Lately, the cottage has been on my mind. In Michigan, many families have a “cottage” or “cabin” Up North, however you define it. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Michigan actually has more, only outnumbered by Alaska. As a true Michigander, I am drawn to water in all of its forms. The cottage in my mom’s family, going back at least five generations, still plays an important role in our family.
Actually, there are two. The “old cottage,” which belonged to my great grandmother, Leona Clara Forward Buttrick, otherwise known to her great grandchildren as Great (I wrote about her life in Family History), had character to spare. Dating back to the 1930s or 1940s, the “old cottage” looms large in my childhood memories. It was the site of numerous weekend get-togethers with extended family, particularly my Buttrick grandparents, cousins, and aunts (and their husbands). Great spent most of her summers at the “old” cottage on Sage Lake, which made these early memories extra special.
Once Great passed away in 1993, it was decided that we needed a cottage closer to the lake, a new place to make new memories. Thankfully, this cottage is still in constant use during the summer and still the site of countless family summer gatherings. Still, there is something special about the “old” cottage, warts and all. It is still there, largely unchanged, to be enjoyed by a new family.
If anything, I would have to say it was Great herself that made the cottage special. She was always there, smiling and laughing. She seemed to just take it all in, surrounded by her granddaughters, great granddaughters, son, and daughter-in-law, among others. She always had a tin filled with Hydrox cookies for her great grandchildren and would look the other way while we snuck them.
It was a treat to spend the night at the cottage with Great. I believe that my mom, sister, and I stayed overnight with Great at the cottage a handful of times. I loved waking up near the lake, having toast with real honey from the comb and an individual box of cereal for breakfast. The “old” cottage may have been located on a large bluff overlooking Sage Lake, making swimming and boating a workout, but the view was second to none.
As Great’s birthday was in late August, I vividly remember driving up to the cottage to take Great out to dinner. Mom, Erica, and I pilled in Great’s huge seafoam green Caddy to take her out for frog legs, her favorite. We all adored Great, but the relationship that my mom had with her grandmother was truly special. It must have been for my mom to pack up her two little girls and drive over half an hour each way to take her grandmother out to dinner for her birthday. I am so grateful for all the time I got to spend with Great. As I was 13 when she passed away, I knew her well Not everyone gets the opportunity to know a great grandparent in such a wonderful, detailed way.
The thing about going to the cottage during my childhood was that it was a process. Yes, there may have been times when I actually traveled to the cottage with my parents, but that is not what I remember as well. What I will remember most is all the fun I had piling into my grandparents’ huge 1980s station wagon with my older cousins. At one point, Grandpa B. owned one of those coveted wood paneled station wagons that had a rear facing seat. Of course, as kids, we all piled in the “way” back. My sister Erica, our cousin Abby, and I spent the entire 20 minute trip making up songs, playing silly finger-snap games, and hoping that we would be the “first one to see the lake.” Getting there was half the fun.
Actually, in those days, my parents presence at the cottage didn’t register much. No. The cottage was all about playing with cousins. We would climb the tree in the front yard, create dance routines on the parking pylons and the torpedo towable, and swim. There were trips to the pop shop and pontoon boat rides too. Grandpa could never understand why I would always pick out baseball cards (normally Topps ‘87s) instead of candy at the pop shop. I think it amused him.
Swimming and boating at the “old” cottage required a little planning. The obstacle to lake access was a large, steep set of stairs. If you were going down to the lake, you stayed there for a while. If anyone was heading up to the cottage and planned to return to the lake, she automatically played waitress. It wasn’t kind to head up without asking if anyone needed anything. It is the one thing that I do not miss about the “old” cottage. If we weren’t down at the lake, we were hanging out on the large covered porch in the front yard, facing Second Ave., the lake behind. This was the site of all of our games.
Of course, no description of cottage life would be complete without a description of the food. For dinner, there was chicken, burgers, and hotdogs on the grill with plenty of sides and salads, you name it. What really stands out, though, is so simple: Grandma B.’s fruit platters. Even us kids devoured mounds of fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, and blue berries. As soon Grandma brought out the fruit tray, it was time to take a break from all the fun.
Then there was the cottage itself. It was small and pine paneled with lots of windows overlooking the deck with the lake below, decorated in a mix of mid century cottage style. Even though there were only two bedrooms, it never felt cramped to me as a child. It largely smelled of fresh air and the lake, with Great’s Airspun powder lingering in the bathroom. Overall, it is a place where I made countless memories that I will always carry with me.
I am grateful that my brother Garrett takes his kids to the cottage often. For him, it is all about catching air on Sage on a wakeboard. Both of his kids, both under 10, adore wakeboarding and tubing behind the speedboat. Yet, I feel for Garrett. He has little to no memory of the cottage atmosphere I just described – the one seared in my memory, the one that started it all. While he definitely knew Great, she passed away when he was only two years old. It saddens me because the image of how fiercely my toddler brother adored our great grandmother is among one of sweetest things I have ever witnessed in my life. I’m just glad the cottage still lives on. The cottage is still a place where cousins make memories.