We didn’t meet our new neighbors at the lake until Labor Day weekend. Standing next to a blazing bonfire he’d built in a steel drum, Walter beckoned us over and introduced himself. His large belly, constantly moving eyes, and untrimmed, iron-gray goatee gave him a grizzled look—a little like a retired fire chief, and a little like a wild bear. He chewed on a toothpick as he tossed pieces of cardboard into the fire.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this view,” he said, indicating not just his shoreline but his yard, much larger than ours and studded with century-old pine trees, which we’d come to love over the years. Liz and Martin, who’d owned the cottage previously for 40 years, had let us use their dock and beach. Because they spent so little time there, we’d mentally annexed the property, turning our small sliver of land into a compound.
“You have a nice little yard, too,” he added, surveying our property, his toothpick migrating to the other side of his mouth. “But you gotta get rid of that tire swing.”
My husband David explained that our boys, now men, had spent hours leaning over that cheap plastic donut, now mended with duct tape and attached by a fraying rope to a tree just outside the kitchen window.
“My grandkids are gonna be swarming all over the place around here,” Walter said. “And we’ll be here year round. I’m adding a foundation, raising the house. When you come back next year, it’ll all be different. Them trees, they’ll be…