Monday, June 11, 2012

The Cottage

I usually don't post photos this large but the cottage that my grandfather built deserves a full screen because despite its obviously downtrodden look its story is a delightfully happy one.

Actually when it was full of us, meaning my dad and his two sisters and their families or various combinations thereof, it looked just like this. That would have been the late 50's through mid 70's, and slightly beyond before the families grew and dispersed toward other summer vacations and slowly the cottage as we all called it was no longer needed.

My grandfather called Other Dad by me and the grands that came after hailed from this part of Virginia being born just down the road into a family that has tromped these woods since the mid-1600's. Indians thinned those first Jett's that came from England but nevertheless they grew and thrived and continue on today.

Other Dad wanted family property at the end of the lane on this quiet peninsula where the cottage sits but a cousin sold it to someone else and so he contented himself with three lots facing the Chesapeake Bay. He sold two lots to other ministers, Reverend Loving, a Methodist minister like himself, and Reverend Lewis, an Episcopal priest, to raise money for materials to build the cottage.

My grandfather's great plan for his cottage to last as long as possible was to build at the back of the lot and let erosion nibble away as it would. No one did anything about erosion in those days but put up with it.

One summer the Lewis family who had built their tiny cottage before my grandfather, and not so wisely, found themselves literally teetering on the edge of the choked with undergrowth and tall pines but otherwise sandy, cliff to the beach which was not exceedingly high but high enough, I'd say about ten feet. I thought this most exciting and loved to visit them more than ever that year. They wisely decided to abandon that cottage before the next season and build  a new one farther back on their lot.

Our cottage was built with cinder blocks that my uncle got from some job site and that was pretty much it. The window openings had screens and the heavy creosote shutters that were tied back when we were there and hooked tight on the last day.

The inside was t-shaped with a common living area to the front and two bedrooms on either side, at the top of the t there was a dining area in one direction and fireplace sitting area in the other. Along the back wall was the kitchen, a bath and two bedrooms. The open rafters attic with a drop down ladder finished the 900 square foot design.

We loved our minimalist cottage. One of the first things I did when we arrived from Ohio for the summer was to make a type of dresser out of orange crates Mom got from Barnes Store just up the road. More times than not the septic or toilet, or both, were broken and so we had to pee in the woods mindful of chiggers and once a day all pile into the car for a trip to the gas station in Reedville for other needs.

My cousin Jett and I always shared a room and I can still feel the stifling heat as we struggled to find any breath of air during those muggy, buggy days. No one had a fan, or for that matter a radio, much less an air conditioner or tv.

We were on our own for entertainment. And it was never a problem. Days were spent on the beach after Dad fashioned steps down the embankment by digging holes in the sandy soil. Our beach was totally private save an occasional wanderer from the public beach up the way. We owned that world.

Fallen pines stretched from the hill top to the water or lay flat already eroded down to beach level. Somehow our beach was always fairly clear which suited the moms just fine but to either side were the makings of our pine tree playground.

We were pirates or explorers or sometimes just ourselves. We would try to go up the beach as far as we could in that wilderness by climbing over and under the pines but great patches of blue slippery clay scattered along the way in the sand or water made that more than exciting. None of us liked falling in the smelly stuff.

The tides were very subtle and so playing in the water was always fun unless the sea nettles were around. In that case we would take to our freshly patched black inner tubes that were salvation from those stinging beasts.

The inner tube was bad enough if you forgot to flip it over before getting in and suffered from a hot surface or worse scrapped your back on the valve. We would float from sandbar to sandbar and around those never ending fallen pine trees.

We were in paradise and knew it.

Next time the story of the graveyard and the wasps.