A Cottage Interrupted
5th in a series about "My Newfoundland" - when a forest fire fails to dampen a dream...when a forest forest fails to dampen a dream.
As sweet as it was, the old cabin had seen its best days. It was 1978 when Dad tore it down and built a post and beam modified A-frame. Three small bedrooms, open KIT/LR, and a 1st floor bathroom, but that wasn’t the only excitement that year…
Having graduated college the year before, I’d been teaching music at N.D.A. in Grand Falls. In June Vince made his first visit to Newfoundland…"with a ring in his pocket". (We’d met in college in Rochester, N.Y.) The first time Vince came to Badger Lake the new cottage was under construction.
The following summer, after we'd been married in Binghamton in October, we returned to Newfoundland. You’ve heard of singing for your supper? That summer Vince pumped water. There was a tank upstairs in the new cottage and Vince did more than his share of pumping enough water into it to keep the taps flowing.
There was no electric connection, nor in any of the other cottages in the area, but with propane-powered hot water heater, lights, stove and refrigerator, we had everything we needed. That said, it wasn’t long we replaced that water pump system.
Dad also rigged up a generator for a few hours of electricity each evening, for sake of better lighting and a few curling irons. Last thing each night one of the guys would wait until everyone else was tucked into bed. They’d go out back to turn off the noisy generator, then run like a bat out of hell back into the cottage. If they were fast enough they’d jump into their bed just as the generator coughed and the lights flickered out. Then we’d all call out our “Good night!” to each other, Walton style, and somebody would say something to make us all laugh.
The cottage faced south - perfect for soaking up too much sun by day, brilliant sunsets by evening, and the moon by night. Down on the pebble beach were a basic dock, a wooden swing and a fire pit.
The knotty pine interior smelled like the forest. Across from the tall stone fireplace was a couch with an afghan that I’d crocheted – my one and only such project. A remarkable antique walnut rocking chair, with one solid piece of rounded wood serving as both arms and back, sat near the bay window. It had come from Mom’s family.
Mom added a few touches of red to the cottage, including polka dot kitchen wallpaper. Over the kitchen's V-shaped bar hung six plates that she'd made, one for each of us, with our name and a representation of us in red gingham. Aunt Frances had sent the patterns from Rochester.
One of my favorite memories is when Vince was screeched in in '79. It's a Newfoundland tradition in which a "Come From Away" becomes an honorary Newfoundlander. Don Murphy did the honors and Vince completed his tasks, including "kissing the cod", in fine style!
A few years later my parents were thrilled to welcome Frank to Badger Lake. On the sill of the bay window sat a tiny set of "clothespin furniture" that Aunt Lorraine had sent. One day Frank climbed up onto the sill and sat on one of the chairs. He couldn't understand when it fell all to pieces - a forever moment, for sure!
Frank was the only grandchild to ever visit that cottage. It burned down in 1986 from a forest fire that had started from the spark of a passing train. Forest fires are fairly common in Newfoundland and Labrador, but no fires of this magnitude had ever happened in the north central part of the island. It spread from twenty miles away, near Grand Falls-Windsor, to Badger Lake, and it took out twenty cottages, as well as Catamaran Park.
Mom and Dad had been vacationing in Barbados when they actually heard about the fire on the radio. "A Fire at Badger Lake, Newfoundland. Cottages Burned. " Dad always said that if he hadn’t been so far away he would’ve been up there to save the cottage. Perhaps he would've at least saved the boat. Everything was lost. But as Mom always used to say, "What will be, will be."
What Dad did save was everybody’s enthusiasm for their cottages. He and Mom committed to rebuilding before the smoldering had even ceased. He was not letting go of his happy place just because of a forest fire. Mom and Dad's positive attitude, then and at other times, have had a lasting effect on the four of us.
The following year brought a bumper crop of blueberries on the charred land and everybody planted pine saplings by the hundreds. Hope returned sooner than we would've expected as one by one the neighbors decided to rebuild. Before long Catamaran Park was up and running again and today it's better than ever. The saplings have grown into tall trees. Thirty four years later, there remain few clues that there'd ever been a fire.
Looking back at the cottage we lost, there are only three things that I was upset about losing – the afghan, the plates and the rocking chair., but things have a way of working out. Vince’s mother, Teresa, crocheted a second afghan for my parents, almost identical to the one I’d made. Mom made a new set of gingham plates. And the only item that truly couldn’t be replaced was the rocking chair. At least all six of us remember that chair, so in my mind it's not really gone.
As for missing the actual cottage, not at all. Not only was the new one built on the same foundation – it was identical to the first, except for an eventual addition on one side. In fact it was so much the same as the first, with the knotty pine and similar kitchen wallpaper, that there were times we actually forgot it was new.
During my trip home in '87 I remarked about the new refrigerator, forgetting for that moment that EVERYTHING was new. And Jackie had made a similar comment about the new red wallpaper in the kitchen. In some ways our memories of the old cottage have melded with the new.
2019 marked fifty years since we’d first headed to Badger Lake. It’s where we camped in an old Airstream and summered in three cottages on the same point of land. But more than anything else it’s where the Kenny’s most enjoy each other.
Here's to the U.S.A.- Canada border opening soon. I need a little bit of Badger Lake!
Visit Josette's webpage at https://www.josetteabruzzini.com/ ,
Read her other "My Newfoundland" blog posts at https://www.josetteabruzzini.com/blog-1 ,
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Thanks for reading!
Twice a teacher and always a writer, Josette Kenny Abruzzini is a native Newfoundlander and a current Pennsylvanian. As a child she wrote letters to her favorite aunts. As a teacher she enjoyed writing report card comments and letters to parents. In time she realized her love for writing about Newfoundland and anything else that caught her curious eye.