100 Things: Embrace cottage life on Lake Erie - The Buffalo News

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100 Things: Embrace cottage life on Lake Erie

At the McCarthys' cottage on Lake Erie, the kitchen clock is stuck at a quarter to 10. Its message is clear.

Here, you are beyond time.

Instead of going by the clock, this cottage adopts the rhythms of the lake. What a majestic lake this is. Just yards from the screened windows, it stretches as far as the eye can see. The McCarthy family laughs recalling a friend from out of town who, new to the Great Lakes, simply stood and stared. He had been expecting something small.

[PHOTOS: Cottage life on Lake Erie]

Actor Paul Newman, it is whispered, summered here on the shores of Lake Erie -- on Route 5, in the Town of Portland. Gregory Peck spent a summer or two here. His grandmother lived in Fredonia.

And our 100 Things odyssey has swung by the Fort Erie shore once before to see Graycliff, the summer home Frank Lloyd Wright built for the family of Buffalo industrialist Darwin Martin.

Patty Young, the McCarthys' neighbor, looks for sea glass along the shore. She bought her cottage 25 years ago and, since retirement,  it has become her full-time home. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

More than 60 years have passed since the McCarthy family bought the tiny house on Hanford Bay, near Silver Creek.

"My grandmother purchased it, in 1941," said Nancy McCarthy. "There are five generations now that are enjoying the purchase."

The grandparents are gone, now a distant memory. They were loving but strict, recalled Nancy's sister Nadine. They didn't drive. When necessary, they would take a taxi to Silver Creek.

Yet they would recognize the cottage now, were they to walk into it. Their crucifixes and holy pictures still adorn the walls. So does an etching of Ireland's County Cork. The roof is still simple wooden rafters, and the rain pounding on those rafters creates a mighty din. An ancient high chair still sits in a corner, ready for the next baby.

The McCarthy cottage on Hanford Bay in Silver Creek has been in the family for 76 years and has provided fun and a wealth of memories for five generations. The family crowds around the dining room table for lunch. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"Everyone wants the place to look the way it did when they were little," explained Nadine McCarthy.

The cottage brims with misty memories.

"Bonfires, so sweet and old-fashioned," Nancy mused. "Horseshoes on the beach. Cards at night. Board games. My uncle taught us to play poker, for pennies. Two of my uncles were priests, so Mass was said at the cottage."

She added that when she and her siblings were kids, they would put pennies on the railroad tracks to be crushed by the train.

"I liked when you could still see a bit of Abe's face," she said. The room burst into laughter.

Some of the fourth generation family members go down to the beach. The cousins have grown up together at the cottage and have a close relationship. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

It was a weekday afternoon, worlds away from the working world. Family and friends arrived and receded in waves. Lunch appeared -- deli ham, bologna with olives, hamburger rolls, macaroni salad. Another McCarthy sister, Eileen Feldmann, was celebrating a birthday, and a friend brought a birthday cake, with pink champagne. The cake went onto paper plates, the champagne into plastic cups. A cousin showed up.

"It ebbs and flows," Nancy said.

There are countless cousins, and over the years, the various family members have amassed 17 cottages in the Hanford Bay area. The magic of the lake transcends generational divides.

Michael Feldmann, Eileen's son, is a student at Erie Community College. He would rather be at the cottage than anywhere.

"Home in Buffalo, you could be hanging out with your friends," he said. "But I'd rather be here, just relaxing."

Wood piles made from driftwood line the beach. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The McCarthys grew up with this life. But everyone can enjoy the treasure they have found.

In any town along Lake Erie, "For Rent" signs pop up. New cottages are appearing that resemble luxury condos. But you might prefer a weathered cottage like the McCarthys' -- a place with the sweet, musty whiff of summers past.

Whatever dwelling you choose, kick off your shoes. Put down your cell phone. Live in the moment.

Learn from Alice McCarthy, Nancy's mother. At 91, she is the matriarch. It was her mother-in-law who purchased this cottage. Now, family around her, she sat at the head of the table.

Alice McCarthy, 91, is the matriarch of the family. She has been coming to the cottage since she was a young woman and she married Margaret McCarthy's son. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

"What's the best time to be here at the cottage?" she was asked.

Everyone fell silent, waiting for her answer. A train whistle sounded.

Alice McCarthy smiled.

"Now," she whispered. "Today."

A row of houses and cottages line the lake. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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