For years – even decades – our family tradition had always been to close the cottage at the end of the long Thanksgiving weekend. It was a sensible approach. Autumn was in full swing. The cooler weather had moved in, and there were only a few short weeks until – as the great Gordon Lightfoot might have put it – “the gales of November came slashin’.” But in recent years we’ve been waiting a few extra weeks and closing up the cottage at the end of October, or sometimes even into the first week or so of November. Why the change?
There are a few reasons for the shift. First of all, Thanksgiving. Let me give you a snapshot of our Thanksgiving weekend, or as I sometimes refer to it, “Thanksgluttony” weekend. First of all, like Christmas, Thanksgiving is a mandatory-attendance holiday family gathering. So, at our modest Georgian Bay cottage, the masses assemble, including my wife and me, along with our two sons, my twin brother and his wife and their son and daughter – and sometimes her spouse, too, and my sister and her husband, accompanied by their three daughters – two of whom bring spouses. It’s taken a few minutes to do my calculations, but I believe that means there can be up to 16 human beings crammed into our cottage for the weekend. No worries about cool temperatures outside, with that many bodies in such close quarters, it feels like a subtropical rain forest inside.
Sleeping bags are rolled out on any flat surface – and not just the couches. In fact, if you’ve ever sat on one of our cottage couches, you might well decide that the floor offers a better night’s sleep. We do have a bunkie and a boathouse that accommodate a few intrepid sleepers, but still, Thanksgiving weekend at the cottage can sometimes feel like you’re living in a Tokyo commuter train at rush hour. The bottom line is, while we do have enough people to make the list of close-up tasks light work, there is the problem of Thanksgiving dinner and its aftermath to consider.
You see, the Thanksgiving feast always includes pumpkin muffins, a 20-plus-lb. bacon-covered turkey, mashed potatoes, turnip, peas, gravy (lots of gravy), pumpkin pie, and finally, a second dessert for those who can’t bear the thought of pumpkin pie. (Yes, I’m part of that demographic.) It’s the meal many in our clan look forward to more than any other across the year.
So, here’s the problem. By Saturday evening, everyone is either deep in a turkey coma, or stretched out on beds, couches, floors, and even the fireplace hearth moaning in bloated agony as they try to digest the massive meal they’ve just over-eaten. Believe me, it is not the time to pipe up cheerily with the suggestion that we put the canoe in the boathouse, or install the window shutters, or get the motorboat ready to take to the marina for winter storage. In fact, the paltry task of washing the Thanksgiving dinner dishes nearly defeats us every year, so moving on to cottage close-up jobs is just not in the cards.
Then the voice of reason is heard. Our older son Calder loves the cottage and some years ago proposed the new tradition of delaying close-up for a few weeks to give everyone a couple of additional weekends of bliss on the bay. It’s much quieter later in the month as most of the jet skis on the bay have been put away for the season. And often, the weather is lovely, and the fall colours are breathtaking. So once again this year, we stuffed the turkey and then ourselves at the cottage over the Thanksgiving weekend, and then postponed the close-up for a bit longer, to grab every last moment at the family retreat that our grandfather built nearly 60 years ago. Sometimes you just need to change up certain family traditions.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of nine national bestsellers, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His most recent, A New Season, is now in bookstores.