Clarity, memories and peace come to Mary Meany every time she is at her family property. Dive in to explore the history surrounding this fourth-generation Boyne Country cottage that evokes family memories during each visit.

Can an old cottage take on human characteristics? As dusk turns to night, I ponder this question while I sit on the porch of my great-grandmother’s cottage up here in Boyne Country one September evening.

Yes, I decide; our family cottage, built by my great-grandfather, now in the loving care of its fourth generation, can and does take on familial characteristics and is the ever-lasting matriarch of the family. In a world filled with change, the cottage is always there with her welcoming arms in the form of porches, and if I close my eyes and open my ears, I can see my ancestors’ smiles and hear their voices as I did when I would arrive in my younger years.

Other families grow in number over time—my family gets smaller. This fact makes me grateful for the five senses that our cottage offers me. The cottage reminds me that I, too, am part of something larger.

Like others with family cottages, I appreciate the scents that, regardless of renovations, harken back to the early years of the cottage, yet are as real today as they were generations ago. It begins as I step out of my car and breathe in the cedar trees that line the rutted drive and welcome me back. My sense of smell continues to comfort me as I insert the key in the door and am met with the scent and warmth of the uncoated beadboard in the pantry and on the second floor.

Mary Meany's grandmother plays near their cottage in 1918.

Photo by Mary Meany

Mary Meany’s grandmother plays near their cottage in 1918.

Consistent with those who have gone before me, I head for the lake and immediately open and shut the wooden screen door, soaking in the sound that I have held close in my mind all year long, and which now acknowledges the start of another season. In case I ever needed a reminder of this sound, upon my uncle’s arrival, he would phone me at my job in New York City and, rather than hearing a human voice greeting me, I would be treated to the cottage saying “hello” via the opening and closing of the screen door. The cottage also provides the backdrop for the sounds of the cicadas’ summer symphony, the lake’s waves and the ferry in the distance.

Running my hand up the darkened bannister, worn from 100-plus years of hands before me doing the same; touching the hand-carved flock of ducks my uncle creatively collected from the area, or using my great-grandmother’s vintage metal colander to wash farm-fresh cherries all provide the opportunity, through touch, to be together and connected again.

I savor the taste of cherries, peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, apples, fudge, bakery-made cinnamon buns and molasses cookies, and fresh-from-the-lake fish that we enjoy at the same table where my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, uncle and others would gather. Watching the slabs of Murdick’s fudge being made is as entertaining now as it was when my parents took my brothers and me to watch, from the sidewalk, the process in the store’s front window. To relieve any guilt today from indulging in the sweet treats of the area, I simply say silently, “This one is for you, mom.”

The sense of sight can be witnessed all around us in Boyne Country, and every season offers its own beauty. On our property, I marvel at the stateliness of the 100-plus-year-old cedars still reaching for the crisp blue sky alongside the young ones my brother has made room for while we chat about their future lives and ours. The lake offers a variety of views, from white caps to complete stillness and a clarity that lets you see every rock’s configuration just below the surface— and maybe even a fish or stray snake. And finally, there’s the cottage itself, which stands tall on the lawn beckoning to a prior era, but here for us in the present and the future—a beacon of light in all of our lives.

I sense the ol’ cottage shed a tear (or maybe it’s mine) upon my departure for the season—it’s been a year of upheaval and change in human relationships for many. Is the cottage sensing a loss of companionship as her guest leaves? Is her guest sensing a loss of companionship as she departs? Regardless of whose tear it is, I’m comforted by knowing our matriarch will welcome me back into her loving arms next year, so I can again enjoy all the senses of wonderment and connectedness.

Mary Meany is a former global human resources vice president and founder of Horizon Point Consulting, LLC (named after a lifetime of being inspired by the view of the horizon from her cottage). As her great-grandparents’ generation and those who followed did, Mary enjoys the natural beauty, peace and history that Boyne Country offers.

Photo(s) by Mary Meany