The House that Built Me.

June 16th, 2016, 1am

Out here its like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself - Miranda Lambert, The House that Built Me

Every summer my immediate family and I would get on a plane and fly the 2000 odd miles to my families cottage in Gananoque Ontario. It was my grandparent’s cottage technically, but it was always my family’s cottage. My great-great Grandfather built the cottage and every year since it was built, over 130 years ago, my family would load up the boat with everything they would need for the summer and go to the island for the next 4-6 months. My great-grandmother spent her summers there from the time she was a baby to the time she died, my grandma spent every summer there from the time she was a baby until she was 82, my mom spent every summer there and so did I. Up until we had to sell it. My grandparents were getting old and they couldn’t put the work in anymore, my parents, brothers and I lived too far away to look after it, and all her sisters were unable to put the effort in, so it was sold. 130 years of family history and memories sold to the next door neighbours who were slowly but surely, buying up the entire island.

When you walk in you feel like you have transported back in time. You went from the 21st century on the mainland to the later half of the 19th century. The doors looked like they were taken out of a prairie farmhouse, there was a cast iron wood burning stove in the living room which was the only heat source in the building. Every piece of furniture was from the later part of 19th century and there were little things that were from that time period. I once found an old ice pick that they would use in an icebox that would be out in the yard. I would say that you could stand in the entryway and watch a bug fly in the cottage between two boards in the living room and see it fly through the cottage then out the other side.

I wasn’t the same person at the cottage as I was back in Saskatoon. There I was a kid, I wasn’t a kid with medical problems and a physical disability, I was just a kid. I wasn’t underestimated, I was expected to put in the same work as everyone else. If it was a painting year, I was painting, if the plumbing got backed up, I helped unclog the pipes, I helped clean up the seaweed off the beach. This was the place where I did things for the first time, here I learned to swim (my version of swimming but still) I learned to drive a boat and use power tools. My mom would let me go off on my own because she knew that I knew the island better than I knew my own neighbourhood, she wouldn’t let me do that at home.

It was here that I learned to be stubborn and tough. I watched as my family turned their lives upside down to make sure that I could expierience the family tradition that makes us who we are. I was on 24-hour oxygen and we brought over all my medical equipment because we are all stupidly stubborn. I watched as my dad rewired the upstairs bedroom because my medical equipment would blow the fuses when we could plug them in. I would come home covered in scars and bruises because I was determined to do what my cousins were doing. It toughened me up the cottage helped create the most distinct part of my personality.

While it taught me what it means to put in work, and what it meant to be stubborn and tough; it also taught me what family means. We would work, swim and get into trouble for the majority of the afternoon and once the sun would start to set and we would settle down into hanging out on the front porch that was famous for its views of thunderstorms, we have dinner around a table that has seen thousands of family dinners over the years. We would laugh, eat and drink (and in my family that meant alcohol).

I would only see my extended family when we came out to Ontario in the summer so the cottage would go from a home to party central, and my grandmother just loved it. We would dig up every extended family member in a 50 km or more radius and we would have a party. It would be huge there would be close to 30 people on our property, each one commenting on how big I’ve gotten and how much I look like mom. If they got the chance to talk to me they would change “look like your mom” to “you’re so much like your grandma”.

This really was the house that built me. Just about everything I am, came from what I experienced here. I took so much more than a memory from the house that built me.

Victoria said thanks.

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Mariah Hillis

History buff living with chronic health problems. Lives life to the fullest, and dreams the biggest dreams, despite not being able to breathe in her sleep.

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