Wednesday, 28 May 2014
The Little Cottage in the Mountains
By Marcy Belson
When you read that heading, you probably have a visual image of a vine-covered cottage, a little path leading to the front door, a white cottage with a half door, the upper half open, windows with many panes, and a thatched roof and chimney, the smoke curling in the cool autumn air.
A little blonde girl comes out the door carrying a pair of garden scissors and a basket, ready to cut some roses from the bushes growing near the path.
Well, forget that, this is the real story. Yes, the cottage was white, but scratch all the other elements in the first paragraph.
It was old, really old, a miner's cabin in the late 1800s. By the time my parents purchased the property, it had a lean-to room attached at one side, used as a second bedroom. There was no door into the main part of the house. Just a window in the original outer wall which was now the inside wall of the add on.
The house was less than 1000 square feet with a living-dining room, a bedroom and bath, a walk through next to the kitchen and a pantry with a cooling area for food in the winter months and another lean-to porch.
My family only used it for the summer months to escape the heat of the desert. The women in the family took turns, each would spend a week, caring for all of the family children. Then the next "auntie" would come and do the same for another week.
It was also the headquarters for the fishing trips to the various lakes and streams in the area. I remember being in the car early in the morning, headed for Lake Henshaw because my father, a true fisherman, knew the fish would only bite early or late in the day.
Back to the cabin, it was in pitiful condition when they bought it. It didn't get any better over the years. By the time I was living in Arizona and in high school, the floor in the kitchen had given way resulting in the cook stove sitting at an angle with one foot through the floor.
I was told to stay out of the kitchen. No problem.
The kitchen sink only had one faucet, cold water. That water came from a big tank at the back of the property. The water man would come with his truck when my mother called for him.
Another place was I told to avoid was the west side of the yard. That was where the dreadful septic tank was located. I think my mother thought I might fall through.
I know water used for washing dishes was carried outside and thrown on the ground and baths were only twice a week, all due to the septic tank. I don't think anything was ever done to correct that problem.
The whole house smelled "funny.” Probably had to do with the pipes and the septic tank and the fact that it was so old and funky. The only heat was from the butane oven in the kitchen and a stove in the living room.
The butane tank sat outside the back door and that was one of the first duties upon arrival - my mother would go out and turn the valve on for the butane.
My parents made a trip to San Diego with a truck. They purchased all the furniture for the cabin on that trip. A couch, that opened up into a terrible bed, one of those that had a deep seam in the middle, which meant you rolled into the middle. Even lightweight children spent the night crashing into each other with elbows and knees.
There was a maple bed and dresser and a wonderful old walnut table and chairs, dark wood with curly pieces and the look of an English manor house. I don't know how my mother managed to snag that great buy.
There were white wicker chairs for the front porch with big deep cushions. Days were spent playing dominoes or Monopoly games sitting in those chairs.
My mother told me the lean-to bedroom would be mine. My first question, how would I get to the bathroom if I needed it in the middle of the night?
Her answer was, I would climb through the window into the main bedroom, landing on the bed and proceed to the bathroom, then climb back through the window to the lean-to room with my bed. That lean-to had no insulation and it was cold. I spent most nights on the terrible couch bed.
The yard was weeds, mostly weeds. There were tall trees that shaded the house in summer but the weeds were terrible. The house sale included a scythe which I was forbidden to use. My dad would on occasion, if the fish were not biting, use it to cut the growth of wild stuff down to the ground.
Our cocker spaniel, Honey Dog, had a miserable time with the weeds. The cockles would get in her paws and it was a bad job using tweezers to get them out.
But, when it was 110 degrees in the desert and because of the polio scare, going swimming was forbidden, a trip to the mountains and a summer at the cabin was the equivalent of being a millionaire.
When my parents retired, they tore the old house down and built a modern two story home. It was never the same. There was water and heat and electric lights that worked.
Where's the fun in that?
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