Summer Friends in Surprising Places
Veronica Leonard’s first response to seeing this cottage was, “Who’d buy this place?!” Turns out, she would. And thus began 10 years of perfect summer holidays among new friends at a cottage in Eastern Canada.
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“Who’d buy this place!?” I asked my husband as we sat on the musty couch to watch the sunset. Behind us, the children had found some dishes on the open shelves below the kitchen counter and were happily playing house. Then the neighbours arrived worried about who had broken into the cottage. One was a surveyor who had done some work for my company, two others were teachers from schools in the same school district as my husband. By the time they left and the last glorious colours had slipped from the sky, I had my answer: “We would!”
We weren’t actually looking to buy a cottage; I was there to inspect it for the realty company I worked for, and decided to bring along my family. In fact, we lived only five miles away—and only 20 minutes away from a provincial park with a lovely sandy beach on the Northumberland Strait. Why did I need a cottage? And one that was not on the water?
The grey cedar-shingled cottage had a large prow-shaped front lined with windows. Inside, the living area was open concept, combining kitchen, eating area and living room with a panoramic view of Baie Verte. Behind a dividing wall there were three bedrooms and an open area where a bathroom could be built. A ladder climbed up the wall to an open loft. It smelled of dust and mould. The access path to the shore was through a vacant lot and down steps cut into a cliff to a pebble and mud beach covered with dried eel grass.
But we bought it, and thus begun 10 glorious summers. We lived only five miles away in a small village, but it felt like a different world. We had a new community of summer friends who were escaping the city and who liked to golf and sail. Life was less complicated, every meal felt like a picnic, there was time to read, talk and play.
The beach was rough, but the eel grass that floated at the tide line cushioned feet from the rocks and we were in the water swimming, sailing or paddling whenever the tide was in, and walking the mud flats of the cove when it was out. We gathered blueberries, blackberries, Indian plums and bouquets of wild flowers from the surrounding fields.
At night, the sky was ablaze with stars and northern lights, fireflies lit up the long grass and flashlights flared as children and adults moved between the cottages to gather with friends. Weekend bonfires brought the whole cove together.
We went nowhere during those years, but friends and family from far and wide came to visit. The adults stayed at our home and their kids bunked in with us. The lobster boils were legendary, vast quantities of beer were consumed and there was always a box of wine known affectionately as “the wine cow” in the fridge. We worked our way through a book of board games, had beach wide Trivial Pursuit challenges, and played cards late into the night.
Gradually it changed as the kids grew older. Work and other commitments limited our cottage time. We had spent a lot of energy and money finishing the cottage and neglected our home; it was time to rethink our priorities. Several of our closest cottage friends had moved away. When we saw plans for a row of cottage rentals to be constructed in the field behind us and the owner of the vacant lot in front of us finally decided to build, it was time to let go.
The cottage memories live on in family folklore and Christmas card messages from those friends of summer.