It was once only a dream. It was once a fantasy. Some day, maybe, but unattainable. Years passed and it become possible. A stretch, but possible. After years more work it become probable. Surprisingly, excitedly, unexpectedly; imminent. At first it was overwhelming but then it wasn’t. Then it was just there. Imperfectly perfect. Everything, but very little. Sitting. Waiting. Resting. Leaking. Peeling. Breaking. There. Always there.
It’s where we drove to when things were good. Where we fled when things were bad. When things were normal. Where we sat when we didn’t know where else to go. A crisis drove us there, or kept us there. Celebrations, too. Rejoicing in life and mourning death, all there. The pier to sit on and cry was the same pier to sit on and laugh. To scheme and to reflect. To plan and to pause. To sit with grandma and hear her stories. To fish with grandpa and hear his tales. The walleye was never supposed to be caught. It was the perch that he caught and the walleye ate that perch. The zebco reels and the fish that couldn’t be unhooked. Treble hooks are awful, and that’s their intent. Uncle Joe would drive down to cut the fish free, my savior in a silver mini-van.
It was that pier with the cottage up the lawn, the hills carved by grandpa and mowed by dad. Lannon stone walls to hold back the earth, set in place by your older brother when he was home from college. The cottage that leaked when it rained and the cottage where we steamed at night with our fans blowing and our windows wide open. The screens smelled like rusty earth, the nighttime sounds beyond that thin barrier loud and joyful. The boats cruising by slowly through those inky midnight waters, the twinkle of their red and green lights reflecting across the open window. We remember it because we desperately don’t want to forget.
It’s jus a cottage, everyone says. The appliances are old and the bathrooms small. There’s no laundry room because why bother? The towels get slung over chairs and any swimsuit will dry, given the time. It’s small and it’s damp and it’s dark even when the sun is high overhead. The staircase is steep and it’s wobbly and the railing wouldn’t hold you if you pushed against it with any intent. But the dining table is worn from life and the fishing poles are still strung. The boathouse has life jackets that barely float, but they suit the wintertime mice just fine. There’s at once nothing here that’s couldn’t be replaced, but there’s nothing here that could be replaced. The cottage matters because life matters and it was the living that we did here. It wasn’t just a cottage. It was a place where we loved and cried and lived and died, and we will never, ever forget it.