Cottage Farm House

Fri, 08/10/2018 - 7:30am

Today, looking in the register for the one-time boarding house up the road, The Cottage Farm House, I found  an old photo, dated in my mother's even, penciled hand: “August 31, 1954, Hurricane Carol.” 

It is of a wooden bench, sitting in the brush between the dune and Mansion Pond. It belonged to a Cottage Farm guest, a Mr. Kinicke I've been told, and there he is in the resister, with his wife “Mr. & Mrs. Frank D. Kinicke, Maplewood, NJ.” 

It brings a collision of memories, the earliest of going to the ocean with my mother and probably older brother and some assortment of visiting cousins.

There were people my mother seemed to know, primarily guests who returned year after year to the Cottage Farm House. Looking back, we were likely the only locals there, and a few years later, when my mother went back to teaching and had a vehicle of her own, I wanted to go elsewhere, where I would see school friends.

Trips to Mansion slipped away until I started working at the Cottage Farm, where everyone in my family had worked, back in other times, when the establishment had been owned by relatives.

So, the summer after seventh grade, off I went up the road, to wait table at the last of the full scale boarding houses on the Neck, where three meals were prepared by a Swedish cook and served every day by two waitresses, one, (me), terrified of the cook and the guests — who were all nice, many exclaiming “we remember you!” and shocked I wasn't still a sand-covered toddler with blond braids. Even today, I cringe when I hear myself saying that same thing to young adults I remember as children. 

We served a full breakfast with hot cereal and eggs, or, on Sunday, paper-thin pancakes, with cold cereal the rare exception for the rare children of guests, or the occasional soft-boiled egg upon request, my introduction to an egg cup.

At noon came a wildly complete “dinner” starting with soup in plates (like those odd, shallow, never used dishes in my mother's good china), then a full, hot meal and big dessert and, finally, in the evening, supper, the only meal resembling that to which I was accustomed at home.

For all that bounty food was rationed, guests allotted a single cinnamon roll on Saturday nights, chocolate chip cookies carefully counted and monitored, and with each meal every diner was provided a single pat of butter, in its own little dish. Among the jobs of the waitresses was the slicing of sticks of butter into uniform pieces, easily accomplished with a tool I am surprised to find being offered, new, for sale on line. 

We wore solid blue seersucker uniforms and white aprons and I think had to keep our hair in nets. We worked every day, three meals a day all summer, ran off to the beach between meals, unless it was laundry day, when the normally-stifling kitchen was even hotter, and we pulled linen through an electrically powered wringer before hanging it in the backyard. There was too much line between the posts and it had to be propped up with sticks kept over by one of the out-buildings for that express purpose. 

I do not remember what happened to the garbage, only a story of our piglet escaping one day making its way to the kitchen door of the Cottage Farm, as if it followed the scent of the scraps it was fed. But we did not have pigs by the time I was working there. 

At first, I scurried home, up and down the Mansion Road, between meals, but then I relaxed and often joined the other waitress and some guests going to the beach. No one carted the sheer volume of stuff people do today, and it wasn't all that long between meals anyway!  

The house still stands, a lovely white Queen Anne structure with a long covered porch, a yard's width from Neck Road. It looks more like the home of a prosperous businessman than a house built by a son of the farmer on the hill behind it, to accommodate the burgeoning summer guest trade.

The inside cover of the old register reads “House opened first season summer of 1889.”

Many of fine details of the interior are intact, the lovely banister and rails, even the door with its tiny diamond window which swung between the kitchen and dining room. Last winter I went to visit the long time owner, who, with her late husband bought it when the business closed back in the 1960's. They summered with their large family then moved here permanenelty when he was able to retire young and pour much of his boundless energy into restoration and upkeep. The dining room where close to 30 people were fed is a lovely living space, the stained glass-edged windows still at its southern end, the little alcove where a bureau with linen sat repurposed. 

Still, the space it is not huge, and it is hard to imagine all those tables and people. Many of the bedrooms are fundamentally as they were, airy with windows on two sides, and while some of the outbuildings have been reconfigured, the pieces, for the most part, fall into some approximation of memory. 

The property housed around thirty guests, as well as two waitresses, one chambermaid, a “boy” who washed dishes and did odd jobs and the owners, the cook and her handyman husband. 

It seems it should have been a shock, going from childhood summers of nothing to this seven days a week, three meals a day (plus laundry day and chambermaid work when needed) but it wasn't. 

The next summer, dinner became a soup and sandwich lunch, and the next year, when I'd gone to work elsewhere, was the last of operation. Much later, I realized that I had been given a window on a world of summer vacation that was already fading into history. I was fortunate.