We have a cottage.
Usually when you say that, people instantly have visions of broad beamed ceilings, two story picture windows, wrap around decks and several bunkies.
Our cottage, bought forty years ago by my father (he left my mother at home; said he was going to “look” at a cottage) is a little more rough and tumble than that. We do not play badminton on the front lawn or take the speedboat for ice cream; we yank out splinters and pray if a step gives way it is beneath family and not visitors.
I remember running breathlessly from room to room as a kid, excited that we had a cottage. I remember claiming a bedroom, complete with a curtain in place of a door. I remember blasting down the steep hill to the lake, my mother’s warnings not to run dropping somewhere behind me in the trees. I remember wondering why the stove was on one side of the large living area, while the fridge was on the other. I remember wondering why there was no kitchen sink. I remember wondering why there was no bathroom.
I remember my mother crying.
My sisters and I weren’t too terrorized by the idea of an outhouse; we painted it neon pink and green, and it would be years before we realized that not only did many people have indoor plumbing, they closed the door when they used it. Our outhouse had two seats, something my father referred to as the Cadillac of outhouses. I’m positive Cadillac, wildly flattered, would have made a commercial about that if they’d known.
The only time things got a little hard to take was in early spring or late fall, when bulky winter coats replaced shorts and bathing suits. I can only think the Mitten Incident happened our first fall up there, making me 8 years old. There is no way I would have had to learn that lesson twice.
I came into the cottage quietly. My mother, no doubt making stew for dinner from rocks and twigs over an open flame, glanced up.
“I lost my mitten,” I said.
“My double mitten.” There were two kinds of mittens in our house. Those my mother knitted us – which were the majority of them – and store bought ones. My very best store boughts were a pair of orange and brown plaid double mittens; doubt knit and lined, very warm though incredibly ugly.
“Where did you lose it?”
“Down the outhouse,” I whispered. “Don’t tell Dad.”
“Don’t tell me what?”
I probably don’t have to even finish this story. This is a man who reused twist ties until they were just a little wire. This is a man who darned his own socks, bought purple Levis for three dollars, and straightened rusty crooked nails. The grab bar from behind the back seat of our 1966 Rambler is still the hallway towel bar at that cottage.
I remember begging and tears – mine. I remember anger – my Dad’s. I remember my mother, the flag on the tug of war rope, unsure which side would collapse first. She needn’t have worried. Half an hour later, my Dad came into the cottage, my mitten on a stick.
It didn’t matter how many times my mother told me she washed that mitten. My older sister Roz referred to it as my outhouse mitten, usually in front of my friends. She still does. I never wore either one, and eventually they both disappeared.
I also found out my Dad thought my mother had been mad at me losing the expensive mitt, and that he was helping.