Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The "New" Place

There are messes and there are MESSES.

When we received reports from Winona Lake, that the cottage foundation had fallen into the crawl space, that ‘everything’ inside was moving (???)!, that the kitchen cabinets fell off the wall and could be removed with one hand….well, we each cruised into our individual crisis mode.

Mike started calculating, questioning insurance people and handy people, scribbling on still-useful yellow legal tablets. He ran to our local library and grabbed books on home structure and repair. He quizzed our multi-talented nephew, the man who had uncovered 12 inches of steaming water between the ‘floor’ and the ‘earth,’ on our property. Mostly, he sat and sagged. His cottage, his place of refuge, was literally underwater. What would be the cost to repair it? Might it just be time to admit defeat and level the place? That would mean that with each board and brick, a little piece of heart would tear away.

My way of coping: blanket-over-the-head. Go away: I’m not coming out. YOU decide. YOU figure it out. I’ll vote yes. I promise. Really, this kind of retreat works for me when the task is just too gigantic for my little brain to handle.

So, when the prices for this and that started to crystalize, I voted “Whatever you say.” And he said, “Maybe it’s time to tear it down.” Mike is never one to waste money. Always in his head is that he’s leaving me to fend for myself. He wants to make double, triple, quadruple sure that I will be OK.

By the way, I KNOW that I will be OK, financially as well as in many other ways because of the man to whom I am married. He takes good care of me. He has taken steps to take good care of me for the rest of my life.

Should our life progress as we expect, I will spend some of the rest of my life alone. I will be thrust into a position where I have to make decisions without his input. I’ve read that the first year of widow hood can be fraught with stresses from the need to make these moves. I can certainly understand that stress can mess with your mind.

When Mike was first diagnosed, he had been in the hospital for a week, recuperating from the surgery that we had hoped would give good news. It did not. But it was time to pack up and drive back to Kokomo. I made a trip to my car with stuff. I went back to his room for more stuff. I returned to find all four doors and the hatch open to my Caliber. I remember standing there, staring at my car. It sunk in, with a thud, that I had left those doors open but that I had no recollection of doing so. The drive home was also a challenge as my brain would begin to drift and all of a sudden, I was looking at some flashing tail lights in front of me.

Lesson: be extra careful when under heavy stress.

And how can you be careful when you are under a time constraint to do something? No wonder widows get shaky.

Well, MY careful husband (with me) has put in place 4 champions, men who we trust to give good advice. Whatever I must do in the future, I can reach out to any of these guys, ask his advice, and follow it without question.

What a gift to me! No need for my blanket approach.

Back to the cottage. We got the call from Mr. Insurance. We got the call from the contractor. We did the math. We would have to pay for some of the repairs. Again, the hub became all blue and concerned that this was a waste of money.

But here’s the thing: back (again) when we first dealt with end-of-life, one of my coping mechanisms was to plan for Mike to enjoy some of the money he had worked so hard to earn. I was planning elaborate trips to faraway places so he could see the sights…The Coliseum, Louvre, Parthenon, Michelangelo’s David. It was a futile game: he was still weak from the surgery. Also, as he kept telling me, and keeps telling me, those places have lost their appeal. I mean, he’s headed for Heaven. And suddenly, snuggling, short walks, visits with friends replaced any desire to travel.

So when we sat down with the financial realities, I saw that THIS was a chance for Mike to get some enjoyment out of the years of hard work. We signed what needed to be signed and the work commenced.

How does one ‘fix’ the foundation of an old cottage when all the floor joists are rotten? I have no idea. How does one scrub away mildew and mold, clean up all the furniture, bedding and clothes hanging in closets? No clue. How does one attack a kitchen with custom-made cabinet fronts (Mike’s project in December 2009) where the main cabinets are now lying in wet earth? Oh sweet mysteries of life!

We heard that there had been a flurry of activity: scrubbers, construction crews, painters, plumbers, dumpsters and trucks descended on our quiet corner on the island. We waited until they were done. We arrived last Saturday.

Mike got right out of the truck and ran inside. Me? I needed a few moments, deep breaths and all, before I took it in.

What can I say? WOW. WOW OH WOW!

If I were sentimental, I might miss some of the quaint things that we had gotten used to: that funky dip in the floor by the kitchen; the kitchen drawers that got stuck until they were unusable; the creaking cabinets in the laundry room with the sagging shelves; the growing tally of windows that no longer ‘worked well.’

No nostalgia: we’re settling in to a place where all the kitchen drawers open and close and open again. We replaced that crummy laundry cabinet with some neato stainless steel shelves. New carpet; new tile; same gorgeous view.

This is spring break for me so we’ll be here most of the week. And then, we’ll look forward to another summer in our little place of peace.


  1. Someday that cottage may give you more comfort than you can ever imagine. When the person you planned to spend your entire life with is no longer there, you need something as a life preserver. Vacations are nice but having a nice place to escape is needed at times.

  2. These pictures should be in Cottage Beautiful!

  3. I concur - oh, Wow! oh Wow! oh Wow! It is so beautiful.... love you both, janis

  4. So happy the cottage got put back together so quickly, it looks great! And the infamous couch made it through, I am sure many a nap will be taken on that this year. Looking forward to hearing about your adventures this summer.

  5. Delighted from California!