I come from a family of five, with an extended family of 77. Like many families, we are one of reunions and traditions. And, one of our most popular family traditions is “The Cottage.”
My grandfather began the process of building our cottage in 1945 on a plot of land next to Lake Ontario in the Thousand Islands, New York. For perspective on our location, we can walk down the shoreline and see Canada. The Cottage is also a 30-minute drive from the town where my grandparents raised their six children. And, over the years – as most families do – we multiplied.
The Cottage, as my cousin described it, is a place where tradition meets new-aged thinking. He was actually referring to the food at the time, but I think it’s an appropriate way to describe The Cottage as a whole. For 69 years, this quaint, two-bedroom dwelling has been a gathering place for my continuously growing family. It’s a place we all return to in the summers, no matter where in the world our lives have taken us. And, while the family has grown in size, the foundation of The Cottage has stayed mostly the same. The space is sparse, the amenities limited, and one might consider the experience more comparable to camping than visiting a lake house.
But, we all go. We go because it…very simply…is The Cottage. What does that mean, exactly? I decided to take a poll.
We currently have three living generations of people who attend The Cottage:
- The Elders (parents, aunts, uncles)
- The Boinkers (“the cousins”, or the nieces and nephews of The Elders)
- The Baby Boinkers (the cousins’ children)
This Labor Day, I asked members of all generations to answer two basic questions:
- What is your favorite thing about The Cottage?
- What is your least favorite thing about The Cottage?
Some of the results will only resonate with those familiar with our plot on the lake. But, many of the responses – both positive and negative – revolve around a theme that I imagine keeps many family traditions alive despite mosquitos, lake water showers and zero personal space. It’s a theme of bonding over one place – of bonding over tradition itself.
(F)avorite, (L)east Favorite
F: Mowing the lawn
L: Driving over the hill at the end of each season (Elder, Age 69)
F: A clear, calm morning
L: A rainy, choppy morning (Boinker, Age 27)
F: Riding in the boats
L: The drive to and from The Cottage – 8 hours each way! (Baby Boinker, Age 11)
F: Going on the boat
L: When it’s late at night and I have to get in bed with all the mosquitos (Baby Boinker, Age 11)
F: Everyone together. Meals or volleyball – just when everyone is doing same thing at the same time.
L: When everyone is trying to use the bathroom at same time (Boinker, Age 41)
F: Seeing everyone
L: Big spiders, mosquitos, and now skunks (Boinker, Age 42)
F: Fishing and drinking beer by the fire
L: Leaving (Boinker, Age 39)
F: The “beach” and skipping stones
L: The bugs! (Boinker, Age 50)
F: Sitting by the fire
L: Waiting my turn in the shower (Elder, Age 69)
F: Work weekend and Octoberfest
L: Trivia questions at our meetings because I don’t know any of the answers (Elder, Age 71)
F: Can I say like three things?: People, boats and the fireplace.
L: The haters and flies in the bunkhouse. Also, I hate Dan R. when he’s being a little bitch. (Boinker, Age 43)
F: The family being together
L: The family being together (Elder, Age 61)
F: The food
L: Having to use the toilet. I put toilet paper down on the seat before I go. (Boinker, Age 32)
F: The relaxing atmosphere with little technology
L: Lack of privacy, bugs and not enough room (Boinker, Age 33)
F: Sitting on the swing drinking coffee
L: Rainy days with big crowds and/or bugs (Elder, Age 74)
F: Being on the water, great food, cocktails, fire time, being far away from the rest of the world
L: Since we live so close, you would think we get several opportunities for cottage time, but we don’t at all. People are ALWAYS there. (Boinker, Age 33)
F: Playing on the white rafts in the water
L: When it rains (Baby Boinker, Age 10)
F: Sitting, relaxing and looking out at the water. It doesn’t get any better than that.
L: The swarms of tiny little bugs (Elder, Age 67)
F: It’s a place for our family to gather and spend time together, and it’s kept our whole extended family all across the country so close over our whole lives.
