Around this time in October, my aunts, uncles, and cousins from Detroit and Dayton would meet my family at our summer house on the lake, not to swim, but to “put it to bed for the winter”, as Mama was fond of saying. We all had assigned tasks: The men folk dismantled the pier, storing the large squares under the house where the parts remained hidden behind white wooden crisscrossed fencing. They heaved and ho’d to remove the rowboat and paddle boat out of the water. The rowboat was placed over wooden horses and then covered with thick heavy canvas tied around it for protection from the winter snow soon to come.
Aunt Adelaide supervised us in raking the leaves that fluttered down from the large oak trees in the backyard. The crisp October air prevented any thought of swimming, much to my cousins’ and my chagrin. Instead we contented ourselves with romping through the leaves, re-raking them repeatedly in order to leap into them savoring the crunch they made. Back then we raked a huge pile of these leaves in order to burn them under my aunt’s watchful eye after satisfying our leaf-leaping joy.
Inside the cottage, Mama and Aunt Agnes cleaned the house from stem to stern. They wiped all the windows clean, dusted and polished every stick of furniture, swept and mopped all the floors. After a Saturday marathon of “putting the cottage to bed for the winter”, Aunt Adelaide made her killer Manhattans for the grown-ups and homemade hot chocolate for the non-adults. Munching on crudités of carrot and celery sticks and bell peppers, we kicked back. Television was verboten in the cottage; we played board games and lived without the “idiot box”, as Mama called the TV. We then sat down at Grandfather’s old mahogany dining room table for a dinner of cabbage rolls, potato and fennel casserole, Italian prosciutto, salami, provolone, crusty bread, and Daddy’s homemade red wine, “made with-a Napa grapes”.
After attending Sunday morning Mass, we again convened at the table for a satisfying pasta and salad dinner, courtesy of Mama and Daddy. Before parting ways on Sunday afternoon, the beds upstairs and down were stripped – the linens to be taken to our houses and washed, the blankets stored in cedar-lined chests, the porch rocking chairs moved to the great room, the refrigerator cleaned out, and the large brick fireplace –the cottage’s only heat source – swept and cleaned. We hugged and kissed one another, and talked about the looming Christmas holidays when we would be together again. As my family’s car lumbered up the driveway’s knoll, I couldn’t take my eyes off of my beloved cottage. I took comfort from knowing she would joyfully greet us in May, welcoming us back another summer.
Ciao for now.