It’s Canada Day weekend, and I suspect that most of us are at our “getaway places” taking in the comforts of familiarity. In much of Canada, it is your ‘cottage’. In New Brunswick, it is your “camp”. In Newfoundland you are going ‘uptadacabin’ (all one word as she says with a smile). Whatever you call it, it is typically your place of refuge to get away from it all, and yet, it is a haven where ‘it all’ seems to collect.
My daughter casually said to me recently, “I love our cottage, but it’s not how I would decorate it”. I took this statement under consideration before I responded. I’ve thought about it for a while, and now I’m ready to reply.
It’s not my style of decorating either. Our 20-year-old camp sits on my in-law’s property in New Brunswick on a beautiful Lake where they ran an outfitting business for 30 years. I had big dreams of decorating it with plaid couches, large woven mats, throw pillows and long heavy drapes that pooled on the floor… after all, “Shabby Chic” was the trend at the time! White dishes, matching glassware, and most importantly, uncluttered walls and space. This dream was not to pass. My husband quickly took over the ‘decorating’ with fish and animal memorabilia. Soon, every inch of the cabin was covered with ‘stuff’. And, I can honestly say that everything…I mean EVERYTHING (other than the love seat and couch that we replaced last year after the last secondhand one had a broken frame and no springs) is either handmade or a hand-me-down. And, each item has an accompanying memory or a story that will be handed down to my children. It’s like ‘Ancestry DNA Comes Alive’. My father’s ‘slut’ (Newfoundland camping kettle) sits atop of my kitchen cabinets. Who doesn’t have a hooked pillow that you did in your teenaged angst or a painting lovingly done by friends and family who are no longer with us? What about that well-seasoned cast iron frying pan and dented whistling kettle? What’s a cabin without photo collages and fishing photos? Our cutlery is mix matched and our glasses are from our mid 1980’s university events. Decorating involves forget-me-nots and buttercups as a table centerpiece. Nothing matches or is colour coordinated. But it doesn’t matter. This is the place where everything ends up. The stuff that’s a little too worn or that no longer ‘goes with our current, albeit fickle, décor’ in our homes, but is good enough for and relegated to ‘the cottage’. These are the things, however, that have the stories, heart and memories. My father-in-law’s carvings, my mother-in-law’s paintings. My father’s fishing rod and binoculars. My mother’s cake cover and knitted dish cloths. In short…our ancestor’s legacies. Our cabins, cottages and camps are the custodians of their legacies. It’s not about decorating, or matching, or even ‘looking good’, and it never will be. They are so much more. They’re authentic, like the people who created them. They are reliable places where emotions run deep, and memories are made, kept alive and passed down.
Keep your city place cleansed, staged, feng shuied and minimalistic. But when it comes to your family retreat, let go and indulge unapologetically in the harboring and displaying of your precious belongings. These walls are the caretakers of your family history. Those old pots, faded coloured glass nesting bowls, flea market lamps, fish shaped crib board, grandmas thinning quilt, ratty towels, chipped dishes and mugs that read…’Best Mom Ever’ and ‘Canada is #1' is the stuff that camp dreams are made of. And, with blessings on your side, it’s a safe bet that the ‘Best Mom Ever’ mug will still be there on your next visit.