The cottage tradition continues

Shoreline in the evening.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The smoke from the evening campfire rose up and over the cottage my parents had built three decades ago. Stars and planets were beginning to twinkle through the broken canopy of the mixed hardwoods that clung tight to the steep hillside.

Through the thicket down the hill, the lake shimmered with the evening’s last light. All was still except for the crackle of the fire and a few katydids.

We humans broke the spell with inquisitive conversation. The couple with whom my wife and I shared this pleasant woodsy setting was new to the cottage neighborhood. For them, it was a dream come true to own a cottage an hour from home where they could find peace and quiet away from his busy construction work.

The Briar Hill fireplace that is the centerpiece of the cottage.
My father had made it clear that he wanted the cottage to stay in the family after he was gone. To honor that desire more than fulfilling my own dream, my wife and I purchased the cottage the year before my father died in December 2009. It has been a labor of love and restful retreat ever since.

Dad had had cottage fever for a long time. When a small building lot became available 50 years ago on his favorite fishing lake, he bought it for $500. I think he actually had to borrow the money to complete the deal. That’s how passionate Dad was about making his dream come true.

Design and construction of the cottage followed a decade later. Contractors laid the foundation, and built the massive sandstone chimney, which is the cottage’s centerpiece. Its earthy colored stone came from the Briar Hill scrap pile in Glenmont, Ohio.

There was nothing fancy about the cottage in either its style or structure. Basically a 24 by 24 foot square building, our artist mother realized setting the cottage on the lot diamond-like would enhance the view from inside and out. It was a most excellent decision.

Deer often pass close to the cottage.
After it was framed, Dad was determined to finish out the cottage on his own. In other words, he had lots of help from friends, family and hunting and fishing buddies.

Dad was way ahead of his time. He repurposed as much of the building materials as he could in the cottage. That included some white oak lumber he obtained on the cheap, and had planed smooth. It became the porch held up by beams he had salvaged from the old roller coaster at Meyer’s Lake Park in Canton, Ohio.

To Dad’s delight, many family gatherings were held on that porch. The problem was that Dad only saw the cottage as it originally was, not as it really was as it aged.

The porch, for example, began to deteriorate, despite Dad’s patching efforts to keep it repaired. As our families expanded with grandchildren, Dad’s organized gatherings became smaller and as tenuous as the porch itself.

When we bought the cottage and began the remodeling process, the first thing to go was the old porch. Dad wasn’t too happy with me. While he and Mom were still mobile, my wife and I gave them a tour of the refurbished cottage on what was to be Dad’s last Father’s Day.

A view of the cottage from the campfire circle.

Today we use the place as a get away to renew our spirits and connect with nature. Just like Dad, we particularly enjoy hosting others.

Like our new neighbors, we wanted Dad’s cottage dream to continue. Gazing upon that heavenly host of constellations, I think I saw Dad winking his approval.

The campfire circle hosts many enjoyable conversations on summer evenings.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

A Thanksgiving tradition comes to an end

Home by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, the extended Stambaugh family gathered as one at Thanksgiving. Not this year.

When I was a youngster, we had a rip roaring good time on Thanksgiving Day. Usually we celebrated with our cousins, the offspring of my mother and her two sisters. We would assemble at the old farmhouse of Uncle Kenny and Aunt Vivian, who we affectionately called Auntie Bibbles.

It was like Christmas before Christmas. With 17 cousins ranging from teenagers to toddlers, we relished the day together. We would play games inside and out, if the weather cooperated. I’m sure the adults privately prayed that it would.

Marvelous fragrances filled the old farmhouse from the array of good food cooking. The adults chatted while they prepared the savory meal. The family matriarch, Grandma Frith, oversaw all the action in her reserved but proud southern hospitable manner.

We occasionally had to wait on my father to arrive before we ate. Much to my mothers chagrin, Dad loved to hunt rabbits and pheasants on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t the hunting so much as being habitually late that drew Mom’s ire. Of course Dad has his tales to tell.

Once the meal was over and the kitchen and dishes cleaned, the adults joined in the merriment. If I remember correctly, they often raised more clamor than the kids. That’s because they were all good sports and lovingly embraced each other’s company.

Maren and Daryl by Bruce StambaughAs the families grew, the Thanksgiving tradition underwent a logical metamorphosis. Each of the three families began to celebrate the blessed day on their own. Most of the cousins were no longer children, but adults with spouses or significant others of their own. The rambunctious cousins were beginning to bear rambunctious children of their own, too.

My family would gather at the home where we were raised. Somehow we all managed to squeeze in the little brick bungalow. Realizing their place was a bit tight for the growing family, Mom and Dad added on to make more space for holiday gatherings.

Each family chipped in with their specialty dishes to make the feast complete. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie filled the table of plenty.

After the meal, Dad always had to turn on the Thanksgiving Day football game on the TV. No matter what else the assembled masses wanted to do, the game was part of the ritual.

Family gathering by Bruce Stambaugh

Over the years the grandchildren, as they tend to do, grew into teenagers themselves. Today, they are all mature adults, productively contributing to society, using their various skills. Some with children of their own, they are scattered geographically from New York City to Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. to Wooster, Ohio and places in between.

For our family, for the first time for as long as I can remember, there will be no collective Thanksgiving gathering for the Stambaugh side. Our mother died last April, and Dad has been gone since Christmas 2009. I think we all made every effort to meet for them as much as for the meal. Now that need is gone.

Thanksgiving 09 by Bruce Stambaugh

This Thanksgiving the families of my four siblings and mine will each do their own things. We are all right with that. We will embrace this new transition in our lives and be thankful for the day, the memories of the past and those to come.

It just may be our new Thanksgiving tradition.

This column was published in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012