My husband's family has a cottage on an island an hour from our home. His grandparents bought it eight decades ago and it has been, and remains, the heartbeat of the family. Wes' parents met here, as teenagers, when his mom floated by on a boat. They raised their three kids here each summer, and we are carrying on the tradition.
Four generations of history, of memories, of easy summertime living. It is the family home in every sense of the word.
It is a place reserved for lightness, for laughter, for fun. Leave your shoes and your stress at the door, because it's time to relax. There's a sprawling yard for touch football, soccer, volleyball and bocci, plenty of bikes and fishing poles in the garage, a couple of boats, and a long, winding road for walking or running. Two decks, one for sun, the other for shade, with chairs and tables for reading, chatting or watching the boats and freighters cruise by.
When the storms blow in, the kids set up the card games, Scrabble or crafts. The TV never went digital and no one seems to care. We disconnected the land line years ago.
Certain rites of passage take place. The first delicious splash of the season in the icy canal, sunrise coffee on the deck, generations of kids learning to walk on the soft green grass, out of balance and swaddled in life jackets, their first uncertain attempts to water ski, and, as they grow, learning to tie up the boat, run the tractor, or drive on the quiet island roads.
Friends get in on the action too: slumber parties for the kids, grownup parties for the adults, giant gatherings for graduating seniors. Once a friend comes to the cottage, they become part of it, too. And, a favorite food tradition that spans them all, takeout pizza from the bar "downtown."
Meals are casual and informal at the cottage. Pure American summertime fare. Eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. Sandwiches and chips for lunch. For dinner, it's often grilled chicken, burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, mac and cheese or cheesy potatoes, plus farmstand corn on the cob, green salad and sliced ripe tomatoes from our various gardens.
We might serve six, 16 or 26, we never quite know. There's always enough to go around. We're usually spread out on the decks, a picnic table on the grass, or wherever you can find a spot. No place cards or seating charts necessary.
Some of our meals are decidedly untraditional: chicken and bean enchiladas for Thanksgiving - usually the Saturday after - or spaghetti with red sauce or lasagna for Easter - usually the Saturday before.
Dessert's almost always on the menu. We'll head to town for ice cream: in cones, cups or in sandwiches surrounded by homemade cookies. Or, we'll buy a couple of half gallons to eat on the deck by the water. Or if we're really lucky, one of our lovely aunts will come for dinner with a homemade concoction, like chocolate cake, or Aunt Esther's fabulous blondies (by way of Julee Rosso of Silver Palate fame) with brandied raspberry sauce and whipped cream.
This Labor Day, the whole family and a number of friends descended on the cottage. It was laughter-filled, gloriously chaotic and a bit bittersweet, because we all know summer is slipping away. And our weekend meeting place, our happy place, will soon grow quiet and close for the season. Inevitably, we move on to school, sports practices, homework and chilly weather. So we inhale one last draw of sweet island air and hope it lasts until spring, when cottage living starts anew.