Today concludes my visit to the cottage in Kittery, Maine, and it brings an end to 22 annual visit by the Powell brothers. We decided via email earlier this year that it was our last visit to the cottage that was part of our childhood and now a significant part of our adult lives. The process says a lot about us.

Background: My older and wiser brother decided 5 years ago that there were some things in life where he did not want circumstances to make his decisions for him. As a life-long diabetic, it is safe to say he has health concerns, and health concerns only go one direction. So, while he was still in good health, he and his wife decided to sell the house, downsize, and move into a retirement community. They were some of the youngest residents there. Many said, “Huh? Why are you doing that?” He made it clear to those willing to listen that he wanted to make decisions about his life before circumstances did it for him. Note: when circumstances necessitate a choice, it is usually far inferior to the one you could have made on your own.

This was another such moment. The cottage, as you may or may not know, has no electricity. That makes it rustic, romantic, mysterious, and challenging. When the sun goes down, kerosene lanterns are our only option for light, and the fireplace our only source of heat. We all love that. But no electricity poses particular challenges to men who are aging. That includes each of us. Breathing problems, deteriorating sight, balance and stamina. You get the idea.

We decided several years ago that when the first one called “Uncle,” we were done. “Uncle” was our code word for “stop” when we were wrestling in the yard or wherever a struggle broke out. We have each used that word with each other many times. It comes right before tears or punching. When one called “Uncle” for the Kittery trips, there was no question. There was no, “Oh, how about one more year?” Instead there was a group consensus, “Let’s stop while we’re having fun (and before anyone gets hurt).”

Since 1992, with a few exceptions, we have met at the cottage for a long weekend. Over that quarter century we have each come through traumas, major decisions, significant losses, and weighty question about life and its purpose. But all those things come into clearer and proper perspective when relaxing in front of a morning fire, hot coffee in hand, brothers within arm’s reach, and time.

One of these days circumstances will dictate our choices. One by one we will simply not be able to travel, and one day there will be a diminished number of us. That’s not ours to decide. But in the meantime, we will find a new venue for our annual gatherings, because getting together is far more important than the place.

Wherever it is, I hope it has a fireplace. I was honored to be the fire starter and the coffee maker most mornings. That is a ritual I count on, and a role than ranks right up there with husband and father.