Treasures in a Green Cottage

Written By: Cindy  Ellenbogen

Treasures in a Green Cottage Tucked in among the newly built mansions you will still find strings of cottages right along the Sound. These are real cottages, with peeling paint begging for a fresh coat every year, hydrangeas growing along the stairs to the beach, outdoor showers filled with salty towels and a trail of sand right onto the well-worn porch floors; the kind of cottages that have slamming screen doors that announce your comings and goings all summer long, and then a hook and eye that holds them closed come Labor Day. In each of these cottages you will find treasures left by those who lived there. The little green cottage I grew up in was filled with such treasures. I thought the cottage was built especially for such keepsakes, with exposed beams running along the lengths of every wall. The tongue and groove walls were bare, with incredible shelves running throughout every room; one waist high and one up near the ceiling. Shelves perfect for displaying the treasures found in most beach houses…. jars and jars of sea glass, shells and some well-placed pieces of driftwood. All cottages boast similar jelly jars filled to the top, and to a child, they are the brilliant souvenirs of days spent at the shore. But they are not the treasures I cherish after a lifetime of summers here. Throughout the house, unexpected items are the treasures that trigger memories of those who have shared this cottage with me. My grandparents built this cottage in the early fifties after renting in Cutchogue and then Northville for over a decade. The cost was five thousand dollars; two thousand for the land and three for the house, or maybe it was the other way around. I will forever marvel at that number… but the truth is, back then that was a lot of money. Building the cottage set on locust posts was one feat, and then filling it with necessities was an endeavor in resourcefulness. The huge picnic table we gather at to this day was made with the lumber left over from building the cottage. Dressers were built right into the wall by my grandfather, and curtains and linens were hand-sewn by my grandmother. One of my favorite treasures is a result of my grandmother’s thriftiness: a lovely set of mismatched china gathered from church bazaars. I seem to remember as a child being secretly appalled when company came that the dishes didn’t match. Over the years, however, I developed a fondness for the uniqueness of each plate; we each had a favorite, and helping set the table meant remembering which plate went to each cousin. I often thought that someday we might treat my grandma to a new set of plates, but instead she treated us to a set of memories every time we used the china. My grandfather worked for Mobil during a time when you devoted your career to a company. He started working as a young man and retired a well-respected executive. If you lived along our road you knew which house was his; our mailbox proudly displayed Mobil’s red Pegasus logo. Although we don’t use the mailbox anymore (the post office has this thing about putting a mailbox up for only July and August), you will spot flying red horses with wings throughout the cottage. One of them sits on a shelf next to a tall frosted cocktail glass with a fairy poised on a rock. Each afternoon, my grandfather would come up from the beach, get dressed in a pair of slacks, short sleeved seersucker shirt and bow tie, and have a Tom Collins in this beautiful White Rock glass. The perfect gentleman, he lit the barbeque and grilled with this glass in hand. My dad says they had a system for timing the meat on the grill by their progress with the drink; I believe a london broil required a refill. When the set of delicate glasses had only one remaining glass, we retired it to a shelf between a Pegasus and his binoculars with a hopelessly worn leather strap. If you knew him, you’d be hard-pressed not to think of him and his bow tie with a smile. A corner cabinet holds carefully folded American flags. A job of one of the younger children, raising and lowering the flag was an important responsibility. My dad, an Eagle Scout and retired major in the Air National Guard, taught us how to fold the flag into perfect triangles. We learned to respect the flag and the history behind the various flags we own and fly here. On the Fourth of July, you might see a flag bearing only thirteen stars, or on a day when we are missing the values of our country’s heritage, you might see the bright yellow Gadsden flag with its Don’t Tread on Me motto. That’s a favorite of my dad and has since become a favorite of my sons as well. My mom will be forever connected to a little red feeder filled with red sugary liquid. Over the years, her love for the hummingbirds has her driving back to the cottage into September to refresh the hummingbird food until they have moved on and journeyed south for the winter. The beautiful weather of July and August draws my mom to the cottage for afternoons on the porch along with the tiny, thirsty visitors. I always check to be sure the hummers’ food is fresh before she comes; she always asks. The cousins left lots of marks on the cottage; marks on the wall in my grandparents’ room measured the growth credited to a healthy summer in the country for the four of us. I do not share the same height gene as my sister and cousins and I never really looked forward to this part. My cousin’s children have been proudly and carefully measured on the wall but my own children were not measured with any regularity. Since it wasn’t my focus, my boys found other ways to mark the walls. One of my favorites celebrates a Greenport obsession… the brass ring from its carousel. Every trip to Greenport ends with a ride on the carousel and the ultimate goal of seizing the brass ring. A rite of passage, the brass ring eluded my youngest son for the longest time; now he holds the record for the most brass rings captured in a day. The prize: a ticket stamped with a horseshoe on the back guaranteeing the holder a free ride; tickets that are never surrendered by my sons, but framed along with a picture of the carousel and a brass ring we purchased in a shop across the street. Photographs didn’t quite capture the joy on my little guy’s face as he rode that horse with the brass ring on his third victory lap, but the pride in the carefully dated and framed tickets brings a memory sharper than any picture right back to my husband and me. An oil painting of a beach bonfire created by my oldest son for my mom tells the story of the countless fires he built for the family with great enthusiasm, family stories retold around the fire, camp songs sung, marshmallows toasted and, yes, maybe a firework or two launched. His painting captures the magic of fires shared with him and those I built when I was his age, too long ago. I often wonder what stories the green cottage will tell about me. What will trigger a memory for my children one day? When lives are well lived and time is spent together with family and friends, cherished memories are collected… treasures too big for jars and even more priceless because they were gathered with love in a cottage by the sea. Cindy Noble Ellenbogen