When I was very young, I would go with my grandparents on the weekends to what they called the “cottage.” I remember riding on a dirt road just outside Stillwater. It seemed a long way from Woodbury, where my grandparents lived, and the ride felt like it took forever to get there.
Most of the walls inside the cottage were made of knotty pine. The remaining walls were bare studs, waiting for Grandpa to finish them. There was no ceiling, so it was open to the rafters, making it seem really big. The kitchen table was a picnic table, but it was covered with a red-and-white-checkered vinyl tablecloth. Grandma did cross-stitch on the pillowcases and made the quilts that were on the beds, making everything seem safe and secure in my little world. The front porch had a glider couch that moved back and forth. We got water from a hand-pump that was outside in the back. It was fun to pump the drinking water. I can remember the cool, sweet taste of the water to this day — it was great. And, of course, there was an outhouse. (There were two seats next to each other, but I never once saw two people sit on them at the same time.)
There was a little room under the front of the cottage where they kept the innertubes and toys. I remember playing on the beach, building castles and swimming in a lake. My Uncle Butch had a speedboat, and he would take us for rides. It was always especially fun if there were adults water skiing. I remember sitting on the dock, looking down the shoreline and seeing all the different docks in front of all the other cabins, but most of all I loved being on the dock fishing with Grandpa. We had some great fish fries and campfires.
In later years, the lake level rose, and Grandpa had to get a permit to raise the cottage and move it back, closer to the road to prevent losing it altogether. After Grandpa died, my Aunt Linda bought everyone’s share of the place and turned it into a year-round house. To me, all the charm of that little cottage is gone forever, but I know that under the new drywall are the nails Grandpa hammered into the old studs that once stood bare. The way Grandpa built the place, a labor of love, will live on forever in my mind.
Larry Niven, St. Paul