To Fetch a Pail of Water

It was snowing when we opened the cottage on the long weekend in May.  Now, while it was not exactly snowing when we came to close the place, it was far from warm summer weather.  Things were so busy at home, that I grabbed my dad and a couple of dogs to head up to the lake mid-week, driving through the beautiful colours of a spectacular autumn day.  We looked forward to this visit.  It would be a great bonding time for father and son, and we wondered when, if ever, we had been to the cottage together like this, just the two of us.

It was cold.  We awoke the first morning to see our breath.   A heavy mist rose from the lake, and the dock was covered by a thick, white frost.  We had already dissembled the pump, so I wandered down to get a bucket of water for the breakfast dishes.  My dad’s footprints were clearly etched on the frozen pier boards where he had grabbed a pot of water for morning coffee.  It made a beautiful photo, the swirling fog, the white frost on the dock and boat, footprints of dad and dogs, and the distant beams of light from a sun trying to poke through to lend a little warmth to the scene.


Our cottage is a little remote, so we tend to close up the cabin like a fortress.  Our main intention is to protect the place against intruders, from vandals, but more so from furry trespassers.  We bolt heavy wire mesh on all of the windows.  Seldom have we had much trouble with the cabin from people.  The mice and squirrels have at times left a mess in the interior, as they have enjoyed the run of the place through the cold months.  Over time we have learned how to close the place to minimize the damage.

We secured the cabin, packed up any food stuff that remained from our summer visits, put anything that might freeze over winter away in our bunker below frost line, and stowed all the bedding and towels that the mice might find inviting into secure closets.  We worked our way through our closing checklist, and by evening had pretty much everything done.

We had a nice steak dinner, and dad and I talked about all the great years we had enjoyed in this place.  We reminisced about the adventures and the misadventures, the lessons learned, the fun times and the growing up that we had done here.  After dinner, I settled down at the table to work on this narrative, it was my last column of the season, and I was unsure what to write.

“Can’t help you there,” says my dad, and then disappears outside to grab a kettle full of water for cleanup.

I work away, writing down little notes and trying to find some inspiration.  I was unaware that while I was agonizing over a storyline for some time, my dad was outside doing his best to supply it.

The two huskies had wandered down with him and watched from the end of the dock as he leaned over to scoop some water.  It was dark and the water was smooth and black, it was hard to tell where night air ended and cold lake water began.  The dogs watched him tumble into the water and splash around trying to find his footing and to struggle back to dry land. In the movies they would have raced up to fetch me, offered up a bark of danger, a yelp that said,  “Put your pen down stupid, the old guy is in trouble!”

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When the door of the cabin swung open and he stood there dripping on the stoop, this was the point that seemed to disconcert him the most.  (Well, besides the fact that he realized immediately that his exploits would be in the paper in a week).  “They just stared down at me,” he complained, “ I’m sure wondering what I was up to.  They stood there side by side with their heads cocked to the side and an inquisitive expression on their faces.  When I got out, they ran away scared, like I was the creature from the black lagoon.

That made me laugh – he looked a little like that.  His sweatshirt was soaked, stretched long and dripping.  His hair was in a soggy state of disarray.  His shoes squelched as he walked, and he left a long trail of water behind, like swamp ooze.  He shivered uncontrollably, but tried to tell me that the water was actually quite beautiful.

“I’m not going for a swim dad.”

“No, it felt surprisingly nice, and I feel clean.”

I think it is great when you feel so good when you should really feel ridiculous – but I don’t tell him, of course.  After all, he is my dad.  Besides, it kind of scares me.  What if he had hit his head and drowned?  What would I tell my mom?  “Sorry, but I had to leave dad in the lake, he was too water-logged for me to lift.”  Would I ever get a lecture.  “See,” she would probably tell me.  “I knew your lack of enthusiasm for doing the dishes would someday lead to trouble.”

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It will be another cottage tale.  It will be a story made better over time.  Someday I will be closing the place with my son.  How special is that?  I’ll grab a bucket and head out in the evening for some water.  I will pause on the front porch, remembering adventures from days past – then I will slip on a lifejacket and head for the dock.