The Cottage is my family’s home on the Connecticut shoreline.
Earlier this month, I drove down, full of anticipation. The first visit is always hard — the one after tenants move out. No matter how wonderful the tenants were, there is always a feeling of unsettlement. The cleaning fluids under the sink are all wrong. The furniture is moved just enough to make it feel off. The whole aura is tentative. And until my family puts the house back together with our linens and fills the dressers with our clothes, it doesn’t feel like home. This time, I hoped it would be different. Better. And in a way, it was.
Last year’s tenants left the house scarred and damaged. There was a long period of cleaning, refurnishing and pulling it back together. It was heart-wrenching.
This year was different. The tenants left things close to the way we had. But still, it wasn’t the same.
There is so much emotion wrapped up in the Cottage. It’s not just a house. The Cottage is a place where my whole family has gathered for decades. It’s where my grandmother and I spent summers. It’s the house that my grandfather came to after leaving work on the day of his retirement. It’s where I first tasted independence. It’s where I learned to swim and build sandcastles and discovered the joys of cold fried chicken picnics and summer’s freshest sweet corn for dinner. Amid marriages, births, deaths, moves and other big changes, the Cottage has always been my constant.
When we arrived, my hand found the key on my ring automatically. There are four near-identical keys but only one opens the door, and somehow through some muscle memory I found it without thinking. Stepping in the door, I braced myself.
In a moment, I took the Cottage in — the out of place clock. The big basket with toys where there had been none. The moved coffee table. The absence of the family energy and scent of the house. I walked around, taking stock of what needs to be done to make the house right again. As I stepped into my room, a little room with a view of the Long Island Sound from the bed, all I felt was need — need to put it back together and make it mine again, complete with the little white reading lamp and sheer curtains that billow in the sea breeze.
It wasn’t the time for that though. Instead, the kids and I slipped on our bathing suits and headed to the beach where the wind whipped through our hair and the sand pressed between our toes. Hours later, after a lunch and lots of playing, the kids and I returned to the house, picking up, packing up and heading home. I would have loved to stay the night but school and work responsibilities beckoned, unwilling to be ignored.
But in the end, these are all minor. The furniture can be moved back. The misplaced items returned to their rightful places. And the energy will come with us once the flow has been restored. In the end, the cottage is every bit as much home as it’s always been for me. And it’s so nice to be home.