A funny thing happened on my way to rent a summer cage

It’s not that the ads lie, really . . . they’ve just got a language all their own. And the author learned it the hard way . . .


A funny thing happened on my way to rent a summer cage

It’s not that the ads lie, really . . . they’ve just got a language all their own. And the author learned it the hard way . . .


A funny thing happened on my way to rent a summer cage

It’s not that the ads lie, really . . . they’ve just got a language all their own. And the author learned it the hard way . . .


BY THIS TIME last year I was beginning to wonder if I were a pure case of disaster-proneness.

It all started when we decided, cheerfully and even light-heartedly, to rent a cottage for one month. It seemed a relatively simple act.

Eleven weeks later I had racked up enough car mileage to take me halfway across Canada. I knew, in exhausting detail. Ontario's northern resort areas. I had inspected cottages ranging from models straight out of the glossiest gracious-living magazine to shanties that would have been condemned on Tobacco Road. Our requirements, which even originally had not been all that rigid, had been pared to a bare skinny skeleton. Every day I devoured the Cottages For Rent columns and every night I started out in relentless pursuit of the latest possibilities. As the vacation month moved steadily, inexorably closer. I threw myself on the mercy of real-estate agents. They were all sympathetic, but once we established, indisputably, that I was renting. not buying, their sympathy was undisturbed by any actual help.

As I traveled the highways, byways and sideroads, feeling more and more like a Cinderella whose godmother had goofed it, I kept telling myself it could not be this complicated. Thousands of people rented cottages every year. Some of my best friends were cottagerenters. Obviously they knew something that had escaped me.

One twilight, as the sun set on another fruitless hunt, I took my mind off the nagging suspicion that I was hopelessly lost again by

toying with the possibility that the successful cottage-renter belonged to a secret society. Then I got the idea.

Every Cottage For Rent ad held a lure, neatly tucked in one or two brief phrases. Now, none of these phrases would be untrue. As a matter of fact, most of them were almost too true. I reviewed my memories — and a twinkling merry lot they were, too. I compared the phrases that had sent me streaking off, with the result at the end of the journey. The premise turned out to be valid. You just had to understand the actual meaning of the phrases.

That is the history of this glossary, which I offer now out of a deep sense of compassion for cottage-seekers who, even at this moment, may be returning tight-lipped from still another disaster. It is by no means complete, but if it is studied carefully and applied, you will be amazed by the results.


This means that there will be two bedrooms, each with two single cots, an almost-enclosed veranda (there are only a few slits in the screens), in which there will be three single cots, and in the living room there is another single cot. gaily disguised as a couch. Now, most of these cots will be comfortable enough to attract many of your relatives and friends, but I remember the third “Sleeps Eight'' cottage I inspected. Mother had come along to share the excitement of the hunt. When I tried out one mattress, just as a carefree experi-

ment, I recall her astonished look and her question, "Why are you sitting on the floor, dear? You look so helpless.”


This is a classic phrase and it is one of the more interesting examples of the code. The cottage is indeed close to shopping and conveniences. It is smack in the middle of the town. You will be able to nip around the corner for your groceries and you will notice that the bustle of the town’s summer population gives a wholesome flavor of Mardi Gras to any holiday. If you happen on the cottage 1 checked you’ll be positively stunned by the variety of the conveniences. It was located a few yards from the town's only hotel and the beverage room was a festival in itself. Right in front of the cottage, marring the view of the main street only slightly, there were two gas pumps. And to the right, close enough to provide a brisk one-minute stroll, was one of the biggest and busiest fruit markets in the area.


This phrase (like "Private Rental”) is highly recommended because it implies that the owner has been forced, by temporary ill luck, to rent his wcll-cared-for and convenient cottage. Actually, the phrase "Owner Occupied” is again literally true. The owner has occupied the entire area. He liked it so much lie built additional cottages.

In this category, then, your neighbors will include the owner, his

wife, children, grandchildren, brothers and/or sisters and a few close friends.

Personally. 1 shall never forget Uncle Fred. He guided me around one of the best-integrated communities 1 had ever visited. It was Instant Togetherness. There were ten cottages, each one within spitting distance of the other. I liked Uncle Fred. 1 liked the available cottage, although initially I did have a flicker of nervousness when I noticed a poker table in the living room that could accommodate at least twelve people. There was a boat, provided by the next-door neighbor (Son John, his wife and three children), a children’s swimming pool between two boat houses (Cousin Bill, Son Jim. their wives and assorted offspring) and a parking lot just beyond Aunt Margaret's cottage. I passed it up. regretfully, because I suspected renting it would be like entering into a temporary marriage with a variety of interested in-laws and no husband.


