Who are your cottage guests? People can go through life never really knowing who their friends are. Amnesia aside, I could never buy that. After all, the names of mine are in my little black book. Then I bought my cottage and suddenly new friends began crawling out of the woodwork. In polite circles they are called guests. Implying that they are courteous, finite and most of all, invited. And some are. But others are like fungus. Implying that they show up unexpectedly, take over and never leave.
Cottages are impossible to keep secret. No matter how tight-lipped an owner, inevitably some acquaintance will notice regular weekend absences and put two and two together. Or my sunburned, wind swept demeanour on Monday morning will tip off office co-workers. Or some bean counter will notice earlier Friday afternoon departures. Or a neighbour will finally twig to the van loaded to the springs pulling out of my drive. If not, then the gradual deterioration of the urban house, denied its previously regular-as-clockwork maintenance, will offer mute testimony to the existence of a cottage.
Once the secret is out, the guest grapevine activates. Long lost persons phone out of the blue for no reason. Which may explain why they were lost in the first place. The conversation meanders from non sequitur to meaningless drivel while I try to figure out who this is, until the cottage fact is dropped into it like an anvil. Left with no polite retreat, the inexperienced cottager reluctantly opens the door by suggesting that they should get together sometime. Invariably, caller and family arrive the next weekend.
Experienced owners are alert to unsolicited self-invitations. Call screening, claiming the wrong number, disconnecting in mid-sentence, talking about the quarantine, starting phone sex, trying to sell them something or mentioning the snakes have worked for me.
So does giving incorrect directions. After a fruitless drive to Shining Tree, they usually get the message.
Relatives are a delicate matter, especially the wife’s. Most are very long lost indeed, but rely on that thin blood bond to be found. And they can bring unlimited pressure to bear. Turn down the fifth cousin twice removed on her father’s side and the next thing’s a collect call from some heretofore unknown great aunt complaining about the breakdown of family values and what a snot I am.
The solutions are few: A family reunion weekend each summer coinciding with a major work project or black fly season; total capitulation; changing your name; selling; or being born again. I prefer to keep a list by the phone of more congenial relatives with better cottages. I even mail accurate maps and colour brochures to my unwanted guests.
Many cottagers thrive on socializing, every weekend an endless parade. I have neighbours who don’t know their visitors names, in part because I’ve sent my uninvited guests there. For others, it’s a family cottage, the clan-gathering place. But mine’s a getaway and that means follow the protocol or get away.
Guide for Guests…
Guests should always be invited, preferably not by other guests. Arrivals should check in with the owner instead of just showing up the next morning at breakfast. They should bring unsolicited expensive gifts, more if they have kids and animals. Guests should always work around the place, no matter that they haven’t put up an addition before. They should pay for recreation expenses such as gas, broken props and lost skis, and not complain that it was raining too hard while they were there to use the boat.
Hosts should always be complimented extravagantly and their unending stories applauded with enthusiasm. Guests should have to pass tests for safety and personal hygiene before being allowed to get up early and prepare breakfast for everyone.
When the weekend is over, guests should clean the cottage and depart early, leaving several hundred dollars tucked discreetly under the owner’s (not the wife’s) pillow. This will help deter the owner from thoughts of renting and help defray the cost of those colour brochures.
There should be no tolerance of those who break protocol. Nor of the moochers, hangers-on, interlopers and other gate crashers. Unless they are prepared to resort to bribery, flattery and unashamed grovelling. The wife says it works for me.
She also says that I put too great a price on privacy. I maintain that since you never know who your friends are anyway, they might as well visit someone else.
This article was originally published as part of the syndicated “Intrepid Cottager” column in many Ontario newspapers.