By Mary Lowengard
Readers, I returned.
Not to my own cottage, now occupied by others since its early November 2019 sale. But I have made use of “Mary’s Room” at Gene and Dani’s Mountrose cottage several times. First was a quick trip to unearth my ski clothes, buried in one of the three storage units where I’d dumped my earthly possessions in my haste to get out of Dodge. Three units in Pennsylvania were cheaper than one in New York, that is until you add in the 180-mile roundtrip plus George Washington Bridge tolls to retrieve things.
In mid-January 2020 I returned to mentor a cottager in the Fine Art of Throwing a Community Pot Luck Supper. Then it was a long gap of nine months, till late September, when I arrived to empty my storage units, with plans to transfer the contents to another in Hartford. In between, the pandemic had changed the face of Bucknoll, from a weekender-mostly community into one teeming with families who made it their refuge, their lifeboat, away from the coronavirus scourge.
Then, last month, I showed up for a proper stay of the house-sitting variety, two whole weeks, to include tennis and some light socializing that the previous visit hadn’t permitted.
The more things change, the more they . . . change. And lots had changed in Bucknoll. For starters, my beloved backroad route was blocked off. I didn’t discover this shortcut until I’d been in residence for a year, from then on vastly preferring it even though it did include several curves that I’d swerve my way through, the cat’s increasingly terrified yowls accompanying E-Street Radio set to volume 11. Often, and always before I had time to pull over, she’d empty the contents of her stomach into one or the other rear-seat side footwells.
In lieu of the cat, I brought my tree-hating sister along for entertainment. There was no opportunity to test the strength of her stomach because the “regular” route to Bucknoll is relatively straightforward.
The Best Little House Sitter North of Texas
I had every hope to be the best houseguest-slash-house sitter ever, an ambition that was dashed the very first night when we decided to roast some vegetables in Dani’s oven and it wouldn’t turn off no matter how many times I pounded the button. Worried that we’d burn down one of Bucknoll’s remaining original cottages, and definitely its most charming, I made my way to the basement and threw the circuit breaker. Brilliant, I thought, but when I flipped the switch back on five minutes later the oven started up again.
I eventually tricked the oven into shutting down by enabling the auto-cook feature, setting the “off” time to a few minutes hence. That worked, and for the rest of my stay I decided to leave well enough alone and favor instead the fancy-schmancy toaster oven and microwave for heated food-preparation purposes.
That was just the beginning, however. The theme of the vacation appeared to be “Move slowly and break things.” We left behind a shattered butter dish (butterfingers, literally—it just slipped out of my sister’s grasp) and a busted bedroom window, and also had some doubts about the dishwasher when we tried to start it mid-cycle on our way out.
Ah, the window. One of the unique features that distinguish Mountrose are its original casement windows—you know, the kind that are hinged on one side and crank open outward to allow for full open-air ventilation. Well, one pane broke. I had no idea how. It seemed fine one day, and the next, there I was picking shards of glass out of the frame. I investigated repairing it, calling the local window-repair establishment, where I was informed by an off-putting message that they were basically not interested in my penny-ante business. I then found a more willing service farther on up the road, in Stroudsburg. Because the sash was so charmingly original but badly rotted, the quote was $450. Penny-ante, ha!
I managed an in-a-pinch temporary repair until I could decide what to do next. This involved a piece of window-pane-sized glass, taken from a cheap certificate frame purchased at the local dollar store (for a dollar, in fact!), affixed to the broken pane with clear duct tape. I did such a good job repairing it, I wrote out the certificate to myself and left it on Gene’s bureau. I signed it, “The Vinder Viper.” You know, the guy who comes to vipe yer vinders.
Then, I ‘fessed up in a remorse-filled email to Dani, who replied soon enough that the window had already been broken, not to worry. Shades of the Guy de Maupassant short story we read (in French) in high school, “La Parure,” about a woman who lent an expensive necklace to a friend. Okay, maybe you had to be there.
