By Greg Clark, June 7, 1941
“I’m going to have to rent the cottage,” stated Jimmie Frise dismally.
“Rent the cottage!” I cried.
“With the new war taxes and everything,” said Jim, “I just can’t afford to have a summer cottage. I’m going to rent it.”
“And who’s going to take it?” I demanded hotly. “Doesn’t everybody have to pay taxes?”
“I can get somebody to take it,” said Jim.
“Yes, but what more right will he have to take it than you?” I demanded.” “If you can’t afford to keep a summer cottage, nobody else can. So keep it. Everybody’s in the same boat now.”
“I can find somebody with a little more money than me,” explained Jimmie. “The taxes and stuff have moved me quietly out of the class of people who can afford summer cottages.”
“You don’t follow me,” I protested vehemently. “If these were normal times and you had lost money in the stock market or something normal like that, you would be justified in giving up your cottage. But everybody is being taxed. Everybody is going to have to live on less money. Therefore, how are you going to find anybody to rent your cottage? And if you do find somebody to take it, doesn’t that prove he is a chiseller who hasn’t declared all his taxes?”
“You’re just sore because you won’t have those fishing week-ends up at my place,” smiled Jim.
“I don’t let my personal concerns interfere with my reasoning,” I informed him. “But it doesn’t make sense to say that you can’t afford to keep your cottage so you’re going to rent it to somebody who can’t afford to rent it.”
“Plenty of people,” said Jim, “can get along very nicely on the money I get, without going short. I’m just a poor manager, that’s all.”
“So you’ll rent that dear little cottage,” I said, “to some good manager? My dear boy, if there are any good managers, they’ve got a summer cottage of their own already.”
“I can get $200 for the summer from that cottage,” said Jim. “And boy, I need that $200.”
“There is nothing you can buy for $200,” I informed him, “that will be worth half so much as those two months for your family and you up at the lake. Not for $500 could you buy anything of equal value.”
“I don’t want to buy anything,” explained Jim. “That $200 would go for things I’ve already bought.”
“Jim,” I pleaded, “economize on other things. Economize on your car, put it away in the garage all summer. Economize on your food bills, on your clothes, on your summer wardrobe. But don’t try to economize on the health and happiness of your family.”
“Or,” said Jim, on the good fishing of my friends.”
“It is Your Dream Home”
“Any more cracks like that,” I stated, “and I won’t even visit your cottage.”
“I’m afraid you won’t be visiting it anyway,” said Jim. “Unless maybe you’d like to rent it?”
“I’m not interested, Jim,” I said. “You know my beliefs in the matter of summer cottages. I don’t believe in tying myself down for the whole summer to one place. I like to see various parts of the province during the summer.”
“At your friends’ cottages,” said Jim.
“I pay my way, don’t I?” I said indignantly. “Didn’t I bring a whole ham on that last visit to you last August? And two baskets of tomatoes, and a basket of melons, and two boxes of candy and toys for the kids? Didn’t I?”
“You remember the details, all right,” admitted Jim.
“I certainly do,” I stated. “I make it my business to bring the equivalent in supplies and gifts of a sum of money equal to what I would pay at a good summer hotel. For whatever period I come for. I’m no cheap sport. I pay my way.”
“You’re very good,” agreed Jim. “But it isn’t the same as owning your own cottage. Or even the same as staying at a summer hotel.”
“Do you resent my spending a few weekends with you?” I exclaimed. “I thought we had more fun than…”
“Sure, sure, I love to have you up,” said Jimmie. “In fact, our fishing trips are the highlight of the whole summer to me. But I was just wearing down your objections to me renting my cottage. I’ve made up my mind. I’ve written out an ad to put in the paper. And I’ve painted a sign ‘Cottage for Rent’ to nail up on the cottage this week-end.”
“Well,” I said glumly, “there goes about the nicest cottage in my whole collection.”
