anyone who has grown up spending summers at a lakeside cottage knows “the feeling.” the brimming anticipation once the dates are set. the mental checklist of requisite supplies that begins to take shape the week before leaving. the behemoth “to bring” pile in the corner of the living room stacked high with swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, goggles, fishing rods, flip flops, first aid kit, food, food and more food. the song-filled drive and intermittent storytelling about the past years’ antics. the flutter in your heart when you pull into the drive and look out at the sunshine sparkling on the lake. the thundering stampede of little footsteps scrambling down the dock to see if there are any fish waiting to welcome our arrival.
slowly each family filters in and the quiet house comes to life, erupting with sounds: doors opening, bags shuffling, playful teasing, children squealing, hearts filled with so much joy.
growing up in cleveland with parents who couldn’t swim, i never had the opportunity to experience cottage life. sure we traveled a ton, but it was mostly to cities, and lodging ranged from relatives’ houses to hotels. never the same place year after year, it was much more about experiencing the new versus settling into the same old, same old…and i was perfectly fine with that.
my husband, on the other hand, grew up with a family cottage. nestled on a small lake in michigan, their cottage was built by his grandfather, stone by stone, wood beam by wood beam. and for over 50 years, it served as the centering point for the family’s most cherished memories. i know many of them by heart—not because i actually experienced them firsthand, but rather because they were told and retold countless times throughout our time together:
the time when my husband, who is never at a loss for words, was so enamored by the sound of his own voice that he literally walked and talked himself right off the dock and into the water, mid-sentence! Or the endless hours they’d spend playing fetch with liza, their black lab, throwing rocks off the dock and watching her dive "like an otter" under the water to retrieve them. waterskiing on the glassy lake from dawn till dusk. the green leather chaise lounge that was cool in the summer but would stick to your wet bathing suit when you sat down. michigan brand cottage cheese with vine ripened tomatoes and chives cut from grandma’s garden.
one of the greatest gifts my husband ever shared with me was introducing me to “cottage life.” when we started our family, we took the plunge, finding a beautiful cottage online in glen arbor, michigan called the beechtree lodge. (as a side note, i came to find out the word “cottage” can mean anything from a cozy traditional bungalow to a ginormous modern house, with the only essential element being close proximity to water.)
for four years in a row, we rented the same cottage, affectionately dubbed “the big house” by our son the first time he laid eyes on it. with each year, we created vivid memories, celebrated milestones, and shared countless simple moments…that live on through the stories we tell, yes, over and over again:
our 3-year-old’s very first flip-flopped sprint down the dock at full speed. gorging on homemade cinnamon sugar donuts and farm fresh fruit pies from barb's bakery. catching minnows using goldfish (crackers) as bait. lazing on the hammock listening to our little boy hold court, chatting, laughing, snuggling. hearing little voices giggling from a rectangular chest on the patio, only to find seven (i repeat seven) chimpy-faced grins staring back at me and yelling “SURPRISE!” when i lifted up the lid. watching my dad bob like a cork, legs straight up in the air while trying to find his balance on an inner tube. “the car wash,” when my mom got unceremoniously dunked into the lake from less-than-stellar instructions on how to hold the rope on said inner tube. watching my parents quietly watching my kids—their grandkids—while morning light streamed through the floor-to-ceiling windows. discovering that my husband’s wonderful waterskiing skills landed his wedding ring somewhere down at the bottom of the lake (ok that might not have been my fondest memory!). schooling my brother on skiing, watching him leave dejected for not getting up one year, and then returning, determined—and triumphant—the next. plunging one by one into the crystal clear deep blue lake. laying on our backs on the dock in the pitch black night looking up in awe at the star-studded sky. tubing, boating, fishing, skiing, eating…and always howling laughter emanating from all corners of that big, beautiful house.
every year we yielded to the gravitational pull—the heartstrings beckoning us back—away from home and yet closer to home than anywhere else. exercise was certainly not a priority at the cottage, but our abs were worked out daily with hysterical belly laughs and endless hours of talking about everything and nothing.
when i pictured a “cottage” in my youth, i imagined a cozy hansel & gretel-style house in the middle of an enchanted forest. knowing what i know now, perhaps i wasn’t too far off. magic happens in those times when we’re away from the everyday. when we can see clearly the stuff and the people that matter most. maybe that’s pixie dust twinkling on the water at daybreak. or maybe it’s just us, living life as it should be...