Dreamhouse.com: How I Bought a Summer Home in the Recession

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Finding Our Place

But the snow eased up as we crossed the bridge that connects PEI to the Canadian mainland. Beneath us Northumberland Strait gave new meaning to "cold": The churning water was pewter gray, with bluish ice floes bouncing around on its surface.

We spent the night in Charlottetown, PEI's capital. The next morning proved clear but frigid, with winds so strong they blew over my full cup of tea when I set it on the car roof to look for my keys. The cottage was about 40 minutes away over roads that were just as the agent had warned -- clear and then gone, buried beneath high drifts. But our car tunneled through.

We arrived before the inspector did. The little dormer was there, and the steps to the front door. But so much snow had drifted through the cracks beneath the door that, once inside, we were almost skating. Cheap pine paneling covered the walls and dead flies embedded in the cracks speckled the boards. The house's history -- the seller's statement said it was built in the late 1800s and moved to its current location from a nearby fishing village -- was palpable in its uneven floorboards and narrow wooden staircase.

"Well," Dan said, rubbing his hands together over the electric stove, which we'd turned on to thaw our fingers and toes, "here we are in paradise."

"At least it comes with furniture," I said, looking around at a smattering of oddball couches and platform beds.

"You getting cold feet?" Dan asked. "Now's the time to back out."

"My feet are cold," I said. "And my hands. But I love it." I led Dan to the porch. We couldn't see the bay but I could just make out a row of colorful ice-fishing shacks along the shore. "This is our house," I said.

We didn't see our cottage again for nearly five months. When we drove back, over Memorial Day weekend (this time with three of our kids in tow), the terrain was transformed, the hills green and peaceful through Maine. Even Northumberland Strait was calm, like a blue satin sheet being smoothed by invisible hands against the red shore. As we turned onto the road leading to the house I was nearly sick with anxiety. I'd seen the house only once, in the dead of winter. Would I even recognize it? And assuming I did, would I still like it?

Just as these dire thoughts were surfacing our tiny red cottage came into view, nestled against a row of pines and with cows grazing in the pasture next door. We pulled up and worked our key into the door, which was so warped we had to yank it free.

It took us two days to scrub the floors and pluck every last dead fly off the walls. Dan fixed doors and I scoured junk shops for stuff we still needed, from salt and pepper shakers to a round oak table that fit neatly in one corner of the kitchen. All three kids were surprisingly eager to help paint and pick up sticks in the yard. I hummed as I fluffed the simple slipcovered furniture and hung our clothes on the antique pegs in the bedrooms. Even the kitchen pleased me, with its doll-size refrigerator and freezer.

On our third night we built a campfire in a circle of stones and roasted hot dogs for dinner. Dan uncorked a bottle of Canadian wine and perched unsteadily on a concrete block we'd found under the house. "Add lawn chairs to our list," he said. I put my arm around our youngest son, who was trying to set a marshmallow on fire, and smiled at Dan, warmed, quite literally, by the idea of our family spending summer after summer here, gathered around this circle of stones.

After dinner we washed the dishes in the chipped enamel sink, then the five of us drifted onto the porch. But instead of reading or playing a board game, we simply watched the sunset. The sky was a panorama of oranges and reds and purples. It was as if all the colors had come together to show us exactly what a sky could do, now that we'd found our place on the island.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, July 2009.

 

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