This one could be a heartbreaker, if you happen not to be a child. Again, it is literally true. Any two-year-old will be able to waddle out in the lake at least a half a mile and still be up only to his hips in the water. If you are a frustrated adult, your consolation might be the opportunity to combine two healthy outdoor sports, swimming and hiking. / continued on page 40

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If it’s “rustic,” prepare to pioneer


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“Near Main Highway”

This means that the cottage is located so near the main highway that your holiday will resound to noises you will never forget — tires beating a rhythm similar to a Watusi that got out of hand; screeching brakes, mixed music from car radios, the clatter of trucks and sudden shrill screams from children. If the cottage is too attractive to be dismissed, it is also recommended that you put children, dogs and/or cats into training for the holiday by racing them across the busiest highway near your home for several weeks.

“Executive Cottage”

There is a frozen hauteur about this phrase, but the meaning is simple. You will need a bank loan.


We all know this one and it is appealing. But it means that you will reach the cottage by helicopter, a canoe portage, or by walking in from the end of the road, a sprint of something just under a mile. The area is secluded because no one is able to penetrate it by the normal methods of transportation. Of course, rugged living may be good for you. I noticed that after only four trips to such secluded cottages every one of my muscles was positively vibrating with new life.

“Magnificent View”

Occasionally you find this coupled with “Secluded” for obvious reasons. I recall being bewitched by both phrases, plus the conclusive baritone of the advertiser. Mother and I followed the directions and within four hours we had left communal living — indeed any form of human life — far behind. We headed up a slope through a forest. Gradually the slope stiffened, turning and twisting through the trees. Fifteen minutes later, since I kept losing the road and we were both getting air sick from the eerie sensation of floating through space. Mother volunteered to walk ahead, indicating the ups and downs. Unfortunately, I nearly ran over her. I lost sight of the top of her head as the car’s hood

pointed miraculously skyward. Twenty minutes after that the road ended. About five hundred yards ahead, through the trees, we could sec a cottage. We started out on foot and, as we struggled up, I prepared a speech in case they ever found us. It began “We climbed it because it was there.” On hands and knees we swarmed over the rim of a plateau. The view was magnificent. Then Mother said thoughtfully, “The dog would he the first to go over.” An apron of rock, approximately nine by twelve feet, separated the spunky little cottage from the edge of a sheer cliff. We hunched back down the trail on our rears, awestruck by the beauty —• and by the sheer guts of the advertiser.

“Private Road”

This one appears infrequently, but if you find it and you are tempted, have your car checked. It means the road is private because no one in his right mind will risk damaging his car by driving over it. One advertiser did indicate the problem, but she approached it so gracefully I missed the point. She asked if I had a large car, or a small one. Since I was fresh from several “executive cottages” I thought she was checking my social rating. She was being realistic. A standard-sized car would have its underpinnings ripped to pieces. I apologized mentally to her as my small car crawled over the road, whimpering for mercy at every rut and rock.

“Charmingly Rustic”

Despite the pastoral persuasion of this phrase, it means, to be candid, that there is no indoor plumbing and the roof leaks. It may indicate bats, a variety of woods creatures frolicking through the cottage, and things that go hump in the night. But you will find, as I did, that it is exciting to visit these places because you get the feeling that you could he the last person alive to breathe in the micespiced air of a truly pioneer dwelling.

“Set On Wooded Lot”

I liked this one. 1 liked it so much I went on three inspection tours on the strength of that one phrase. All three cottages were set on wooded lots.

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What the advertiser was saying, however, was that the lake was ( I ) one mile down a rocky road: (2) just across the main road, over a little hill and beyond that clump of cottages; or (3) nonexistent.

“You Can’t Miss It”

This is included in the glossary because it is the most popular phrase you will hear when you telephone for directions. Disregard the words (we all know you can miss it. easily) and watch out for the psychological reaction. It will relax you to a point of near-coma. Unless you are alert to this danger, you will miss the key lines in the directions which will be your undoing. These will be recurring and it is advisable to make a list of them. It will also give you something to do while you are wandering aimlessly around virgin territory.

“Located On An Island”

I have no personal experience with this one, but a survey among a crosssection of people who have elicited a strange fact: it almost always rains on islands. As a result the entire family is confined for several days inside a cottage built originally for a single hermit of simple tastes. The experience is a catalyst for family relationships. My survey indicated that out of ten survivors of this experience, there

were four divorces, three cases of severely strained relationships, and three decisions to have separate vacations.

Even when one becomes familiar with the mystiques of cottage renting, it is well to be on the lookout for one other peculiar phenomenon. When you list your requirements to an advertiser, it is not unusual for her, or him, to listen intently — and not hear one word. On one memorable occasion, I remember itemizing clearly the preference for a three-bedroom cottage, indoor plumbing, reasonably secluded, with some trees and no steps. The lady assured me that her property exactly filled that description. Hours later I found the cottage. A public highway ran approximately three feet from the back door; the cottage sat on an expanse of sun-browned grass, uninterrupted by trees. The nearest neighbor was about ten feet away, and leading up to the cottage door w'as a flight of steps so steep they prompted Mother to murmur. “What a way to go.”

And yet, it is actually (if rarely) possible to find the right summer cottage once you get the hang of the ads and understand the code. After that all you will need is ingenuity, perseverance, patience, intelligence, sheer animal cunning — and a miracle. ★