Everyone knows the cottage is my happy place. Grant's grandfather built it with his own hands and the hands of his daughters and their husbands in the 1970's. By the time I started making the drive to the Allegheny River nirvana, Grant already had a lifetime of memories there. At the cottage, internet is so sketchy it's just better to leave your computer and phone turned off, there is a clock on the kitchen wall over the stove but last summer it ran out of batteries and I don't think anyone noticed. Time is measured by the empty feeling in your gut after you have hiked to the waterfall and swam in the natural pool for hours and are finally noticing you haven't eaten since breakfast. Night runs into early morning while we sit by the campfire and talk politics and music and grass fed beef until the bar 5 miles up the road is having last call.
Before we had kids, the cottage meant sleeping until 10 and drinking too much whiskey, getting lost on trail runs because it didn't matter what time I came back. Grant would still be sitting by the fire with a book or napping on the sofa. The cottage is the first place I remember seeing him completely relax.
Now with Knox and Purslane, the cottage is about waking up with the sun and watching the fog hang out over the surface of the river. It means triple checking to make sure our food supplies include coffee and graham crackers. (did we really forget beer??) It means constant activity, or at least constant vigilance. Conversation around the fire includes pulling up photos on my phone of burn victims to supplement my warnings about not respecting the ring of stones that form a border between my impulsive son and a firey disaster. It means loading the bikes off and on the back of the Jeep because since they discovered the Rails to Trails across the river, it must be part of the agenda.
It means breakfast sandwiches at sunrise in their underpants (because as far as Knox is concerned, being out of the city means clothing optional) and exploring the overgrown hill behind the cottage with flashlights and plastic bags for nature treasures. Instead of stretching out lazily in front of us, a day is barely enough time for throwing stones in the river, a bike ride on the trail, creek hiking and talking ourselves into trying out a rope we found tied to a tree branch over a river pool (it was awesome), a canoe trip that answered the age old question of what would happen when you have a 4 year old and a 6 year old in the middle of the river and they discover an enormous spider is in the canoe with them, swimming in the river reeds, steaks over an open fire, and juice boxes all day long.
We have been going to the cottage for 13 years, and over those years have taken many friends up with us. One of my favorite weekends of my entire life happened in 2009 over Memorial Day weekend with 6-7 other couples, a handmade wooden lawn game called Viking Cube, and all the time in the world for eating, drinking, talking, laughing, sleeping, playing. It was the season of life for most of us pre-kids, at least one person in each couple in grad school, and that weekend still holds some of my favorite memories.
As the years pass, babies are born, folks come and go, and our trips to the cottage take the family train. So the activities have changed, but the magic has just increased as we introduce our children to our favorite place. The nights by the fire when all the babes have been put to bed and we sit and drink High Life takes on a communal feeling of well deserved relaxation that we just didn't know before our days were dictated by busy little people. And they are sweeter. The deep conversations we miss having when our kids want our attention at parties and after church and during dinner happens at the cabin after dark. The kids are hopefully so exhausted that they fall asleep when their heads hit the pillow (except for H.S. who gave an award worthy performance as a toddler deprived of fire and beer and sentenced to watch out the window of his bedroom).
This time I thought about weekends when our friends have joined us. That time Kirsten went for a trail run and fell into the creek pool. Sitting on the back porch with Allie drinking coffee and pretending we couldn't hear the kids looking for us. Playing Clue until midnight with Matt and Sara, inventing new gin drinks and new motives for offing Professor Plum. The first time we took Pursy to the cottage and passed her around our group of friends who were just starting or just thinking about having kids of their own. Sweet, sweet memories.
out. For 36 hours at the cottage with all the activities the babes wanted to do, we of course packed a small library. Our mixed marriage involves fiction, theology, biography, and economics. Somehow we make it work. And as Grant fell asleep on my shoulder because I had to find out what happens to the Jewish orphans in Paris during the German occupation, I felt so lucky. Lucky that Grant and I find the same place to be one of the greatest places in the world. Grateful that our children aren't afraid of getting dirty and wet and tired and cold. Thankful that before my arm behind his head fell completely asleep that I had thought to grab a cold High Life...