In the wake of the mild complaint I made about home decor magazines the other day, I thought of something else I don’t like about rags like Elle Decor. Too many make the assumption that I have a main house, a guest house, a pool house, an oversized shed with a studio in it, an outdoor kitchen, a three-car garage that’s been converted into a home gym, and a summer home to round it all off.
That’s why, I think, a Slate essay by Timothy Noah struck a particularly strong chord with me. Noah, you see, is much like me in that he also has no summer home.
I do not own a summer house. The summer house I don’t own has not been in the family for three generations. It’s a simple, shingled affair, weathered and dear, with fishnets not hanging from the ceiling, duck decoys not arrayed on the shelves, and a large, yellowing map of the area, festooned with incomprehensible nautical markings, not stuck to the wall with pushpins not manufactured in 1954. I love the scent it doesn’t give off of mothballs mingled with mold.
Imagine—air-conditioning here! Open a window, for God’s sake! We finally didn’t put in window units a few years ago, but only because of the kids. They’re also the reason we didn’t break down a few years ago and put in a small pool. Though I must admit I’ve come to prefer not taking my morning laps there to not walking out every morning to the shore and not diving into that bracing cold water.
Now Labor Day’s coming. I’ll not shut the house up for winter, and not drain and cover up the pool, and not remind the caretaker to not keep an eye on the place until June, when we don’t start returning on weekends. What a lovely, languid ritual it is that I don’t engage in. I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t not have a summer place. Just like the one I don’t have.
All kidding aside, even my beloved Cottage Living has changed. When I first began reading it years ago on the treadmill at my local Y — long before I even considered buying a home — I delighted in its chic solutions for small spaces. Nowadays, the “cottages” that one tends to see in its pages are far larger than the plenty spacious house I grew up in! You say the economic forecast is bleak? Someone tell that to the editors.
Not having something doesn’t mean one can’t imagine oneself having it, of course. I will very likely end up with an inherited summertime pied-à-terre in Central America sometime in the very distant future. But it is nice — after surrounding myself with images of the prosperous leisure class — to know that I’m not alone in not having access to the finer things in life at this time in my life.