By Max Buzzell, June 2019
The air is cold and the leaves of the previous autumn crunch underfoot as I fumble up the steps of my family’s cottage, bucket of cleaning supplies and vacuum in hand. For 10 years now I’ve helped with this spring cleaning. There’s something exciting about taking that first step across the threshold each new season; it’s as though I’m walking into a place devoid of time, its thin boards bound together both by its history and its future.
Lovingly dubbed “The Catherine” in memory of its previous inhabitant, Catherine Stebbins, our little cottage has a past I’m still discovering. With each spring I stumble upon boxes of Catherine’s writings, stacks of old business cards, or envelopes of photos. We have our own family history here now, too. The staircase my dad and grandpa built, a box of notes I wrote back and forth with my grandma, our favorite VHS tapes stacked high.
Over the course of the time that I’ve been helping with this spring cleaning task, my reason for doing so has shifted. Initially, it was one of my ways to spend time with my grandma, Luanne. We’d wipe and we’d scrub and we’d polish; I’d pretend to be little orphan Annie, she’d try her very best to play the mean Miss Hannigan…. Once the place was clean and she and my grandpa had made the move from their house in town out to the Assembly for the summer, I spent time with her on walks to the Assembly building or by attending a church service. After my grandma passed away, I kept cleaning the cottage as a way to stay connected to those memories of her, and to make sure my grandpa had a good place to stay for the summer. Sitting on the screen porch with a good book or making a pot of coffee with my grandpa have become my new memories in this place. We discuss business (which yards we’ll mow that day), or listen to NPR and as we keep the fire burning.
Nowadays, I do some of this spring cleaning for my own stays at The Catherine. I’ve prepped the place for aunts and uncles, cousins close and distant. Recently the most exciting part of this job has been cleaning for the arrival of my oldest cousins and their kids. Watching the youngest of my family experience the Assembly for all its tennis and swimming lessons, Monday Night Dances, and chances to meet lifelong summer friends, I have observed how the Assembly has shaped and will shape many generations.
Though the Assembly has yet to stir from her winter slumber, there’s an air of anticipation as I mop the floor and wipe down the bookshelves. In just a few weeks the silent neighborhood will be busy with the sound of our summer neighbors: the accidental slamming of an old cottage screen door, the excited sound of games in the ballfield drifting over to Standish, and the sound of a bike chain backpedaling. Soon our cottage will be teeming with people too, generations of Buzzells remembering our past, enjoying our present, and knowing that the Congregational Summer Assembly will be a part of our future.