The Roads Less Traveled Now
Another Bucknoll change, one that also meant unexpected rerouting, included the 100-plus-year-old Hunter’s Notch Bridge, a classic vernacular stone-arch bridge that is a convenient and direct means to travel between “upper” and “lower” Bucknoll. (Note: This is geography, not social class.) A large sign stopped me in my tracks as I attempted to drive across the bridge unaware that it had been closed to all but foot and golf-cart traffic in my absence.
My sister and I were on the way to a drinks party, dilatory of course, and then had to find how to get where we were going without the advantage of the straight path-over-the-bridge route. This involved the adventure of two wrong turns and driving down a one-way road. The wrong way. I began to worry I might need Waze to navigate my former home turf.
Water, Water Everywhere
The morning after we arrived, the rains began. And three days later, with it still raining outside, we were notified that a water-main break necessitated a boil-water emergency order. So there we were, trapped in a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. But who shot the ALBATROSS? Not Marley or Clapton, we were pretty sure.
Twelve hours into our projected 72-hour water emergency, we had had it with the boiled-water routine and made a pilgrimage to Family Dollar to purchase four gallons of pure unadulterated H2O. In lieu of Scrabble, we entertained ourselves by reading all about what might happen to us if we happened to drink, cook with, wash our faces in or otherwise come in close personal contact with the condemned water.
In Alberta, Canada, apparently, it’s okay to shower, but not so in Columbia, South Carolina. We crammed everything we could into the dishwasher because all advice agreed that, if run on high and using the full cycle, we wouldn’t die from dishwasher-washed plates and flatware.
We piled up the dishes and pots that we couldn’t risk putting in the dishwasher and started peering anxiously out the window, watching for the Bucknoll Water Company’s own Paul Revere to come galloping through the streets announcing it was safe to go back to drinking the water again. (In fact, it was a wisp of a boy in gumboots; he knocked politely on the porch door and left a flyer.)
Right when we thought it couldn’t possibly rain any more, it did. Had this been winter, we would have been snowed in for weeks. One morning I was sitting in the kitchen and checked the weather.com forecast. It promised just a 35 percent chance of rain at 10am, and there it was, pouring out, at 10am. My sister swears by Weather Underground; she is convinced it is the logical evolution of the student radical group of the 1960s, and the URL (wunderground.com) makes her laugh no matter what the forecast. Happily, Gene and Dani’s house was snugly watertight. I would have been on strategic bucket-placement duty back at my old place.
Finally, on Thursday we got both the all-clear whistle and a bit of the sun poking out. When it rains, it pours. And when it stops, it’s glorious. I sped off to make up for four days of lost tennis practice.
Back in the Bucknoll Saddle
On Friday, the familiar cacophony of the trash truck rolling through the neighborhood reminded me of all the times I’d dashed down to the basement to pull out my garbage cans just in time for the collection.
For entertainment, we debated for the briefest moment heading out to the Pocono Rodeo for the evening’s entertainment, then rejected the idea as requiring too much effort. Ditto for attending any of the now-storied Bucknoll Yoga classes. Lazy kin! We did manage to get out to visit a neighbor who showed off her new plunge pool, a thing of wonder and something deserving a place on my own woulda shoulda coulda list, if only I woulda realized such a thing existed.
The balance of our house-sitting holiday went smoothly. We checked out the community vegetable garden, and found Gene and Dani’s plot overtaken by Dino kale and rhubarb gone wild. Too bad we’re not fans. We watched to see who had stickered their cars on the right side and who stuck them on the left. And we mooched laundry facilities from hospitable friends, including one who was heading off the next day to Block Island for, yes, a holiday from her holiday in Bucknoll.
The deer were out in droves, easy to spot and bringing the promise of ticks less readily spotted (no pun intended). We thought we found a carpenter ant but a quick Google Lens check informed us it was really a spider wasp.
So much for our anticks. If it’s true you can’t go home again, as Thomas Wolfe insists, so be it. But nobody ever said you can’t come back for a visit. Which I intend to do, early and often.
Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. She changed names to protect the innocent, and thanks KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. For the full story, click here.