Barefoot Summers

Summers in the 70s lived by the soles of our feet, lakeside

My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents.  We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake.  At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot.  It was incredible.  We were fleet of foot.  We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.

When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.

Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen, EVER – we didn’t even know what that was.  No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.

Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy.  Patches that were warm and dry.  Tough prickly grass in the big fields.  Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1.  Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would pry an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time.  The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation.  The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2 cabin.  The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks.  The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.

I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer.  Once, riding on the shoulders of my eldest sister’s future husband Peter, he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged.  It was my normal.

I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed.  I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).

Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot.  We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.

My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away.  We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs.  Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin.  Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond.  Just the once.  We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was.  Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught.  (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though.  Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat.  The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)

These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then.  Mostly carefree.  Mostly enjoying the simple things in life.  We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer.  Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.

We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city.  S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’.  If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road.  Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me!  Savouring its every word and studying the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city.  The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.

Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye.  I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.

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(photo courtesy of google images and the last one was taken by my hubby)

My Bad Little Girl Summer

A bite of scorched popcorn brings to mind the taste of Du Maurier cigarettes smoked the summer I was 8 years old, over four decades ago…

The other day I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was.  The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures.  That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious.  I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.

I was eight years old when my brother Mark taught me how to smoke.  He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle.  Things being the way they were then, this actually worked.  Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.

Back then, we would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer.  There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters.  We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake.  Going into the barn was trespassing.  We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway.  It was fabulously fun and exciting.

Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends.  Mark thought Maureen was quite something.  She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager.  When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair.  We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water.  After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.

Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take a dozen of us into town to get ice-cream.  Clutching a shiny quarter each, we would stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while the pick-up would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away.  Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind.  No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone.  It was a carefree time.

At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths.  No bottled water.  It wasn’t invented yet.  We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars.  The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.

We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake.  In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.

On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre.  No screens.  Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.

Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families.  Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’.  One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres.  Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person.  We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines.  Often I would play this game in bare-feet.  My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.

Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit.  I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task.  I just stopped.  My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades.  Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers.

I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then.  Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family.  It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way.  I haven’t exaggerated it either.  Today we live so differently.  Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.

Campfire-and-Lake

Barefoot Heathens

A sunny day and a barefoot walk with my big brother turns into a horrible memory…and a new fantasy ending

Many long sunny days during our summers at the lake, we would walk the two miles to the nearby town of Magnetawan, population 300 souls, just for something different to do.  Sometimes I would be with a friend staying in the camp.  Other times I would be with a brother, or two.  On this particular day, I was with my older brother, closest to me in age: Jobe.

We were walking along on that hot summer day in the 70s.  We each had a dollar to spend in town and we were feeling rather rich.  We were discussing what we could do with that money. Would it be spent on fries and a pop at July’s or a vachon, black balls and chocolate milk at Jake’s General Store?  July’s and Jake’s shared side-by-side real estate in the village of Mag and each backed onto a grassy patch which sloped down to Ahmic Lake which was really Mag River extended after the locks system.

Both July’s and Jake’s were tired, dusty and faded.  Their respective owners, July and Jake, had since thrown up their hands to the bygone dreams of business greatness.  (A few decades later, both buildings would burn to the ground in an unsolved tragedy that would rock the core of the wee village, one which still wondered at the loss by fire of their once proud Marina.)

The Tuck Stop didn’t mind.  Even Seniors were ordering take-out these days and pulling up a bench seat at a red wooden picnic table in order to enjoy their chicken fingers and fries with a cold coke sipped by straw.  For Jobe and I, our favourite was the foot-long hot dog.  We just could not believe that a hot dog could be that long.  We marveled at it each time it arrived in front of us.  It was especially good when washed down with a thick sweet chocolate milk-shake.

So, on this particular day, with nary a water bottle nor a hat and never ‘sunscreen’ (what was that?) Jobe said, ‘hey Morg, let’s walk the whole way to town up on the rocks!’ Jobe loved a physical challenge.  I guess I did too.  Up we scrambled onto the hot, dark rocks which had been cut to form the roadway.  We carried on walking, sometimes skipping from one outcrop to the next.  Jobe was way ahead of me, as usual.  He was faster, more daring and more physically efficient in every way.

road and rockAs I walked along the rocks, a bothersome horsefly bobbed around my head, crashing into my tanned forehead every few steps.  Looking up to see Jobe’s red head bobbing up and down ahead of me, I suddenly realized that there was a warm sensation coming from the bottom of my right foot.  ‘What the…?’  I reached down and my hand came back to me covered in blood.  The tears burst from my eyes as I screamed for Jobe.

