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The Cottage Became An Integral Part Of My Post-Divorce Family

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COTTAGE DECK
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On Golden Pond clinched it.

We watched it, cried through the credits and saw ourselves years in the future. He, the crotchety Henry Fonda, and me, the delightfully aged Katharine Hepburn -- opening the cottage each spring. We'd remark on all the changes from the past year, ourselves included. Then we'd wait for our children and grandchildren to descend for their summer holiday.

It's that time of year again. Cottage opening. Prompted by that movie 32 years ago, we scraped together some cash and bought the waterfront property of our dreams. Travelling down the dusty back roads of our town we found the perfect piece of land. A huge stand of birch trees and a view straight across the lake. Sitting at the shore one sunny morning, watching two loons swim by, we knew this was ours.

Both of us had grown up with old fashioned cottages. Those simple cabins by the shore. Simplicity was the key to our type of cottage experience.

The first year we camped. There was no money left to build anything after buying the land. So, we built a tent platform and pitched a tent. That lasted all of one summer. It turned out, we were not happy campers.

The next year a small cabin sprang up in the middle of the birch grove. It was as simple as it gets. Reclaimed windows, second hand furniture, plywood counter top, ancient stove and cold water. But, we were out of the weather when it rained and more than an arm's length from each other inside.

For our sons, the days blended into what I call those white nights of summer. Endless games of Marco Polo echoed from the raft. At dusk, they ran wild in the forest with a gaggle of cottage country kids, playing Capture the Flag. A game whose rules still elude me. After roasting marshmallows at the bonfire by the shore, they would drop into bed exhausted.

My spouse began to dislike everything about the cottage, seething at the inevitable projects. Gone were the times where we had once, laughingly, faced the challenges together.

We added a front porch and the place remained like that for several years. Every night we watched the stars and dreamed of adding on a bedroom wing and a proper bathroom somewhere off in the future. Old fashioned cottages have two things in abundance. Memories and dreams. Nothing is ever completely "finished" and that is part of the fun. The memories and dreams.

Finally we took the plunge, mortgaged it and added on what we saw as luxury. Proper bedrooms and a bathroom.

This is where the idyllic story starts to get derailed.

My spouse began to dislike everything about the cottage, seething at the inevitable projects. Gone were the times where we had once, laughingly, faced the challenges together. Now he turned on me and the cottage. It was all a burden to him. He'd outgrown the summer place, just as he did his family. I was isolated and confused by his indifference.

After some very traumatic scenes, he walked out 20 years ago. I took over the parenting, the mortgage and finishing the cottage.

I learned to tape drywall and do a fairly decent job of it. Repair jobs I couldn't do myself were farmed out to available handymen.

Like everything else in my newly single life, I began to really enjoy the autonomy of making my own decisions. I found out I could design the finishing touches and organize contractors. I worried constantly about the financial pressures of keeping the cottage. I persevered for my sons and relied on my spirited determination. The cottage became an integral part of the post-divorce family.

Slowly the place began to look more complete.

It is still an old fashioned cottage with a hominess that invites relaxation. There are big comfy couches and we have kitschy memorabilia tacked up on the walls. No granite counter tops. The hallway is a picture gallery of our family fun over the years.

It is now a special place for my grandchildren.

They bound out of the car, just like their fathers did so many years before. The someday that never was to be together with my former spouse is here. It is "Grandma's Cottage." And a new generation is running wild in the woods, splashing in the water, paddling in the inflatable boat, and having mud fights at the shore.

The place is still not finished. There's some drywall that needs taping and painting. The outside should be re-stained but it is "the cottage." Full of memories and dreams.

Dear Diary on a summer morning:
6 a.m.: steaming cup of coffee, snuggled up in bed with my grandchildren, watching the loons in the bay.

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