Cottage Road Trip
From the time I was a baby I spent my summers at the cottage. I have seen the pictures of me sleeping in the portable crib, and I remember the many years we took this week for family time, indulging in the opportunity to grow together. The routine of road trip and cottage travel is well mapped on my memory, etched on my skin in every single freckle and carved deep in the veins that lead to my heart.
A school teacher relishes summer like no other professional I have ever known. They seize it and wring it for all it is worth. I have seen this in my mother’s life pattern and I see it now in my sister-in-law’s summer routines as well. Summer is family time and rejuvenation and books at the beach, barbecues, pancakes, sleeping in until the kids dance you off to the sandy beach dunes. Every year this was us: the school teacher, her son, her daughter. Sometimes even the family cat. Once, a budgie bird along on the cottage road trip.
Every year still I drive this path, well etched in my memory from years as a passenger, first in my mother’s tiny Chevette. Then came a Ford Focus. One year it was my mother-in-law’s borrowed Chevy something or other. Typically though my mother, brother and I squeezed three suitcases into the tiny family car and we ventured up north to spend a week relaxing, tanning, swimming and having fun together. This week I am again at the cottage. A different cottage, but nonetheless the road is the same, the map here so simple I could almost do it blindfolded. I drove with kids lounging in the backseat of the van watching Frozen on the entertainment system I have just for such trips. So what, this year is so different about the journey here?
This is the second year we have done this without my mother. She passed away a year and a half ago. Last year the drive was somehow easier than this year. I don’t begin to understand why. My first year marking the anniversary of her death was filled with sadness and many unforeseen little landmarks. This year grief has taken a different shape. It is not there immediately when I wake. Sometimes it slumbers and I pass my days happily. I work hard, long hours, throwing myself into what I do so deeply that I forget most other things. And grief hides. And I am mostly okay with that.
This week though the Cottage Road Trip here was a reminder grief resides in the heart, forever married to memory, always ready to leap out into your throat. What shape will it be? A moan, a cry, a shriek, a whisper? I breathe every landmark in, telling deaf ears this is the church where Grandma got married. This is the field where she taught me the sound that cows make. “Cows go moo.” This is the space she stopped every year with a special prepared picnic for the three of us. And here, is the fork in the road where we followed each other every year after I got my license and moved out, up to the cottage. This road is the spot where we parted every year. Me to drive with kids to London and her to drive to Guelph on her own where she lived. That last year we did this we followed her all the way. We led her back some of the roads until she was safe in her familiar condominium. So glad now that we did that.
It wasn’t long after, that this journey became something entirely different. Every tiny landmark feels like a touchstone of where her life intersected with mine. The church a spot where time and space make her again almost visible and tangible to me. I have the urge to stop and wave, or pause a moment, while closing my eyes, just to feel all the feels hinged here. I drive instead until we find the address, spying my niece, my nephew out waiting smiling their welcomes. Waving happily. Impossible to be sad around children.
Much later, parked, unloaded, unpacked and settled in, we venture down to the beach. Through dunes she loved. This is the space where lake cradles sky, where I feel her whispering: “Hello, Love, I miss you.” I inhale, pause and smile my heart. “Hello Mom. I am here.”