Little Cottage By The Lake

      What a crisp, colorful autumn afternoon.

      Crimson tipped maples paint the rural landscape as we make our way to my aunt's shady lakeside cottage.  Overhead, a flock of geese fly in "V" formation, seemingly pointing us to the Western Pennsylvania border, past miles of roadside pumpkin stands and endless fields of late season sweet corn.

      Finally, my husband turns down the familiar gravel road.  I spot the lake, glistening in the warm October sun.

      "We're here!"  I rustle my girls from the back seat.  "Hurry and say hello to everyone."

      The small white cottage reminds me of a doll house -- the good cozy kind, where friends and family happily gather, spilling out into the yard when the quarters get a bit tight.  I smile as I walk past the well manicured lawn, bedecked for fall with orange and yellow mums peeking from cast iron buckets.

      As always, dried cornstalks climb the back porch rails.  I spy a row of perfectly orange pumpkins, gifts from my uncle's garden.  I wonder if my girls will remember to take one home at day's end.  For years, my uncle has sent home a pumpkin with each child, just in time for Halloween.

      Hopping out of the car, the girls crunch through the leaves, hoping to sample appetizers on the back porch table.  In an instant, their cheeks are stuffed with crab dip, Amish Swiss cheese, and trail bologna.

      Family seems to be everywhere.  Cousins, aunts, and uncles trickle out from the cottage, sharing hugs and gossip in the wooded yard.  Gathered in groups, my chatty Scotch Irish clan prepares for our autumn tradition -- an outdoor clambake, held annually on the first Sunday in October.

      Husks fly off golden ears of sweet corn as we all pitch in, removing silky threads from more than forty cobs.  Great aunts, unaware that they could be sitting down, scurry about setting tables, slicing juicy red tomatoes, and taking surreptitious sips of homemade berry wine.  The men hover as they always do, around the fire pit.

      I chuckle at this primitive scene -- men tending the fire and women preparing the vegetables.  Why is this always the case?

      Salty steam wafts upward from the coals as the tempting smells of clams and chicken tease my taste buds.  What could be better than this? Somehow, I can't imagine being anywhere else on this idyllic autumn afternoon.  Sitting around card tables in the yard, we manage to quiet down for a prayer of thanksgiving.

      Then, at long last, it is time to dig in.  Tearing open the mesh bag of steamers, I can hardly wait to swirl each clam in drawn butter.  What a gloriously gritty delicacy.  Heaven seems near as a lobster tail is placed upon my plate, followed by sweet potatoes and a cup of steaming clam broth.

      My daughters, content with an ear of sweet corn each, amazingly don't seem to care that much for seafood.

      "I can help you out there." my husband teases, reaching for their leftover lobster.  We laugh with my cousins as we swap family news and gorge on a final, overindulgent treat -- homemade cheesecake and raspberry pie.

      As the sun sets, we pour second cups of coffee, warm mugs that prolong our time together, if only for a few precious minutes.

      "Don't forget to take a pumpkin home with you," my aunt reminds us. "Did you get a candle off the mantel?"

      Our girls pick their future jack-o-lanterns as I select my party favor -- a homemade cranberry scented votive.  In the year ahead, the candle will take me back to this place, filling my house with the light and warmth of family.

      "Thanks again for the clams, the pumpkin, the candle!"

      It is the following morning and I am struggling to email my aunt.  How can I show my appreciation for it all -- the glorious weather, the delectable food?

      Finding next year's calendar, I flip ahead to October, making sure to highlight the first Sunday in bright orange marker.  Perhaps the best sort of thank you involves simply being present for cherished traditions.

      Next year, and hopefully for many years to come, I will be there, feasting with family at the little cottage by the lake.

~ Stefanie Wass ~
<swass @>

Stefanie writes from her home in Hudson, Ohio.  A member of the International Women's Writing Guild, Stefanie's essays have been published in The Christian Science Monitor, The Akron Beacon Journal, Chicken Soup For The Beach Lover's Soul, and Chicken Soup For The New Mom's Soul.  Additionally, her stories have appeared in newspapers nationwide as part of Chicken Soup's syndicated column.  Look for two of Stefanie's stories in the upcoming anthology Chicken Soup: Love Stories, due to be published in February 2008.

[ By: Stefanie Wass, Copyright © 2007 (swass @ -- {used with permission} ]


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