“It’s a great little spot,” admitted Jimmie. “It won’t be easy to pass it up. We’ve had a lot of fun there. You can move all over the city in the course of the years, and leave one house after another without a pang. In fact, you’re often glad to be rid of the last one. But a summer cottage is different. No matter how shabby and run-down it may be, a summer cottage becomes your true home in a sense a city house never does. It is your dream home.”
“You said it, Jim,” I insinuated. “You have no idea how you’ll miss it this summer, when you and your family are slowly baking and frying here in town.”
“It’s a straight case of dollars and cents,” said Jim quietly. “I have thought it all out.”
“Have you visualized the haggard eyes of your little children,” I demanded, “looking at you when you come home here on one of those blistering August afternoons?”
“We’re going on plenty of picnics,” explained Jimmie. “We’re going to bring down from the cottage some of the deck chairs and other summer furniture to fix up our garden. We’re going to bring down the outboard engine, too, and I will rent a skiff down on the lake off Sunnyside and take the family on the evenings for sails along towards Oakville and Hamilton.”
“How pleasant,” I sneered.
Jim Makes a Decision
“I’ve set out a regular program,” continued Jimmie, “picnics, sails along the lake, al fresco suppers out in the garden on bright deck chairs and rustic tables. After all what’s the difference between Muskoka and Toronto when it comes to temperature?”
“About 30 degrees,” I stated loudly.
“Don’t be absurd, retorted Jim. “Don’t you remember last summer some of these nights when you could hardly draw your breath it was so hot and stuffy up at the cottage? You were there in the hot spell. We had to practically live in the water.”
“And where will you live during the hot spell here in town?” I inquired. “In the cellar?”
“It isn’t five minutes from my house to Sunnyside,” said Jim. “And we can put our bathing suits on right in our own house here, too.”
“You are making a great mistake, Jim,” I said.
“I am making $200,” replied Jim.
“Which the government will take off you,” I pointed out.
“You have put up a good fight,” said Jim, “but you have lost. I am definitely giving up the cottage this year. The ads go in next Monday. I am going up to the cottage this week-end to bring down some stuff. The deck chairs, my outboard engine, and a new three-burner oil stove we just bought last summer.”
“Are you hiring a truck?” I asked.
“No,” said Jim, “I thought maybe you would be interested in a little trip to the country. And if we took your open ear, we could pack all that stuff in it.”
“Well, I’ll be …”I gasped. “You deprive me of one of my favorite summer cottages, and then you …”
“An open car carries twice as much as a closed car,” said Jim.
“But I’m not making any truck out of my sport phaeton,” I snorted. “Especially three-burner oil stoves. What are you bringing that home for? Isn’t the new tenant going to have a stove?”
“There’s the old oil stove out in the back shed,” explained Jim. “We don’t like to use second-hand stoves. The food always seems to taste of strangers. So we’re bringing the new one home to store and let the tenants use the old one.”
“I think my family has me dated up for this week-end, Jim,” I said.
“Very well,” said Jim shortly.
The Farewell Journey
But the more I thought of it, the more I felt I should accompany Jim on his farewell journey to the cottage. After all, Jim and I have been friends since boyhood. I was a cub reporter when he was a cub artist doing diagrams of where the murder took place, X marking the spot where the body was found. We have been to wars together and killed thousands of fish and not a few ducks together. And, as Jim says, a summer cottage comes to mean more to you than any mansion you might inhabit in a city.
So I intimated to him that the date my family had made for me on the week-end had fallen through and that I would be happy to use my touring car for transporting his lares and penates down from the cottage.
“What are lares and penates?” asked Jim.
“It is Latin for outboard motors and three-burner oil stoves,” I explained.
“And we left Friday night, seeing we are all on the five-day week now which gave us Saturday and Sunday at the cottage, to do a real job of farewell.
The bass season does not open for nearly a month, so there was no use torturing ourselves by going out in the boat. We just loafed about the cottage itself. Sat on the veranda and smoked; walked back over the hills and woods where already the heavy hand of summer was laid. The birds had pretty nearly finished nesting and young birds were everywhere. The wildflowers were all over and done. The season of silent growth was one, the season of leaf and wind that leads straight to autumn and harvest and lying leaves and death again.
