At this writing, my parents are in Maui celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. A couple weeks after they return to Sterling, N.Y., where they have lived for all but the first two years of their marriage, I’ll join them and the rest of the family for a few days at the family “cottages” in Fair Haven, just four miles from the “big house.” Fair Haven Bay, a peaceful nook of the very large, very wild Lake Ontario, is a place I love as much, if not more than, here.

Growing up on the water has made it impossible for me to live inland. The only time I ever had to experience the landlocked, claustrophobic feeling of being “waterless” was a miserable year spent in Texas, a dry dusty place where rambling tumbleweeds and dozens of expired armadillos and prairie dogs scattered the landscape. The only water near by was a man-made, stocked pond where I took my daughters fishing for catfish, called bullheads where I came from.

As I moved from Navy base to Navy base with my daughters and my former husband, I struggled to keep my memories of Fair Haven from fading. In the process, they became somewhat selective. I remembered the fuzzy bunnies born under the porch one summer night, but not the bats in the rafters; the yummy wild strawberries that grew in abundance along the road to the yacht club, but not the poison ivy under the oak trees. I forgot that there was no shower, but did recall taking a bar of Ivory and a towel down to the dock to have a “bath.”

All vacation getaways in my adult life never measured up to the cottage, as my mother insisted on calling it. To me, the quirky, ramshackle summer camp was the equivalent of paradise.

Changes needed?

I have to admit, when my parents decided to renovate the idyllic summer house of my youth, I didn’t like it one little bit. No one asked me for my opinion though, and in due time, a contractor was hired to transform the property into what is now a small Victorian-style showpiece worthy of a House Beautiful centerfold. The cottage of my mother’s dreams became a reality, but her imagination didn’t stop there.

A few summers later, my parents looked into adding on, wanting to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but when that wasn’t deemed possible because of property line issues, Mom was undaunted. Plan B came into play and just last year, another, larger cottage was built across the narrow lane where my sister and I used to gather daisies and climb the sturdy trees that dripped with juicy black cherries.

While the same contractors who built the first cottage were still working on the finishing touches for cottage No. 2, my mother had bedroom furnishings delivered, appliances installed, and stowed new linens and fancy soaps in the cupboards. Despite my dad’s pleadings to stay out of the way, Mom simply stepped over the power tools, the cords and the cans of paint as she anticipated the arrival of the family and friends who descended upon the cottages to observe her 70th birthday.

And plenty of food

Even though the timing wasn’t perfect and neither was the weather, the gathering of Mom’s friends and relations on that early summer weekend was a huge success and one of many celebrations to take place in the cottages on the shores of Fair Haven Bay. That’s what a cottage is for, after all. It’s meant to be shared with all and sundry.

As I sit in my big house in Maine, I sometimes long for a week or even a weekend at one of the neat and tidy cottages where baby ducks waddle right up to the steps to be fed out of my father’s hand. I daydream about how it would feel to sit at the table on the smaller cottage’s porch and write, with no distractions, creating a solitary world for myself for just awhile. Perhaps I would start working on that novel I’m always fantasizing about …

At some point, though, I’m sure I’d need some company and after only a few phone calls, I could easily fill both cottages, like Mom does, with family, friends, food and laughter. Soon, just like last summer, there would be cousins and nephews fishing off the dock with my dad, paddle boats and kayaks setting off, a brother-in-law taking a nap in the hammock, and nieces and uncles participating in a serious game of badminton. Mom, her sisters and their daughters would arrange the delicious food they’re famous for on the long blue counter, and there we’d all be, right smack in the middle of paradise.

Karen Carlton is a freelance writer living in Topsham, who is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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