The First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? See our guidelines on tgam.ca/essayguide.
We are heading towards a chalet. A location. Two plus years into a pandemic, my husband and I are grateful for the four plus walls of our home, but we’re tired of looking at them. Maybe tired of looking at themselves, too. Reading, hiking, local beers, patio tables. Just the ticket for our summer getaway.
Bringing a second dog for the first time reduces the storage capacity of the car. To be fair, the car has the same amount of space. It just fills up. Rapidly.
I limit myself to four books. Jeanine Cummins American dirt. At Katharine Hayhoe’s To save us. At Michelle Good’s Five little Indians. This confirms a friend’s observation, “You don’t do fluff.” Or male authors, apparently. Even Grace Paley’s collection, the fourth book, is read with determination; to better understand the structure of a good short story. Hoping to write one.
During the day, I read about immigration, climate change, and residential schools; important and well-written books. But in the minutes between brushing my teeth and taking the dogs out one last time, I flip through the magazines left in a basket on the porch. Greig’s Caves, Flowerpot Island, Cabot Head Lighthouse. So, Cottage Life, At the Cottage, Cottage Tips.
There are slight differences in the names of the cottage magazines, but the content is similar: advertisements for chainsaws, articles on repairing foundations, tips for catching smallmouth bass. None of these provide a campfire that I can dance around until I see a fancy recipe for s’mores and a list of suggestions for guests. I check the cupboard for the necessary ingredients while doing the math to find out how long it’s been since I’ve visited someone’s cabin. Twenty years.
Of course, there is an advantage to accepting an invitation. Café on a quay, kayaking among the water lilies. But the downside? I spend all my time trying to figure out the rules. Does the day start at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. or 10 a.m., everyone serves granola? Or, is breakfast a sit down affair at 6, 8 or 10 with fresh blueberries folded into pancakes? Who picks the fruit? And wash the spatula? “We are all committed. » Yeah, it works for those who lounge in rowboats and Muskoka chairs with fishing rods and mystery novels; it serves those looking for that elusive spot where, if you stand on your left foot and reach your right arm high enough, a phone connects to a nearby tower. The rest of us are left to work. And serve.
Cottage magazines acknowledge this dilemma, although the advice is inconsistent. One article recommends being clear from the start. Arrival time, departure time, internal regulations. Another article takes a casual approach. Hosts are encouraged to decline offers of groceries and supplies; this avoids accumulating a surplus of everyday items as well as unpopular and regifted jam jars. But that laissez-faire attitude takes a detour in the final paragraph with the derision of anyone who appears with homemade wine or fresh flowers; from anyone who didn’t realize they should buy a generous gas gift card.
Getting up, chores, gifts. As if that were not enough, there are projects: roofs to be redone, terraces to be stained, weeds to be pulled from the lake. Each gite host spends part of their holiday “in Tjart mode”; a family slogan that uses my mother-in-law’s last name to describe anyone who works hard at household chores. As she did. It’s not always clear how exhausting helping and reading nonverbal cues is; I suspect there is a direct correlation between the frequency of “You are here to relax!” and waiting for help. If I had wanted to accomplish many things, I have my own long list. At home.
But on my last slumber party at the cabin, it was the bridge that became the breaking point. The host was enthusiastic and needed a fourth. I knew how to play rummy and crazy eight. How hard could that be? Asset! Offer! Raise! Very tough and, despite assurances to the contrary, bridge is taken very seriously. Still. It was past 2 a.m. when the game ended. The youngest children woke up four hours later. I stumbled into the kitchen, put the fun packet of Kellogg’s cereal on the counter before realizing that the hot chocolate from the night before had run out of milk. These kids didn’t care. Mine could, but they were still sleeping.
Subsequent invitations to the chalets were declined. When I need a vacation, I do my coffee-word-dog-walk-write routine and book an Airbnb. People say I’m set in my ways, like it’s a bad thing. But everyone has a rhythm; every cottage owner too. By the time I crack the code, it’s time to go. Sorry, not sorry.
A close friend doesn’t mind; after several summers of listening while I fumble with an apology, she simply says, “Let me know if you change your mind.” She smiles when I say “OK” because we both know I won’t.
Marg Heidebrecht lives in Dundas, Ontario.
Register for the Parenting & Relationships weekly newsletter for news and tips to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.