The great search for a cottage
How one cottager learned that finding a new getaway is harder than it seems
Buying our first cottage, on Wolfe Island, Ont., had been a quick and simple affair. We saw it, we loved it, we bought it. We didn’t even get a building inspection. The place was clean, beautifully furnished, well cared for, and gloriously situated. Last year we sold it and started to look for something closer to home. We decided to be much more organized in our second purchase. Maybe that was our mistake. Who knew that spending a few hundred thousand dollars could be so challenging?
For my wife and me, the criteria in the hunt for the cottage have emerged as overlapping priorities. We both agreed on the usual stuff, like “Does the well work?” and “How’s the roof?” Then came personal preferences, such as, for her, no annoying, noisy, tattooed neighbours over five feet 11 inches tall (she can take any man under six feet, even in a “no-rules” fight) and no spiders exceeding two inches in diameter, including the legs. For me, I hoped for a skunk-proof foundation and a fairly active local chapter of Cottagers Against Red Squirrels. Armed with these basic requirements, we entered the fray—and the trouble started, mainly consisting of scheduling viewings based on what we read in the real estate ads and trying to take the needs and wants of everyone else in the family into consideration.
We had arranged to check out a marvellous-sounding cottage one Friday, but the agent called back to tell us that the owner allegedly got the flu overnight—could we come on Saturday instead? When we arrived, I realized this was a subtle warning, but I hadn’t been savvy enough to recognize it. The agent had mentioned that the owner had two “really nice dogs” and “a couple of cats” and needed a bit more time to get the cottage “spruced up.” Of course, interpreting agents’ comments is a skill to be cultivated. Judging by atmosphere and appearances, the dogs were smelly, old retrievers keeping company with a small herd of incontinent cats. So what actually happened on the Friday was that all the windows were opened; the taps were turned on fully to clear the silt and dead insects out of the water system; the Guaranteed Dry in One Hour carpet guys were called in; the septic bed was irrigated with Febreze; and the large family next door, members of Canadians For Snowmobiles Without Mufflers, was bribed to leave for the day with free passes to the casino.
We had to consider my parents’ preferences as well. While my father rarely goes out—indeed, has always sworn we would only take him out of the family homestead “in a box”—he indicated that he would greatly appreciate accompanying us in our search for the cottage and, of course, mother would enjoy the drive. I suspect he really wanted to make sure the new cottage suited him too, so that when he finally becomes too old and too infirm to do any work around the place, he can still come and spend the summers with us in surroundings that agree with him.
Perhaps this is not so unreasonable. It may be that the simple requirements of my wife and I should be supplemented by the more complicated requirements of my aging parents. Based on our past experience, these may consist of: “None of those damn trees in the driveway that move around so you hit them with your car when backing up.” And: “No swimming pools deliberately hidden behind the garage,” so that if you put your car in D instead of R and plow through the back of the garage (wood, thank God, not stone), your “mint condition” (but I suspect several repaints), 20-year-old, gas-guzzling behemoth doesn’t wind up six inches from the deep end of the pool. Plus, we will have to make sure that the local library has “proper-sized” parking spaces, not those “teeny-weeny” ones designed for “dinky little foreign cars.” I don’t even want to know what sort of incident spawned that last comment, because it was followed by a diatribe against “those goddamned insurance companies.”
Based on past experience, no matter how well-planned our search or how fantastic our final choice, the new cottage will never satisfy the younger generations of the family either. For example, I overheard my wife on the telephone, describing to one of our grandchildren a stunning cottage we were considering: room for all; warm, shallow water; sandy beach; no icky weeds; facing southwest (to get those lovely sunsets); private, but with nearby cottages (to provide a few all-important summer-holiday buddies). After a silence I heard her say, somewhat apologetically, “Well, no, honey, it doesn’t have a swimming pool or a hot tub.” I stopped listening, afraid that I might hear her trying to explain why it wasn’t located near Disney World either.
As it stands, we’re waiting until spring to continue the search. The adjournment of our hunt has allowed for arguments to be heard from the anglers in the family, who want a nice muddy lake with lots of weedy little bays full of voracious and gullible bass and muskie, as well as from the water-sports fanatics, who want a solid sandy shore that drops off immediately to deep water, for quick shore take-offs on skis and the tube. We’ve also had the debate between the Survivalists and the Sophisticates: those who need absolute isolation in the deep woods, with a realistic risk of dying of thirst, hunger, or exposure, versus those who demand more or less immediate proximity to a small, picturesque town complete with a 10-screen multiplex, a Pusateri’s that has a bakery specializing in artisanal bread, and a liquor store with a well-stocked Vintages wine section.
My life is hell.