Christmas at the Cottage
by Janet Trull
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
– Laura Ingalls Wilder
Once upon a dark December, a little girl had a great idea. She wanted to spend Christmas at the cottage. The cottage was a simple structure that served them well in the summer but, her parents reminded her, there would be no running water. It would be very cold. And, they added in an attempt to put the idea to rest, the wolves would be prowling about in the winter woods.
But the little girl would not be deterred. She had read Little House on the Prairie and she longed to challenge herself with the brave struggles of pioneer times. She told her brothers stories about following deer tracks and chopping wood until they joined her crusade. Finally, the parents relented. I hope you aren’t disappointed, they told their headstrong daughter. Pioneer days were not all fun and games.
The cottage road hadn’t been plowed or sanded, so Father parked at the top of the laneway. They unloaded the station wagon onto the toboggan. The gear, the groceries, the gifts, they all slid down the snowy hill to the back door.
Shhhh, the little girl said before they went inside. The silence was huge. She felt its strength. She sensed its importance. She would remember it forever and seek it as often as she could.
“We who live in quiet places have the opportunity to become acquainted with ourselves, to think our own thoughts and live our own lives in a way that is not possible for those keeping up with the crowd.”
– Laura Ingalls Wilder
It took some effort to chop kindling and start the fire in the big fieldstone fireplace. They stayed bundled in their coats and hats until the first layer of frost melted away. The old oil-burning stove kicked in, with terrifying rumbles and bangs. Mother warmed the kitchen by opening the oven door and turning it on high. She put electric blankets on the beds to thaw the mattresses. The little girl felt it prudent not to mention that pioneers did not have electric blankets.
In the morning, the children lingered under the covers until nature called and, one by one, they took turns running across the icy floor, jumping into their boots and paying a call up the hill. The toilet seat in the outhouse, covered with ice crystals, was torture on a warm bum. No lingering to read the Farmer’s Almanac in December.
The little girl loved the feeling of self-sufficiency as she accompanied Father down to the lake to chop a hole in the ice and fetch some water. She was just like Laura Ingalls helping Pa. Back inside, she read one Readers Digest magazine after another. July and August back issues from summers past. Curled up in the old brocade armchair, she read Laughter is the Best Medicine and improved her vocabulary with Word Power.
The days went by without a schedule. Crazy Eights and cookie baking and fire poking. When cabin fever threatened, they got their coats on and headed outside. Remembering the advice of a wise local resident, they were careful not to venture out too far onto the lake. How do you know when the ice is thick enough to walk on, they asked. Oh, he said, I just wait until the tourists stop falling through.
The little girl built a fort under the canoe and her brothers built one up against the boathouse. They decorated a little spruce tree outside the front window with lights and ribbons and peanut butter pine cones for the birds. On Christmas Eve, the grandparents showed up with gifts and pumpkin pies.
Christmas morning was cold and sunny. The children woke to find a pair of skis for each of them. Wooden skis that strapped onto their boots. They went over to the snow-covered golf course, climbed halfway up to the ninth tee and skied down. They did it again and again, until they were cold and exhausted and wet right through to the skin. When they came inside, the kitchen windows were steamy and they each were given a job. Setting the table, mashing the turnips, testing the stuffing. Dinner was happy chaos. By the time Grandmother served the pie (with real whipped cream) they could barely keep their eyes open.
There is no better sleep to be had than in a little Haliburton cottage on a winter’s night with the fire burning low and the shadows reflecting on the open eaves. What a great design! The bedroom walls did not go to the ceiling, so the children could listen to the comforting tones of their parents and grandparents talking in low voices in the next room. They felt safe and cozy and loved.
May children everywhere this Christmas enjoy the simple pleasures of playing outdoors, reading a good story and preparing a meal in a crowded kitchen. May they know the comfort of a soft pillow and a warm blanket and loved ones gathered under one roof.
“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”
– Laura Ingalls Wilder