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Diary of an Inheritance

(This begins an account of inheriting a cottage in the Québec woods.  Well, we call it a “cottage”... others would describe it as a very run-down “shack.”)

July, 2001

When my mother died, she left a large portion of cottage land to her four offspring.  This is the cottage we had all enjoyed as children – and continued to enjoy as adults with familes of our own – but now responsibility for it has devolved to us.  One of my sisters, Janice, has another property on the same lake, so she wanted to be bought out of her share of the inheritance.  This being done, the three remaining siblings have each agreed upon a piece of the land to be held exclusively by our individual families.

The inheritance is on a small lake in the Province of Québec, about 2300 kilometers away from our Winnipeg home, so, for Heather and me, getting there has to be a just-once-a-year event.  Worse, the part which I received has a cottage on it which has seen much better days.

My mother lived in it during the latter part of her life.  She would go up to the lake in late Spring, and stay there until September or October every year.  She never minded that it was extremely primitive, with electricity and a phone but no running water and an outdoor biffy.  Several times a day Mom would carry water up from the lake for washing and drinking (boil before drinking, please).  Mom was last here in 1994 or 1995, and her mind was failing.  The place has not been occupied, or attended to, since.

Tim (my brother) and Dawn (my sister) have gone to the lake every year (using different buildings, not Mom’s), and had reported to me that the one I have now inherited was leaking, and that there are places where the foundation needs shoring up, so Heather and I knew when we decided to come here this year, that it would be a “working vacation.”

Day 1

Saturday, July 7, 2001

We arrived about two o’clock this afternoon, loaded our stuff into the boat, and rowed across to see for the first time what awaited us.

It was almost worse than we had expected.  It was dingy, and dark, with lots of evidence of mice (nests in the drawers, droppings on all shelves, and a smell!).  The floor has buckles in it, and the roofing has curled, grown moss, and was covered in fallen branches.

Heather started in to clean.Garbage at the cottage door

Soon a pile of rotten and destroyed garbage was piling up outside the door.  I carried things for her, and tore apart – with crowbar and hammer – some rickety built-in shelves which had served as a food preparation area, but which was dirty, mouse-chewed, and awkward to use.

To prevent rain from dripping inside the house (I should call it a “shack,” but I don’t, and won’t) I had brought a large sheet of plastic to lay over the roof until I could get new roofing bought.  A light drizzle was starting, so up on the roof I went – nearly breaking my neck as the fifty-year old wooden ladder collapsed beneath my weight.  A small tree had fallen across the roof, so I used that to climb up, swept twigs and leaves away, and laid out the plastic, weighing it down with rocks.

Down below once more, I bagged the stuff which would have to be carried to the dump (there are already about nine huge bags out there, and a large pile of flattened cardboard boxes).  Heather wants to know why, if we have thrown out so many bags, there is still so much junk in the place!??

We had bought an inflatable plastic double bed mattress (mice wouldn’t nest in that, we figured!) so I put air in it, then I repaired the wooden dresser drawers that Heather had emptied, and then vacuumed much of the place.

Now it is after eleven p.m. and we’re both pretty exhausted, but can probably sleep.  Indeed, maybe we’ll sleep quite deeply!

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Day 2

Sunday, July 8, 2001

We need a better boat... real soon!

What we have is a six foot plastic dinghy.  Mom got it when she was approaching the age of seventy, and needed something she could haul out of the water without assistance at the end of the season.  This little red thing, dubbed the “Fisher-Price Boat” (after the brand of brightly coloured plastic children’s toys) is certainly light enough for one old lady to heave in and out of the water, but is perilously unstable for routine transportation and hauling.A 'Fisher-Price Boat'

And routine transportation and hauling is what we are committed to.  All those bags of garbage have to be loaded on board, rowed across to where the car is parked, then driven to the garbage pick-up point (later, when we turf the flea-bitten sofa, and the derilict fridge, we’ll probably have to haul them directly to the dump!).

