I spent this past weekend unpacking our cottage. We have recently had a fair bit of work done to the place to make it wheelchair accessible for Matthew. Prior to the arrival of the contractors we were asked to pack everything away so they could rip and demo with impunity. As I packed the cottage contents in anticipation of this work I purged what I thought of as the previous owner’s “clutter”. But I found that as I unpacked the cottage this past weekend I was setting aside yet more piles for the local thrift store. In fact I think I purged more this second time around than I did during the pre-reno packing.
We are the second family to own this cottage. The previous owners built the place from scratch back in the sixties and owned the cottage for 50+ years. It is a classic Bruce Peninsula cottage with all the corresponding charm. The matriarch of the original family passed away a little over a year ago, well into her eighties, and the remaining family decided that their cottage era had ended and listed the place for sale. Given the often very emotional attachment one can have for a family cottage I can image it was a heart breaking decision to finally sell the place. In many ways a cottage is not about the property, but about the memories that are created under its roof. The sale of a family cottage in many ways truly ends an era and can be a grief filled moment. However the adult children of the original owners, themselves now retired and looking to travel, sold the place to us after removing one or two treasured objects from the cottage and then handing us the keys. Literally.
When we arrived at the cottage it was full. Like full! The beds were made, knick-knacks were on shelves, the game cupboard was fully stocked, and there were even stuffed animals on the beds. Heck, there were spices on the spice rack and books on the bookshelves. Walking around the place those first weeks after we picked up the keys was a lot like a treasure hunt. You never knew what you would find and there was some pretty cool stuff. The “fart” playing cards were a big hit with the kids! So was the shoebox of vintage Matchbox cars.
A great many of the items left behind were incredibly useful and saved us a ton of money we might have had to spend stocking the place. We didn’t have to buy furniture, towels, kitchen supplies, and so on. But the place also felt quite cluttered – full of knick-knacks and cottage kitsch that wasn’t “us”- and LOTS of it. In particular the place seemed full of items emblazoned with loons, hummingbirds and sunflowers. Everywhere. This past weekend I packed many of these item into boxes and donated them to the local thrift shop. Many are quite lovely and will bring someone some joy. They just aren’t me.
However while the kitsch I was boxing up wasn’t me, it became increasingly obvious that much of it had been very special to someone and communicated a great deal about the woman she had been. The treasure hunt evolved in a new manner. As I wrapped and packed I became increasingly aware of the fact that I was boxing up 80+ years of a woman’s history. For her this “stuff” likely hadn’t been dust collectors but were souvenirs from holidays and gifts from loved ones. And as I packed I got to know more about the woman who loved this cottage before I did. Based on her magnet collection that covered the fridge she travelled extensively. Perhaps as her travelling wound down in later years family kept with tradition and brought her back fridge magnets when they travelled. I kept some that I liked, but purged the rest. The cottage had sunflowers everywhere – on vases, dishes, mugs, towels – everywhere. Obviously sunflowers were special to her. I also know the matriarch loved the Bruce Peninsula as evidenced by her book collection. I think the cottage came stocked with an entire library covering anything one might want to know about the Bruce. I also know the owner didn’t cook as evidenced by the one cookbook the cottage contained. This absence of cookbooks was particularly curious given the abundance of books the cottage otherwise contained. In the end it seems that loons, hummingbirds, and in particular it seems, sunflowers, occupied some special place in the previous owner’s heart.
We’ve kept those items that seem to belong in the cottage, and some that honour the woman who lived here before us. But while we want to honour the original owner, it is also time to start filling the place with our memories and the things we love. I had to laugh since it seems that in many ways I am much like the previous matriarch. She adored sunflowers and hummingbirds, so I chuckled as I replaced her items with the ones that I love – items decorated with daisies and owls. I replaced her travel fridge magnets with the owl magnets someone gave me for Christmas, and the funky owl magnet/pencil a friend found. Her sunflower cups were replaced with an owl teapot. Her stuffed loon was replaced with the stuffed owl that sat atop my Christmas stocking this past year. Her sunflower emblazoned crockery was replaced with some vintage bowls sporting daisies that I stumbled upon at a rummage sale. The furniture is now draped with afghans made by myself or someone I love.
In the end the cottage is evolving into an eclectic mix of Dodie E. and the MacGregor Clan. I like it that way.