Somewhere Up North there is a neighborhood of Victorian summer cottages. It is nestled next to a large body of water, maybe a Great Lake, maybe the Atlantic. The cottages sit on the slope like seashells, encrusted with gingerbread and painted dainty pastel colors. They are surrounded by fast-growing perennials to take advantage of the short but blissful summer up there–lupins, hostas, bleeding heart. Each house has a name painted on a plaque on the front door, or on the front gate. One of these houses is yours.
None of the houses are meant for year-round occupation, so they aren’t insulated. Inside you can see the studs of the walls, and between the studs, boards. You can see the ceiling trestles. Maybe you can see through cracks in the floor. The cottage is full of french doors that let you rush out onto the wide double-decker porches, full of transoms that connect the rooms, full of wooden slat shutters for pretend-privacy. This isn’t a house that holds you tight and shelters you, it’s a summer house that leaves you as delightfully exposed to the elements as your light summer underwear. It is a house for people who are craving sunshine and air.
Inside, the walls are painted creamy white, the walls are painted soft sage green, the walls are painted cheerful yellow. Inside is wicker and iron furniture with cushions that won’t be damaged by the cold, unoccupied months. Inside are ceiling fans, always gently turning, turning, turning. Inside are tinny fairy lights and laughter, punched-tin pie safes, blue canning jars full of precious summer produce, and worn quilts made in the Orange Slice pattern, the Wedding Ring pattern, appliqued with flowers–quilts that someone patient and quiet sewed her quiet patience into a long, long time ago. Inside, a claw-foot tub is nestled under a steep eave, in a room with an old nail for a latch.
Outside are the huge porches, ten feet or twelve deep. They have floors and ceilings painted in soft aquarium shades, aqua, faded turquoise, celadon. They have more wicker and iron furniture with more impervious cushions. They give a sense of optional enclosure with the wrong-side of the white gingerbread, with columns, and with (rusty) ceiling fans and (bug-filled) light fixtures. On these porches ladies languidly wilt in the afternoon, and mint juleps and lemonade are served on the hour. Young people in wet swimming costumes rush through these porches, but the adults live their summers there, sipping cold drinks and talking to other summer residents passing by.
The houses have lots of visitors, relatives and friends who finally managed to make it all the way up here, and who are taking a day-trip to this island and a hike along this part of the distant woods and an afternoon excursion into town to buy fudge and tchotchkes. Perhaps the visitors say they wish that they could have a darling summer cottage just the same. Perhaps they’re really glad they can just visit. Or perhaps they really wish they had the time.