Today being Sunday, we chose to go to church – the exquisite little stone church on a hill, known as Holy Trinity, Hawkesbury, which we have attended for years, whenever we have visited the cottage.  The trip to church involves putting on non-cottage clothing, getting into the boat, rowing across the lake, then driving for about half an hour along Québec country roads and across the Ottawa river to the town of Hawkesbury.

Church today was lovely, but on our way back the Fisher Price Boat dumped Heather into the water.

Other factors had made the trip problematic, even before Heather dipped below the waves.

You see, Socrates hates the Fisher Price Boat.  Will not go in it.  Not at all.  No thanks.

Problem is (as you may have noticed) this cottage is only accessible by water.  If the dog wants to leave with us, he has to go in the boat.  And he certainly wants to leave with us! He doesn’t know that church is only a day-trip.  If we were to leave him locked in the cottage, he will make the entire lake ring with his forlorn wailing, the entire time we’re gone.  In fact, after such an imprisonment, on our return we might also find he’d emptied his bowels and his bladder several times.  As if we don’t have enough cleaning already???

So, dressed for church, and with one or two bags of garbage loaded, we told Socrates to get in the boat.  I had to catch him as he high-tailed it into the bush.  However, even though caught, he was determined the Fisher Price Boat was not for him, so he resorted to what I call “flumping.” All four legs splay outward, and he becomes as limp and as heavy as possible – like a protester being hauled to the police van.  He does this all the time at the vet’s.  So, rather like a riot control officer, I muttered: “You want to hauled, hauled you will be...” and dragged him through the twigs and leaves of the forest floor back to the dock.  His front paws became a type of snowplow until by the time we reached the boat the mound of leaves before him was larger than he was, and the whole thing – man and dog and leaves – collapsed together into the boat.

We went to church trailing leaves.

On our return to the lake, we parked the car and prepared to board the hated boat.  There were still leaves and some water in it from the loading process.  We were tired.  Heather decided to get in first.  She thought I was holding the boat, and stepped off the dock.  The boat moved away, Heather still holding the dock for balance.  It moved farther, and she became suspended face down over the water.  Her weight, at the foot end, was on one one corner of the boat, so the other corner began to rise.  Her corner went down, the boat began to ship water, while sliding further from the dock.  Heather’s face and body inched downward – she making it worse by simultaneously shouting for me and laughing till her sides split.  So nothing could stop the slow progress toward the deep.  I tried rescue, and almost went in too, the contents of my pockets – including cellphone – toppling with Heather into the drink while I was suspended somewhat upside down.

Fisher Price Boats don’t sink, they bob about happily, and are quite unstable when rotund landlubbers try to get in and out.  When we were level, and had bailed, I dragged the dog in, and all dripping we rowed back to our ready-for-work cottage.

Did I mention that the cottage has no running water? I discovered yesterday that in her last years here, Mom had installed an electric pump.  However, after hanging out Heather’s clothes, I spent the afternoon trying to get this pump to go – without success.  So I guess I was right: we don’t have running water.

So, I swept out the outhouse, repaired a window attachment on the cottage so the thing could open and let in some fresh air, and had a Sunday afternoon nap.

We will go to Montreal tomorrow – with the dog, in the Fisher Price Boat – and among other things, I will price full sized aluminum boats.

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Day 3

Monday, July 9, 2001

We went to Montreal alright, but without the dog.  We tried leaving him locked in the cottage, and it seems better all around.  When we got back late at night in a thunderstorm, he was totally glad to see us and not a bit the worse for wear.  Nor was there anything unseemly on the floors.

We are now committed to this cottage – not only emotionally, but financially.  We spent the day in IKEA and came back with kitchen cabinets, shelving, waste baskets, area rugs, slip covers, and much more.

As well, we visited and had supper with Heather’s brother Ross and his family in Montreal.  He, too, has a cottage on our lake, and has offered to lend me his “real” boat – such a relief.  He also told me where to get the roofing materials, and volunteered to come up and help with the work next weekend.  Things are looking up.

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Continued.... click here for next segment.