Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Cottage With Heart

It wasn't the changes that got most of my attention, it was what had stayed the same.
There was a new shower installed, a new window and a brand new floor. Our new cottage bathroom was making great progress in the renovations. But I was intrigued not by what had just been installed but what has been there for 40 or 50 years.
In the walls was electrical wire with duct tape wrapped around it - a sure sign that my Dad had been there. There was his signature. In the ceiling was old scrap pieces of wood that were red. My brother and I concluded that these were original boards on the outside of the cottage when it was first built and painted red. This was back in the 1950's. Our assumption was that when he turned what was once my bedroom into what is now the bathroom, he used those boards in the ceiling.
There was his handwriting scribbled on beams and junction boxes, so he'd recall which wire went to what.
Upon further review, we realized that the bathroom door was crooked. We examined it and couldn't quite figure out why it was crooked but enjoyed the quirkiness of the realization nonetheless. We also enjoyed the fact that we'd never noticed it before.
My Dad built our  Owls Head cottage in the 1950's. He borrowed $1,000 dollars and used $500 to buy the land and the other $500 to build the place - with a little help from his brothers and contributions from various lawn sales and scrap heaps.
Over the years the cottage has had a few makeovers. An upstairs was built 10 years ago or so. Last year new awesome bay windows were installed as well as a new sliding door. A new well has been put in. Further changes are in the planning stages - meaning we're planning on finding money somehow to pay for them.
With each upgrade, a little bit of the cottage that my Dad built disappears. It isn't the original. It is becoming the replica. On the wall in the kitchen hangs a saw that he used to build the place with. I love the changes and improvement but hate the thought of my Dad's cottage slowly being replaced. I just realized what a nightmare it will be for me to replace his/my chair someday.
Now there are still plenty of things around the cottage that are part of his original design and handiwork. It was a place he loved. The work he did around the cottage wasn't just because they needed doing. They were acts of love. He enjoyed doing them and did them with a passion for a place that meant so much.
I remember talking to him about this very subject a few weeks before he died. My brother and I would plan to watch the New England Patriots games with him on Sunday afternoons that fall, knowing he didn't have many Sunday's left. I arrived early one Sunday morning and we had a nice chat. I discussed projects I had planned for the cottage, a new walkway that would lead to the shed,  and he talked about the labor of love the place was for him.
So when I looked around the torn open walls of a bathroom in transition, there was his stamp everywhere. I couldn't help but laugh, smile and enjoy every little piece of him that he had left in those walls and ceilings.
All that evidence is now covered over by sheet rock or ceiling tiles. Those walls are being painted. And a new bathroom will be born. It will look great and I'll be thrilled with it.
But I'll also know that my Dad is still there. The heart of the cottage still bears his work. He's in the walls. He's in the ceiling. He's in that crooked door. I feel the hard work he devoted to the place. I feel the love he had for it. I feel the love for the cottage in my heart, just like he did.
In life we all have an opportunity to leave a little bit of ourselves behind. My Dad did that in ways I see and feel every day. I can even find him in simple pieces of duct tape and a crooked door.

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