by Wanda Gray
A shared dream and chasing that dream for many years until it finally comes true.
The Dream of A Lifetime
I'm Matt, a retired Navy man and Eva is the love of my life. I am eternally grateful for the circumstances that brought us together and kept us that way. We came home from work about the same time each day and this day was no different. We parked in the wide driveway next to our one-story cottage we love so much. Years ago we had discussed what kind of house we wanted someday and both of us had wanted a little cottage in a quiet part of town with a white picket fence around it. That was the catalyst that gave me the courage to propose the next night. Eva quickly said yes so we were engaged on our third date. Eight months later we were married and Eva joined me in my Navy life. It had taken many years before we found just the right cottage and it wasn't even in the same state we used to live in. It wasn't in a quiet part of town either because there was no town. Our dream cottage was in the country on a beautiful lake a few miles outside of the nearest town.
My job had led us here just when we had given up on finding our beautiful little cottage. My years in the military sent us to many different places but my last assignment was at the base sixty miles south of here. As my retirement drew near, we began looking for property to settle down on. We went to a local realtor and described our little cottage twe had wanted for such a long time. The realtor had nothing in their files but promised to keep looking for them.
On my next leave we decided to scout the countryside around them. We drove a hundred miles south but it was all heavily populated and none of the areas contained our cottage. Next leave we searched a hundred miles west with the same results. My third leave was spent searching east but we hit a dead end at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. All that was left was a hundred miles north. About sixty miles of our trip had gone by and I was ready to turn around and give up. But Eva stubbornly insisted we abide by our agreed one hundred miles so we continued driving north. Eva had the map in her lap and was tracing their current route. "Matt, there is a small town just a few miles off this road. We should check it out. Surely there must be some property for us there. It is close to a lake and people keep cottages for summer vacations in a place like that. Let's take a look."
I knew better than to argue with her so I agreed to take a look. She gave me directions and we soon entered the little rural town. It's population was posted as a little over 500 people and every house we passed was a cottage. There were no high rises or even two-story apartment buildings. The main street offered a mom-and-pop grocery on one corner and a mom-and-pop drug store on another. A small clothing store and a variety store completed the corners. Next to the grocery was a schoolhouse and across the street from it was a building that looked like city hall with the police station and a fire station. Not even one chain store was in the business section anywhere but at the other end of the block was a movie theater beside a small restaurant. We counted three churches as they drove through before reaching the other end of the town. All the people we passed were dressed in modern casual clothes but I would not have been surprised to see clothing from the late 1800s on the residents.
Eva said something about being hungry and I realized it was dinnertime. We decided to stop at the lone restaurant for a bite to eat before we headed back to the Naval Base we now called home. The restaurant was cozy with just a few tables and three booths along one wall. We decided on a booth and a waitress appeared just as we sat down. She handed us menus and asked what we would like to drink. We both said coffee so she left us to decide what we were going to eat. The menu was limited in choice but it was all good down-home sounding dishes. I decided on pot roast and Eva settled on fried chicken. When the waitress returned with our coffee, we ordered our dinners. Sitting in the little restaurant felt like we had found home. When we tasted their meals, we knew they had found it. But could we find our cottage?
Eva motioned to the waitress. There was no one else in the restaurant so she started asking her about the town. She was eager to tell them about the town and its residents so Eva did not have to ask any more questions. When the waitress finally ran out of good things to say, Eva asked about available cottages. The waitress shook her head sadly then told them there were no available cottages anywhere in town. We thanked her then finished our meal in silence. This had been the most promising place to find our long sought after cottage. I got up and walked to the counter to pay our bill. I thanked the waitress for all her information as Eva joined me and we slowly walked to the door.
Just as Eva took her first step outside, we heard the waitress call us back. Thinking we had made a mistake in paying or forgot to tip or something, we returned to the counter. The waitress seemed excited and that excitement became contagious when she told us there might be one available after all. She hadn't thought of it because it was a few miles out of town but a cottage had become available a few days ago. The elderly owner had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital in the city south of them. Unfortunately he did not make it and was pronounced dead when they arrived at the hospital. He had no heirs and the county had no idea what to do with his sweet cottage on the lake with its white picket fence. She gave us directions to the county seat we gave her an extra tip and headed to the county seat.
We got there just before closing time and the receptionist took us them to the tax assessor's office when we told her about the cottage. The tax assessor welcomed us and asked how he could help us. I told him what the waitress had said and that we would like to look at the cottage on the lake. It was late but he decided to show it to us so we wouldn't have to make that long drive back from the Naval Base again. He rode in our car with us and directed us back toward the town we had so recently left. A few miles outside of town was a narrow graveled road he told us to turn on. A lone mailbox sat on the corner and there were no other signs of civilization as far as we could see. The road turned out to be a driveway to the cottage. As I parked and we exited the car I just knew this was it. It was exactly as we had pictured during all the years since that phone call when we found out we wanted the same thing. There was the white picket fence and the flower garden Eva had said she wanted. The exterior was even painted white with light blue trim as we imagined. The lake in back was not part of our dream but it was the perfect touch to complete that dream.
The tax assessor unlocked the door and we were surprised the electric was still on when he flipped the light switch. He told us the cottage was solar powered so no electric lines were involved but the batteries stayed charged because of the abundance of sunshine here. Every single thing was just as we had imagined it. Eva was so delighted with the kitchen she actually jumped up and down with excitement. There was a small shed in back to house lawn tools and other items I would be adding - like fishing gear. I asked what the asking price was and we were shocked it was so low. When I asked why it was so low, the assessor said it was being sold for back taxes only. They has allowed the former owner to remain in his cottage for as long as he lived because the county knew he had been a war veteran and his military retirement pay was not enough to live on. They knew he had not much longer to live so out of respect for his service they did not collect taxes on the property for years. I told him we would be back on my next leave to pay the back taxes and buy the property. We shook hands and drove him back to the county seat. Conversation was mostly about us and why we were so delighted over the cottage. Eva told him our story and finished just as we dropped him off. He was pleased with what he heard and welcomed us to the county. He looked forward to seeing more of us after we settle in just as we looked forward to becoming acquainted with those in the county and town.
That was fifteen years ago. We kept our promise to return on my next leave and purchased our dream cottage. Soon after my retirement, I became bored and decided to go to work. I opened a small jewelry shop that had been another of my dreams. I was a certified gemologist, jeweler and horologist but had never utilized my education because I had joined the Navy instead. Now I could finally use those skills I loved. Eva went to work in the dress shop part-time and loved being able to use her fashion sense finally. When I wasn't in the shop, I fished and did yard work. This is the retirement I always dreamed about. I am forever grateful for that phone conversation all those years ago that led me to the love of my life. And grateful to the fates that led us here where we both are so happy to finally live out our lifetime dream together.