With wild, frightened green eyes Jobe arrived by my side and knew instantly that I had trod on a piece of broken glass.  He found the piece a second later.  It was a nasty jagged stalagmite of broken beer-bottle glass and it was covered in my blood.  Jobe half carried me for about ten minutes to the closest cottage where he pounded on the door and asked for help.

The nice lady who came to the door took me to her pure white porcelain tub and quite tenderly washed my gash of blood.  She soothed me with sweet mutterings while she ensured there was no glass left inside the wound.  I was silently crying and worried. Next she sat me down on a kitchen chair and expertly bandaged my foot with a gauze.  She used a lot of gauze.  A whole roll.  She knew exactly what she was doing.  Then she drove us back to the camp and made sure Dad received us before she left.  Dad had a quick conversation with her, thanked her profusely and got the details of the unfortunate occurrence.

Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to stare us down with the look of thunder on his face.  He was not happy.

Martha, why didn’t you have shoes on while walking to town?  FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL ALWAYS WEAR SHOES WHEN WALKING TO TOWN.  IS THAT CLEAR?! he bellowed.  ‘THAT WOMAN IS A COMPETITOR OF OURS.  DID YOU TWO KNOW THAT?’

We both shook our heads vehemently, but, we DID know that.  He was always talking about our competitors.  How many campers they had compared to us, and so on, endlessly.

campground

‘NOW SHE THINKS WE ARE BAREFOOT HEATHENS!’ he yelled.  ‘SHE’LL SPREAD IT ALL OVER THE LAKE THAT WE CAN’T EVEN AFFORD SHOES!’  He was livid. His face was purple.

At this point, Jobe escaped out the screen door and all I heard was the wap! as it hit the frame – his red noggin’ bouncing up and down as he diminished down the trail to the shop then hard right passed the Patterson’s tent trailer and gone up into the camp, likely to find Mom and our baby brother Luke and tell them the story.

Next, Dad grabbed my skinny arm roughly with his huge hand.  I was just seven years old and tiny and he was a behemoth.  And Mad.  He spanked me hard several times with his open hand which hit my bare legs and stung very badly.  It hurt a lot and I quietly bawled and bawled, but what hurt even worse was the betrayal I felt.  He was the guy who was supposed to protect me.  I didn’t think it was fair to receive a beating when I was already injured but, I didn’t say a word.  That would have been certain death.

He told me to get in the car and off we went to the medical clinic in Burks Falls, 20 miles away.  I needed stitches and a tetanus shot.  So much for a vachon and coke.

This day was horrible and getting worse by the minute.  The aftermath of the cut foot was ten days of no swimming.  Was I miserable?!  I always wore my shoes to town after that one.  Probably didn’t need the beating because the no swimming was punishment enough.

Usually natural consequences work best, I find.

But, what I am still confused about when I remember this, even though it happened to me decades ago, is just how much Dad over-reacted, in a bad way, to my cut foot.  Perhaps he was having an awful day and this was just one more hassle to deal with.

But, it was me.

His good little girl.

I was hurt and scared and needed a hug.  I can’t imagine beating my child who came home to me with a cut foot. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down.

So,

I am gonna re-write the last bit…

…Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to look at Jobe and I with a soft worried look on his face.  He gathered both of our small bodies to his chest with his big strong arms.  He kissed our curly heads, mine dark, Jobe’s ginger.  He told us not to worry.  He was going to fix all this.

‘Get in the car you two.  First it’s stitches for Mart, then it’s ice-cream.’

We smiled at our Dad who was always so good to us and fixed all our mistakes, or tried to anyway.  In town, we picked out a sweet thank you card for the lady who helped me and after ice-cream we brought it to her door to thank her in person.

Even though I couldn’t swim for ten days, Dad took me fishing and we had so much fun.

fishing with Dad

If you have any comments, I would love to read them.

~Mmv