An Anniversary Love Letter

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20 years ago this month we bought a cottage.

Well. more accurately, we put in an offer on it in May, but we took possession of it in August 1999.

At the time, our younger daughter was 6 years old, and we had gotten her a puppy the previous Christmas.

We lived in the city of Buffalo, New York in a 100-year-old Victorian house on a very busy and noisy street. There was plenty of room inside the three-story house for our daughter to play, but the back yard was the size of a postage stamp, and in the front was that terrifyingly busy street. There is no way we would even think of letting our little girl step out the front door alone.

We thought of ourselves as city dwellers, and couldn’t envision moving to the suburbs, or even to the lovely rural communities that surround Western New York. But, our current location just wasn’t ideal for kids and dogs.

Being Canadian, I had the opportunity as a kid to spend summers at a family cottage on a lake, swimming, boating, and living mainly outdoors for a couple of months of the year.

Though my husband grew up in the city of Buffalo, his family also spent summers at a cottage his father built on Lake Erie. We both knew we wanted that kind of childhood for our daughter. The freedom to play outside and be a kid was a joy we wanted her to share and experience.

That year, in 1999, we drove over the border to visit my folks who lived on the other side of Lake Erie in Ontario. As we drove down their quiet and secluded road along the lake, we passed their neighbors’ summer cottages and year-round homes, and spotted something we hadn’t seen before … a For Sale sign!

We took a walk down the lane later and peeked in the windows. It was a lovely summer cottage in the Adirondack style, with natural wood paneling, a huge stone fireplace, a nice big yard, and a long stone pier into the lake.

From that moment on, it was a whirlwind. We contacted a real estate agent the next day, went to see the house that weekend, and spent our evenings that week figuring out which investments we could cash-in to put together a down payment. Could we afford it? Not really. Were we willing to do everything we could to give it a try? Absolutely.

We talked a lot that week about what we would have to give up to make our cottage dream come true. Not as many family vacations, fewer evenings out, extending the lives of our cars far beyond what was prudent.

But we knew we would do it. Because it was what was important to us. We wanted to give our daughter the opportunity to grow up surrounded by nature, to interact with woodland creatures, from bunnies to bird’s nests to toads. We wanted her to be adventurous, to have fun making up her own games with other kids, to gain the courage and resilience that come from falls, scrapes and bug bites, and yes, even the dreaded poison ivy.

It was the right decision for us. At 26, our daughter is confident and courageous, kind and generous. Would she have grown into the same person if we hadn’t had the cottage? Maybe. But I’m happy knowing that we gave her the kind of childhood that encouraged and supported her curiosity and imagination. I’m glad she spent her summers and weekends playing with her friends on the beach and in a tree house instead of at the mall. I’m glad she’d rather spend her free time as an adult taking a hike rather than on social media. And I’m more that glad that her idea of a great evening is talking with friends around a camp fire instead of in a bar. And I attribute that to our beloved cottage.