Cottage Life: Where not all loons are birds

It seems everybody in Ottawa has a cottage.

When you ask folks to come over, they say, sorry, can’t…going to the cottage.

What about drinks on Wednesday? Sorry, gotta pack for the cottage.

Thursday? Gotta shop for the cottage.

I used to go to a cottage. Well, it was a mansion, really, in Val des Lac in the Laurentians. Mr. Big’s parents’ pile had its own man-made lake and a lawn the size of a football field. Chez Big had hardwood floors, stones laid by a Normandy stone mason, peddle boats, canoes, a ceramic-tiled basement which could sleep a hundred and two fireplaces the size of small houses.

It was to cottage life what filet mignon is to shepherd’s pie.

I loved the place. I mean, who wouldn’t?

It wasn’t a shack, though it wasn’t exactly homes beautiful, either. The place was chock-a-block full of expensive, yet garish furniture, so much upholstery and so many knickknacks that you could barely walk around. The walls, tucked between floor to ceiling windows, were plastered with original paintings which Grandfather Big bought at premium prices in Montreal. Most of the subjects would have been just as comfortable on black velvet as they were on oil.

I mean, there was a painting of three black folks eating watermelon.

I think Grandpa Big spent too much time investigating the wine cellar.

I didn’t complain.

I come from welfare.

But I have to say that I don’t miss the cottage. Every weekend, I had to pack up three little kidlings and all their stuff. When Big got home, we’d spend three and a half hours on the road. By the time we got there on Friday, we were exhausted. The weekend was spent cooking, cleaning and staying out-of-the-way of Grandmama Big who was a miserable old sow. Nothing I did was done right. I had to chase the kids around to make sure they didn’t break anything.

In the winter, when Big and his sister’s family went skiing, I was stuck with Grandmama Big scowling at me.

She once told me that I should put my mother in a home, and there was nothing wrong with my mother!

She was damned crazy and meaner than a junkyard dog. I don’t mind saying this, as she is dead, and I’m sure I won’t be meeting her in heaven.

She made me feel like Wendy in The Shining.

Cottage country also has its share of nutbars.

Take Weird Pierre, the handyman, who used to prowl the premises wearing nothing but a Speedo and bird feathers.

He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak French, and that was fine with me.

When the father of my children left us, Grandmama Big and Big Himself banished our entire family from the property — even the heirs. I don’t think my kids have been there in ten years.

Which is just as well.

As for me, I was so traumatized, I have more or less shunned the cottage life.

We can’t afford a cottage, so our only rustic experience involves bunking in with relatives or friends. The relatives — Scott’s — are very nice and hospitable, but the friends who have cottages are insane.

They drink too much, sleep in cramped, stuffy, cramped quarters, play bored games and get no exercise.

If I had a cottage, I would sleep, read, eat and swim.

That is all, and that goes against the grain of the typical cottage dweller.

At one cottage, I was given expressed instructions to scour the bath tub after a shower, even though I’m highly allergic to corrosive cleaners. My host also advised that we only use the toilet at designated times. Sorry. My own plumbing doesn’t operate on a schedule.

At another cottage, I was forced against my will to watch slideshows.

At yet another, I had to listen to snoring at one end and screwing at the other.

I go to bed at nine at a cottage because none of the rented movies appeal to me.


The stars are usually named Arnold, Sly and Jean-Claude. I prefer Meryl, Meg and Julia.

Most folks want to stay up until 3 a.m. drinking, talking, playing games and drinking some more.

Most of these folks are amateurs. Sometimes I’d like to show them how it’s done.

Nope, cottage life is not in the cards for this Chiquita.

And, after watching the mayhem in the region, this summer, with trees down, no hydro — even a few deaths — I am resolute that I will never be a cottage owner. Too much responsibility. Too much packing and shopping. Too much traveling.

I am content to go to the gymnasty, watch some HBO and cook some barbecue.

If I want food, I walk a block and get some. Ditto for liquor.

Today, I am so grateful to have air conditioning.

And video games.

I am comforted in my poverty by the fact it’s going to be a bigger stinker than usual in the Gatineaus this weekend.

Good luck to you.

Enjoy the Heat Dome.

And don’t forget the sunscreen and the buzz saw.


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