I grew up in a middle class family where money was scarce. Vacations in the traditional sense were unheard of. Instead, my sister, four cousins and I spent summers with Grandma, in her tiny cottage on the river. Cottage life was less complicated, though that didn’t always make it easier. Grandma ran a tight ship. In addition to other chores, we were expected to do dishes and make our own beds every day. Laundry was done outdoors using a wringer washer, and yes, we all helped pull the clothes through the wringer with not one finger lost. I carried baskets of clean clothes to the taller kids who pinned them on clotheslines strung between the cottage and the big old boxelder tree that sat square in the middle of the yard.
Entertainment was abundant. Some evenings we gathered around the radio to listen to Amos ‘n Andy or The Lone Ranger. We swam and fished. We played games like tag, kick the can, badminton and croquet or board games like Monopoly. My sister taught me to sing in harmony by the time I was five. Sometimes she played an old ukulele to accompany us, but most often we sang unaccompanied by anything but chirping crickets. We delighted in singing one song called ‘My Gal’s a Corker’. We considered it a bit naughty because it compared a lady’s hips to battle ships, risqué material for five and eleven year olds. We relied on one another for amusement, for comfort, for companionship.
When my step-children were little, I wanted to share these feelings of closeness with them. I gathered them onto our bed during thunderstorms and read stories using different voices for each character, resulting in uproarious giggles from my audience. During the long, cold winter months when we had grown tired of snowball fights and sledding and were aching for any sign of spring, I would push back the living room furniture and spread a big blanket on the carpet for ‘floor picnic’. Over a crackling fire in the fireplace, we’d roast hot dogs on long forks and make s’mores for dessert. Afterward, we’d clear away the dishes and linger in the cozy atmosphere playing games. These experiences connected us and built memories to keep forever.
Moving plants about the garden, lying in the old hammock reading a book, sitting on the porch in the warm breeze playing checkers with my husband, cowboy cooking over an open campfire with friends and family all pitching in to create the meal, these activities reflect the simplicity cottage life instilled in my soul.
It’s sad this kind of contentment has rather gone out of style. Doing less, buying less and slowing down are not the mantras of today’s society, although the energy crisis may unwittingly be promoting them. In this tightly wound, competition driven world, I believe we need to give ourselves permission to slow down and make memories.