Between walks. we went over the cottage rather sadly setting out on the veranda the things Jimmie wanted to take home. The engine, the stove, three deck chairs and a new mattress that was too good to let unknown strangers have.
We also tore down a whole raft of colored pictures from the rotogravure and from the movie magazines which, in past years, had been tacked up on the cottage walls.
We tidied things up and hid away some of the things Jimmie was sure would be lost or mislaid by strangers, such as paddles, a little hatchet Jimmie was very fond of, an old rake and things like that.
“I’ll hide these under the back of the cottage,” said Jim. “which will give me the feeling of coming back some other year. These things will be waiting for me, even though strangers call this place their own for a while.”
“The new people,” I said, “will probably change everything around. They’ll tack up new pictures clipped from the rotogravure. They’ll probably shift the beds around.”
“I can easily shift everything back again,” said Jim.
“They’ll no doubt break things,” I pointed out. “Some of the china, and maybe a window or so. Are you going to allow a family with children to rent the place?”
“I wasn’t figuring on selecting the tenants,” said Jim. “For $200, almost anybody …”
“Some women,” I said, “are dreadful housekeepers when it comes to a summer cottage. They just feel it is a holiday and they let things go hang.”
“My family can soon redd it up,” said Jimmie.
“You’ll have to come up after the season’s over,” I suggested, “and clean her up then.
Some women leave the kitchen like a pig pen, dirt and filth all around the sink, and stuff left in bottles and packages on the shelves. That attracts the mice in, and when you come up next year the place will fairly stink.”
“I’ll be up in the fall, all right,” assured Jim. “The minute those people get out, I’ll be up here with a gang to clean house, you bet.”
“Are you putting on any extra insurance,” I inquired, “in case these people are careless with lamps and things? Or any insurance for damage kids might do?
“I think I’ll try to rent it to a couple of old maids,” said Jim. “How about piling the stuff in your car now?”
“Why,” I protested, “we’re not leaving yet, are we? I thought we’d be leaving after supper.”
“There’s no use hanging around,” said Jim miserably. “The longer I hang around, the worse I feel about the whole business.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pile the stuff in the car.”
So we carried out the mattress and the engine and the chairs and stowed them in the car. We were just carrying out the three-burner oil stove when a strange thing happened.
Right off the little wharf in front of the cottage a huge black bass leaped.
It was not an ordinary leap. Jimmie and I have both seen thousands of bass leaps. This was like a ceremonial leap. The bass came out of the water in a loud, ringing splash which attracted our attention as if it had been gunshot. There, in the lovely light, the bass seemed to hang in space. It curved and dropped, with another resounding splash, back into the water.
Jimmie and I set the stove down in a single movement. We tightened our belts and walked quickly down to the wharf. There, on its white sand nest, lay the bass, a huge one, fanning the water with tail, and fins in motionless stance.
Jim stood and stared with entranced gaze. I dared not open my mouth.
The great bass, fanning immovably, seemed to eye us with his red orbs. Jim waved a hand. The bass darted from the nest and then came darting back.
I tossed a little chip on the water. The bass rose like a torpedo and hit the chip a terrific slash with his tail.
“Oh, boy,” muttered Jim, “oh, boy, ohboy-ohboy.”
He turned and marched back up to the car. He seized hold of the end of the three-burner gas stove. I seized the other. Jim backed into the house. I followed. In five minutes, we had the chairs back, the mattress on the bed, the engine in the cupboard and everything all hunky dory.
Then we went and sat on the cedar chairs and put our heels on the railing and lit our pipes and blew smoke out on to the silent air.
For the first time, Jimmie spoke.
“That settles it,” he said firmly.
Editor’s Notes: For story-telling purposes, Greg implies he does not have a cottage. He did at Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay.
Lares and Penates were Roman deities who protected the home. It came to be a phrase meaning a person’s home and household possessions.
Rotogravure is a printing technique, and was also used as a term to refer to the illustrated sections of magazines.
“Redd it up” means to clear something away, to tidy.