L: It’s so far away from where we live. Oh, and that there’s no outhouse anymore. (Boinker, Age 40)
F: Chasing sticks into the water
L: Not being allowed to eat all the dead fish on the shoreline (Boinker Dog, Age 2)
L: When the day you leave is the nicest day of the weekend (Boinker, Age 25)
F: The water
L: Leaving (Boinker, Age 38)
F: The bunk house
L: Nothing (Baby Boinker, Age 7)
F: Being away from it all and hanging out with family
L: Sleeping there (Boinker, Age 53)
F: Playing in the water
L: When it rains (Boinker Dog, Age 5 months)
F: The people – most families are not this big and most of them don’t get together nearly as often; we can play baseball or go on a boat anywhere but only at The Cottage can you do it year after year with so many loved ones, decade after decade in the same way your fathers and grandfathers did.
L: Waking up hungover to huge snoring in The Cottage and no place really to go. And when Dan R. is being a little b*&$# (Boinker, Age 40)
F: The company
L: The uncertainty of the weather (Boinker, Age 47)
F: Seeing everyone
L: When it rains (Boinker, Age 46)
L: That I feel it’s okay to open a beer at any time of day (Boinker Guest, Age 25)
F: Chasing a toy that someone has thrown in the water over and over
L: Waiting in the water but no one is throwing a toy (Boinker Dog, Age 6)
F: The lake
L: The spiderwebs (Baby Boinker, Age 6)
F/L: Everybody coming together. It’s the thing I love and the thing I hate. (Elder, Age 61)
F: Fishing and boating with my dad and my big cousins
L: Leaving (Baby Boinker, Age 9)
F: The boats, the water and the cooler
L: Not being able to get on the water. The water drives my feelings. (Elder, Age 64)
F: Going in the boat with my Da-Da
L: Nothing (Baby Boinker, Age 3)
F: All the baby cousins being together and the view from the swing
L: Having to pack everything up to leave (Boinker, Age 35)
F: Cooking something different
L: The wet towel in the bathroom (Elder, Age 61)
F: Swimming in the lake and the corn hole game
L: When it rains (Baby Boinker, Age 13)
F: The games (volleyball, skiing, corn hole, etc.)
L: Waking up in the morning with that cottage funk all over me (Boinker, Age 37)
L: There’s no Wi-Fi (Baby Boinker, Age 8)
F: Playing frisbee
L: When my mom and dad leave me (Baby Boinker, Age 3)
F: Just being here, sharing time with everyone
L: Not having summer all year long, so we could come up any time to sit and look at the water year round (Elder, Age 67)
F: Staying in touch with all the relatives
L: The primitive bathroom experience (Boinker, Age 39)
F: The view of the lake on a clear day, and the view of the stars on a clear night
L: Sleeping with bugs (Boinker, Age 30)
F: Going fishing
L: There is nothing I don’t like (Baby Boinker, Age 7)
F: Playing fetch in the water
L: Having to sit up front away from all the people (Boinker Dog, Age 3)
F: Swimming in the lake
L: Leaving (Baby Boinker, Age 13)
F: Driving down the hill
L: Driving up the hill (Boinker, Age 37)
Other responses from those who could not pick “just one”: The snack corner, the shower I get to take after leaving The Cottage, charcoal grill, listening to Uncle Mike tell stories, lack of access to modern technology, the fact that gramps built the place
Our ages span across more than 70 years, but we share both a common love for our reunions on the water, and a common hope that the rain holds out long enough to avoid all getting stuck in the house together at once. We are lucky to have a place like The Cottage. Each year, we return to find the same overturned rowboat, the same Coca-Cola patterned volleyball, and the same cluster of tiny bugs whizzing around the outdoor light at night. Distance may leave us going years without speaking, but we all know what to expect when we return to The Cottage. And, this shared expectation is what keeps our family close.
The Cottage – like any place – is what we make it. And our family, in turn, has made The Cottage what it is: a tradition. A gathering place on the water. A two-bedroom house with a field and a dock that has allowed a large family to gather together for four generations and counting.