room.  I can still see her on the deck throwing orange peels, banana peels, whatever, over the side, laughing and encouraging my kids to do the same thing.  And then there is Terry, a nephew who died far too soon – I remember those times when he would eat too much, he’d try to lie down, his belly overfull, only to have my kids (or his brothers) jump and crawl on him. Or the time he did manage to pass out, the kids put a pork chop bone under his nose and then took photos.  He was such a good sport, Terry was. We did silly things, fun things; all the stuff that large families do.  Poignant memories of days now gone.  Hard to face, but it would be far worse not to have them.

This year the cottage has become a focal point for the family again.  Even though the gardens are overgrown, the siding needs to be painted, and there are a multitude of other maintenance issues, there is still a heart to the place, an essence that blends all the family back to one.  I don’t know that we will ever be able to make it what it was, but while we gather there it’s almost as if those gone are there with us and are happy that the cottage continues to unite us.

What a difference a year can make.  Last year the cottage was devastating to me because of its sentiment and I stayed away; this year I am drawn to it for that very reason.

 

The Cottage

In June of 2014 Kevin was diagnosed with cancer.  I think we may have gone to the family cottage at some point that summer, perhaps for the long weekend in July.  I don’t recall going there much after that.  Certainly I didn’t go in 2015 at all.  The kids went up, I think Kevin’s sister went up, but not me.  No way.

The cottage is a place so full of family memories and emotions that it defies description.  My father-in-law built it, a gift of love for his family.  He was a scavenger, Jack was, and the cottage was built using resourcefulness and thrift.  It’s solid that’s for sure.  Inside, the beams in the ceiling are carved, the bookcase was hand made, even the handrails on the deck around the cottage were planed to a lovely round edge.  More than 50 years later and his handiwork still stands.

The rest of the cottage is neglected and has been for years.  God bless my husband, he was a thinker, not a doer.  He could think about how to do something for a couple of years, easy.  Not having seen the cottage since 2014, I knew that the years of procrastination would have taken a toll.  I also knew that, inevitably, I had to see the place and face the memories.

That first visit was hard.  Kevin is etched into the feeling of the place.  He loved it so.  So did his nephew Terry.  Both of them now gone, both of their presences so strong at the cottage.  An emotional place. I realized when I went there last week how special it is.  This is a place that we have always taken great pleasure in and it also is a place that gives back.  It is full of laughter and contentment, peace and solitude.  Yes, it needs work, and lots of it, but I imagine how happy it would make Kevin’s dad to know that what he created is treasured as much as it is.

After that first visit to the cottage my sister-in-law commented on how much peace the place gave her.  It’s true, it is a remarkably peaceful place.  We, her and I, decided that, unlikely as it might seem, it would be the two of us that would make it right and bring the cottage back to health and life.  No procrastination on our part, work is now underway, but there is a lot to do and it will take time and money.  At least we’ve put the brakes on the decay and are moving forward with repairs.  Like Granddad Jack’s intentions all those years ago, this too is a labour of love on so many levels.