Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Part One - The Great Cottage Renewal

Mary and I sit on our cottage deck with the new room rising like a graceful phoenix behind us. All windows and angles! The beer is cold, the sun is still warm, the Trent sparkles, and our conversation turns again to why we waited so long to revive, or was it more of a resurrection, our old cottage.
We were really the king and queen of procrastination.
When we bought the simple 50-year-old cottage box three decades ago, we were charmed by its location on the point jutting into the broad river. Maybe 350 feet of water frontage around over half an acre, but so irregular in shape that even a computer would have to guess at the figures. But the cottage was too small with just an old pump sucking out of the river for one toilet, two battered sinks and a metal shower stall that may have been old in 1930.. There was a small bunkie with no facilities and a one-slip boathouse that leaned to all points of the compass.
It was the first cottage we ever looked at buying. But it was just too cramped. And so we wended the rest of that Saturday through the Kawarthas looking at cottages in the $45,000 range (remember this was 1980) that had a lot more to offer in space and facilities but didn't perch like a nesting loon surrounded by river.
We kept thinking of the trees and rocks of Burnt Point. And we were moved by its owner. The Kings had loved their retreat and planned to live there most of the time. So they fixed a bit, upgrading from the outhouse that still is hidden in the evergreens. They poured their own patio by the dock. And they spent as little time at their downtown Toronto apartment as possible, even coming in the winter for skating parties and then thawing around a small oil space heater.
But tragically, they were hit by the same curse that strikes too many couples who wait too long to retire. The husband was struck down by leukemia just months into the cottage retirement. And the new widow couldn't bear to live there without him. So three months later, she had some sand dumped to cover the rocky bottom, trimmed some evergreens and listed.
Mary and I were the first couple to see the apple of her eye. At 9 a.m. And her love for it shone through. It trumped the lack of indoors for our three sons. She wanted around $45,000, I offered $39,000 five days after I saw it, we compromised at $40,000 and we moved in two weeks after I first fell in love with Burnt Point. My birthday present!
The legal deal wasn't settled for four months but neither side worried. And I was happy with the extras because Mrs. King moved to B.C. and left behind everything: memories, bedding, even a car top boat with an old Evinrude Fisherman that worked for another 15 years.
The local real estate experts, Connie (Sun columnist) and Glen (big band host on Jazz 91), said I had paid too much. And they had moved all around Toronto, Port Hope and Trent Hills, maybe 14 times. But I didn't listen because I had dreamed about a cottage all my life and now I had one.
Looking back, I wonder about the blissful days. After all, I got about three TV stations if I was lucky. On rainy days, we were on top of each other. There was no phone (and cells hadn't been invited ) so the OPP had to come when relatives died. Then I became the Editor of the Toronto Sun and the new publisher, Paul Godfrey, who gets nervous away from city asphalt, insisted I had to call in daily even on my holidays.
Some things were easy to solve, like hot water. Some were harder, like propping up the boat house. The telephone took longer.
The land over which the line could come was owned by a motorcycle gang boss who refused permission. Godfrey and I worked on everyone from the Bell president to vice-presidents but had no luck. Finally a retired Bell PR man phoned the woman who was in charge of our area and a $54,000 marine line was strung to my neighbours and me. Our problem is we had tried the top of the chain of command without asking those who actually do the work.
It was wonderful. No longer did I have to drive 4 km to a phone booth every morning to try to deal with the latest episode in the newspaper wars. And gradually, bit by bit, life became easier, although I confess nothing was quite so wonderful as satellite TV. Beats endless Scrabble and Monopoly, no matter how much you love those games.
Burnt Point was and is my escape from reality. I could drive the 1.6 km in from the nearest public road, and the trees would slam the door behind me. I could read and fish and swim and snooze, and forget about deadlines and news brass, and that every day of my working life I had to produce a column or editorial and try to pretend I was thinking clever thoughts.
Ah yes, Burnt Point kept me sane. If only it wasn't so damn crowded.
(Next: Salvaging and planning and waiting.)

No comments: