Sheree Fitch recited her poem, above, on the CBC Special televised vigil on Friday April 24, 2020. I found myself weeping at these words which were so completely apt and heartfelt. Thank you Sheree. Rest in Peace to the fallen.
When my eldest sister Eva was three years old, my Dad told her to sit behind the Conductor when he put her on a 9-hour train north to Smooth Rock Falls, alone. It routed through Union Station in downtown Toronto.
‘Sit behind the Conductor,’ he said. ‘You will be fine,’ he said. Little Eva screamed, ‘No Daddy, No Daddy!’ reaching with her little chubby arms for the person who was supposed to protect her.
She was three and she had just been torn from the tight grasp of her baby sister Amy, just 10 months her junior, who was holding onto her for dear life. Both baby girls, one blond, one brunette, were crying with red cheeks. All I can think now… is that it must’ve been a completely different world back then. With so many very large families of seven children plus, perhaps this was how parents coped?
She was being sent to stay with Gramma and Grampa because baby brother had come along and with baby Amy too, one just needed to go. Gramma and Grampa didn’t drive. They never even owned a car. So, on the train went Little Eva.
In wintry Smooth Rock Falls, Eva remembers days of nothing happening. No toys. No interaction with other children or adults and an unfamiliar scent (which she can now identify as mothballs) in their home coupled with the smell from The Mill. It all made her feel terribly homesick. She was left completely to her own devices. The house was chilly, smelly and dark. Gramma was quiet and busy. Grampa was at work most of the time. The Grandfather clock ticked incessantly.
The lunch whistle would blow at the Mill and a quiet Grampa would walk home to sit at the Arbourite and chrome table where his lunch awaited him. A steaming bowl of home-made soup and a large sandwich on fresh-baked bread. It was eaten without a word of thanks while Gramma watched, hands wringing in her cotton apron beneath her large, matronly bosom. The next whistle would bring him home for supper with a nearly perfect replay of lunch time. Quiet. Expected. Ungrateful. Gramma had her job: keeping house. Grampa had his – The Mill Wright – keeping Mill.
When Eva related this troubling story to me recently, my mind wheeled back a dozen years. My son Leo and I had gone to a neighbourhood wedding for Leo’s babysitter’s Mom and step-father who were getting married. As we approached the large house on a beautiful sunny and warm afternoon, I was feeling a wee bit worried that there would be no one there to talk to and that I would stick out like a sore thumb. Leo ran over to the candy bar in glee. I lifted the full skirt of my simple grey silk dress as I descended to the deck of the pool in my pumps. Being extra careful so as to NOT make a splash of an entrance! All of the guests stood in small groups, mingling. An older man approached and welcomed me, shaking my hand gently.
‘Welcome to the wedding of Mack and Mary,’ he said, extending a large hand and a big smile. ‘I am Mack’s father, Paul Bouvier. How do you know them?’ he asked.
I responded and then asked where he had come from for the wedding. ‘Arnprior, Ontario,’ was his reply.
‘Oh,’ I said with a smile enjoying that I had something in common with this friendly stranger. ‘My Grandfather was from Arnprior.’ Grampa used to tell me of his boyhood in Arnprior. He had a crab-apple tree outside his upstairs bedroom window and he would eat them from the tree when they were ripe (bleck!!). He would go downtown to the grocers and he and his pals would press their noses to the glass looking at the bananas. The grocer would shoo them away saying, ‘Sonny-boy, sonny-boy, get away from the glass and let the sun shine on the bananes!’ Grampa was raised in the depression era when certain luxury foods were scarce.
Anyway, Mr. Bouvier asked me who my grandfather was. I told him.
His smile widened and his eyes danced as he exclaimed, ‘I worked for your Grandfather at the Mill. He was a Mill Wright. And your Dad! Your Dad was a great hockey player!’
We just looked at each other smiling and nodding. Small world. Why did the stars align allowing this conversation to take place decades later, provinces away, in my new neighbourhood￼…?
When Eva was seventeen, she began to have extreme anxiety attacks and had no ability to concentrate on her school work. She had been the top student at her Junior High School, on many teams, in many clubs, leader of the folk choir at Saint Mary’s Church￼, known and loved by all.
My eldest sister Eva, with her amazing soprano voice, her leadership and enthusiasm for music, would lead the whole congregation through folk songs like: Here We Are, and Kumbaya and Jesus is a Soul Man. She would be right up front of the pews. Her long, straight hair flicking from side to side as she would stride around motioning to the congregation to sing louder and stronger, tapping her tambourine on her leg. The guitars strumming wildly. Pride would be welling up through my little body as I sat in awe of my teenage sister. Those folk masses were powerfully spiritual and I will never forget them. Sadly, almost half a century later, my beloved sister Eva, for some unknown neurological reason, completely lost her hearing and consequently a god given talent – her ability to sing soprano. It was a bitter pill to swallow for all of us who love her but, My God, especially for her. Thankfully, a few years later, Eva was fitted with a Cochlear Implant but, she will tell you, it is not the same as hearing with your own ears and her ability to sing has been diminished almost completely. Eva has told me that her voice no longer sounds like her own. Tragic!
But, getting back to when she was seventeen… when she walked in through the front door of her new, very large high school, her vision would tunnel and it was impossible to function. She told Mom about her troubles, which were obvious because she was crying a lot. Mom took her to the hospital where she was treated cruelly and isolated from all family members. Eva escaped from the hospital and when she told Mom of the cruel methods at the hospital, Mom was furious and went there to complain and to tell them off.
Next, Eva was sent to Florida to be with Memere and Pepere, the idea being that the sunshine would be good for her. But, similar to Smooth Rock, the lack of interaction with friends and the anxiety had her feeling very badly. She went home to Barrie and was then taken to the Psych Hospital in Penetanguishene. By hook or by crook, she managed to get well enough to leave that place and then a couple years later to marry and then raise three incredible young men who had her full time and were cherished and loved dearly. Today they have children of their own who are cherished and loved and trust me, would never dream of putting a toddler on a train, alone.
Dear Reader, what do you think of this story…can you believe it is true?
(The photo was taken by Eva in Wolfville, NS in 2017)
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We were on the escalator heading down to street level at the St John’s airport in early June. Excited to start our eight days in Newfoundland’s east. We had butterflies of excitement and I think we may have been holding hands, my love and I. Dean, hailing from there, was all smiles to be ‘down home’ again to the salt air and the fog, the twang and the good-naturedness of Newfoundlanders. (Pronouced: newfundLANDers)
I was casually scanning the crowd on street level. My glance fell on a dark-haired man sitting in profile to us on a bench against the wall. He was smiling, looking around wide-eyed and boyishly swinging his legs back and forth. Could it be? I was almost sure it was him but what luck would that be?! Michael Crummey, I said quietly. I nudged Dean beside me. Michael Crummey, I indicated with my chin. We both said aloud for him then: Michael Crummey! And he looked at us and smiled with recognition as we arrived at his level. He and Dean had attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) back in the eighties and played a bit of soccer together. We had attended Michael’s readings on his books and listened, rapt, while he read from his latest book the last time: Sweetland when he visited Wolfville’s Acadia University in the recent past. We had pints and shared stories and jokes at Paddy’s Pub. We were nearly best buds, the three of us. Well, not really, but it was certainly wonderful to see his smiling face. He was awaiting his mother and then she joined us and we were introduced. A moment later we were offered a ride to our hotel and off we went in his car while Michael told us of places not to be missed and I jotted notes on a scrap of paper in the back seat…this was sure to be a great trip and it was that for sure.
Highlights: the food! Oh my, such wonderful food. The hikes! Oh my, such gorgeous seaside scenery. The colour! Oh my, such bright and vivid colours every which way we turned. The accented lovely way of speaking! Oh my, so sweet: how ya be, me ducky?
We checked into Hotel Newfoundland and were offered all manner of treats from the lady going by with a cart from the exec lounge. Don’t want to throw it all away, she said. We loaded up, then stepped out to look at Signal Hill via the crooked little neighbourhood of Quidi Vidi. Boardwalk clutching shear cliffs and spray of salt water with a backdrop of the huge deep St John’s harbour and small icebergs off in the big blue.
Colourful ancient houses clung impossibly on the hillside of rock and steps galore! as we made our way for the next two hours. Exclaiming at the beauty all the while and sweating while climbing the flights of stairs up the rock face. I would not have wanted to be the builders of that staircase. Newfoundlander builders wouldn’t have thought twice about it, likely. I recalled my barrel-chested, cheerful brother-in-law in his good black leather jacket, hat less, stepping out into the driving, sideways freak icy rain one Christmas in Corner Brook. It’s not FIT! he turned, smiled and shrugged at us watching from the damp doorway or Dean’s eldest brother.
Next, a meal which had us enjoying the lightest, sweetest fish and chips ever and a pint of the local brew at The Duke. Simply awesome.
Day two, we walked all over the pretty and old, twisty knotted downtown and then up around the University Campus after an incredible brunch at The Rooms Museum Cafe overlooking the harbour.
We met Bill, Dean’s friend from University, at his house and then dropped everything to go take a look at Petty Harbour. The sun just happened to come out while we were there. Afterwards, we ate a wonderful steak supper with Bill, then walked back to the hotel still in the day light. Gotta love the long days of summer. We then fit in a pint with Michael Crummey and told the tales of our lives, three glasses clinked, then three heads together as we caught up on all the news at the Ship Pub. We laughed at the memories of Codco who used to hang out at The Ship Inn which was sold and so imaginatively renamed.
Day three, we picked up our rental car after a scrumptious meal at Chinched and off we went to tour the Irish Loop with a stop to hike La Manche trail, part of the East Coast Trail system and see the suspension bridge out in the ghost-town wilderness. Later that evening, we found a nice B&B and just got in the door when the rain began to pour down. The owner was a small lively man with a few good stories for us. Then we enjoyed some rest.
Day four, we ventured into Tickle Cove and did the little trail around the pond then had a dessert and tea at Maudie’s Cafe, which was sweet. Later, we found a small hotel room on Bay Roberts and walked for a ways to see the old churches, enjoying a pint overlooking the bay on the route back.
The next morning we were nearly ordered by the hotel manager to do the Shoreline Walk, which we are so glad to have done. Simply beautiful, with its old stacked rock
foundations and stone cellars from before the town was moved further into the crook of the bay. At the end of the two hour hike, we came across a diner and enjoyed touton (pronounced TOUT-on) BLTs and fish cakes, the server so talkative she forgot to take our order for several minutes. It was scrumptious. There, we overheard an exchange that we are still chuckling about. The server asked a guest how he wanted his eggs. The Newfoundlander answered: I don’t want to be any trouble but, I’ll have one scrambled and one poached. but I don’t want to be any trouble. Pause. The server stood with a look on her face, searching his for a glimmer of fun, then all erupted in laughter.
Day five, we pulled into Trinity and booked a room for two nights in a large house with many rooms all with ensuite bathrooms. It was like a hostel for adults, said Dean. We enjoyed swapping stories with some of our house mates and then had food and drink and a stroll around town, marveling again at the use of colour. Why so much colour we wondered? It was so that the seafarers could find their way home in the fog, b’y.
Day six, we did the Skerwink Hike with its sea stacks and rugged coast, ending the trail beside a pond with a resident otter who made himself known. This is my pond, he indicated with his snout held high and in our general direction. Later that evening, we found our way out to the CBC TV Miniseries site of Random Passage and were tickled to be the only folks there. I had read these books and LOVED them, a quarter of a century ago living in Corner Brook and being new to the culture. They shed a ton of light for me.
Day seven, we were back to St John’s were we met up with one of Dean’s nieces and had tea while catching up on all her news. We had walked around Quidi Vidi pond to get to her at a little cafe, but first we had met Dean’s friend Bill at The Mallard Cottage for a pint and an incredibly delicious lunch.
Day eight, we were packing up to catch our plane back to Nova Scotia. Our little tour of Newfoundand’s East coast had been amazing. Colourful, sweet, homey, rugged and beautiful. We shall return.
Today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day…
We were scurrying quickly away from the possible dive-bombing Peregrine Falcons and their surely sharp talons on a local beach near Avonport, Nova Scotia. (Peregrines are not to be trifled with, being the fastest creature on planet Earth, who can reach 320 km / hr with sharp talons and beak). My hubby of 26 years, Dean and I had been strolling on the pebbly, blue-tinged shale beach marveling at the warm day in late May and kicking around ideas for future world travel, a topic we come back to again and again it seems.
Yes, the warm day…we have had an awfully cold spring which would have me donning a toque up until, oh, yesterday. But today, we were in double digits with blue skies and ebbing tides….off to one of our many beaches to enjoy it. Not knowing a) that this beach belonged to a pair of nesting Peregrines and b) that this would be a truly remarkable day.
About thirty minutes down the beach, the shreeeeeeeeek of the Peregrine. (I have known this shreek and had heard it recently and curiously near our house in Wolfville. That mystery was about to be clarified.) It seems we were a little too close to their nest which was lodged up on a ledge in the sand-stone cliffs which towered over the beach.
A senior couple was coming down the beach in hats and rubber boots. Large camera had she, binoculars had he. Pauline and her special friend Bernard Forsythe and was it truly our fortune to meet them! Firstly warning them about the mad! mad! mad! falcons but they didn’t seem to want to turn around. They nodded knowingly about the speedy upset pair and so, with one eye-ball peeled, we stood and talked on the pretty beach for the better part of an hour.
Turns out, Bernard has been a serious naturalist and birder since the 70s featured here on CBC Television. Both he and Pauline had lost their respective mates in the last few years and had found friendship in each other through the Blomidon Naturalists Society. Bernard told us that he is 77 and still climbing trees. He has tagged more than 800 barred owls and routinely mounts owl boxes all over, to aid the owls in the nesting needs, now that old growth forests are not as prevalent as they once were. Bernard kept us highly interested in the various and many conservation activities he takes part in, mainly he says, for fun! He told us that Peregrines would have been in Wolfville due to it being on their flight path returning from the south. That’s why I would hear them sometimes. Mystery solved. I made a mental note to let my friend Daisy know this. She had wondered the same thing.
We asked Bernard if he happened to know our niece who had attended Acadia University and is now completing her masters in ornithology at York, Taylor Brown. He said…. Yes, we met one day by chance at the eye doctor. We were both bored and got to talking and then realized how much we have in common with regard to birding.
Dean and I were afraid to go back down the beach toward the nesting site but Pauline and Bernard assured us that we would be fine. If we formed a group, they said, the falcons were unlikely to attack us. I picked up a flat rock and used it as a helmet, to be extra sure. Once near to but far beneath the nest, we were able to clearly see a proud, puffed-up Momma on the nest and a serene protective Dadda on a tree just a bit further on, standing guard. Stoic. Soon, Pauline exclaimed that she could see a fuzzy chick’s head moving just above the rim of the nest. Time to leave them be, said Bernard. They need to hunt and take care of necessary falcon parenting business and shouldn’t be interrupted too much.
On our way back up the beach, we were fully captivated by the many fascinating stories that Bernie told us about his adventures in ornithology, owl banding and nesting box mounting. He would be called upon by Acadia University to take various students ‘under his wing’. One such student was studying the murder of crows who would roost on Boot Island. They would go to the island to study them together and so that Bernie could instruct the student in banding and other bird ways.
Bernard is also a wild-orchid enthusiast and counter. We would have been at the Orchid Show at the Acadia University KC Irving centre in February when my sisters were visiting. He pointed out that he studies and counts the wild ones though which he said involves a lot of hiking through the woods of Nova Scotia.
He then found us a highly interesting fossil of a fern and was bent over pointing at it as if he was in a teenager’s body. This incredibly youthful senior man has done and still does many hikes and out-trips on his various conservation missions. Now though most times with his friend Pauline by his side except when he is climbing trees. At those times, she waits on the ground. Both of them have a quick smile and a glint in their eye. They are wise, vital, active, witty and incredibly interesting. At one point, Pauline told me she wasn’t worried about the falcons dive-bombing because she was wearing blue and they don’t like blue. Aren’t you lucky I said. Why don’t they like blue? I asked. Only kidding she said. She had me going and it was funny, we belted out a good laugh about that one!
Again, I felt completely privileged and indebted to these lovely folks of the Annapolis Valley where we now call our home. They took a lovely day and made it even better, and… just by chance.
Only in The Valley.
Click here to read Part 1 (Reid’s Meats) and Part 2 (Dabro Farms).
(Peregrine picture was found on google images ~ thank you~ The other two are mine.)
We are big fans of really good, local, fresh food. We aren’t fanatics about it, we just really appreciate it when it is offered and when we can get our hands on it fairly easily at a decent price.
Similar to the story about Reid’s Meats, Dabro Farm is just west a bit and is a family run farm, over the hill from our home with an honour-system market in a small barn. It is surrounded by grazing cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd goat, geese and a couple of horses and donkeys, and the ever present Gaspereau River flowing lazily on by just across the paddock.
This one day, a few months ago, needing eggs, I rolled on over to the hill to Dabro after a sweet stroll in the sun along the canal with my then old furry girl-friend Lady Jane.
Arriving at the barn, set beside the country road, I parked and walked in. The egg fridge was usually my first order of business as one grown son of mine is a true egg fan, eating two or three when he is over for breakfast.
Opening the fridge, I was shocked to find nary an egg when normally there were several dozen awaiting purchase. Now, I didn’t let it bother me too much as I had the proprietor in my contacts on my cell. We had taught his two sons how to drive years ago. My trusty cell still held his phone number. I quickly texted Shawn Davidson letting him know my predicament. Somehow I knew that Shawn would be able to help.
I’ll be right there, he texted back lickety split.
Arriving in his pick-up truck from the other barn down the road, he dismounted and said, give me a sec.
He walked into the hen house and came out about two minutes later with a warm dozen of large brown eggs in a carton held open for me to inspect. He had left his work at the other end of his farm and come to my aid instantaneously, to hand-pick just laid eggs out from under the feathered ladies in the hen house. In my mind I was shaking my noggin gently thinking only in the valley. Shawn began to apologize for not washing the eggs. I told him to stop it as I gently pulled a warm brown egg into my palm. It filled my palm completely. A double-yoker for sure. At breakfast it was confirmed. Twin yokes.
Small farms are wonderful sustainable systems which employ families and provide good food to local folks with the circle of life working in a balancing act together. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. The manure from the livestock fertilizing the crops. It reminds me of that scene in the Disney film Lion King when Mufasta explains to his son, Simba, that when he dies, his body becomes the grass. The antelope eat the grass and later, become food for the lions. Circle of life. A delicate balance. Done with respect.
So, to describe it further: this particular farm market down in Gaspereau, has a few large fridges and freezers with various butcher-paper wrapped meats, poultry and pork, steaks, chops, bacon, ham and sausage as well as eggs.
There are also various other scrumptious offerings like home-made jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Not to mention baked goods, coffee by the cup, knitted socks, toques, mitts, candles, honey, garlic, ice-cream sandwiches which really hit the spot in the warm summer months, and a little library of novels. All of these items are sold by honour-system. There are no staff monitoring the market so, choose the goods, write them down in the little book. Insert cash into the cash box or send an etransfer. Walk out the door and be careful of the roaming, foraging happy-go-lucky chickens.
Time for breakfast!
Thank you Shawn Davidson and family of Dabro Farms. You will have noted a large contented smile on my face each time I have been in your market. Only in the Valley.
(all pictures found on google images of Dabro Farms)
When my sister Amy was almost 19, her friend convinced her to secretly hitch-hike out to Vancouver from southern Ontario, a trip of over 4000 kms one way.
The young ladies stitched ‘VAN’ patches to their back packs and with straightened hair and bell bottoms, off they went: flower children off to find themselves. (The prior year, my brother Matt had gone west with a buddy, hopping on and off rail cars. It was a trendy thing to do then, to head West and to always ‘hit the ground running!’)
They were lucky to get rides in transport trucks with very attentive and caring knights of the highway who fed them and took them the extra mile to their destination. They also took them on little side trips to Banff Springs Hotel and to the Okanagan Valley. The gentlemen put the girls up in a hotel room of their own for two nights…sheer luxury and after four days they were dropped off in Vancouver at a hostel which the men paid for, for a night. So generous!
The next day, the young women went to see Donna’s uncle in Port Alberni. He gave them money to stay in a hostel for a further week so they could visit Wreck beach, Gas town and Stanley Park.
The friends walked all over the city seeing various vendors, musicians with tambourines and hippies everywhere as well as trans folks. Amy and Donna didn’t have a clue as to what they were seeing sometimes.
At Stanley Park in Vancouver, the sight there was not the best. The park was strewn with tons of garbage and many youth were strung out and laying around on the grass. Some folks were meditating or in some sort of drug-induced trance. Everyone was friendly but, it wasn’t anything like what Amy and Donna expected.
At the hostel which was nice and clean and more wholesome, there was a kitchen with folks baking bread. The meals there were mostly stews and bread. Sitting in a circle at the hostel, everyone would share stories about where they came from. There were many minstrel musicians and artists there with a general attitude of living on love, not working and being cool.
Walking through Vancouver one morning, seventeen-year old Donna saw a dance studio with a dancer in the window. This dancer became her husband and they are still together today, going on to open a water-bed franchise and doing well on the water-bed trend of the eighties. Remember that? (Amy reminded me that she had two water beds in her apartment in the eighties where I lived while waiting to get into the army. My husband Dean installed a waterbed in his residence room at university!)
In Gas town there were many people sitting on the sidewalk and shooting up and doing all manner of weirdness, almost like a mini Woodstock. They seemed to be doing anything they wanted without a thought for the law. Long hair, headbands, bare-chest, jeans, cut-off shorts, macrame belts with beaded tail a hanging down the thigh.
‘Georgie‘ girls would walk by in peasant blouses, long, flowing skirts and hair, floppy hat, beads, bracelets and anklets and Jesus sandals, patched and needle-pointed bell-bottom jeans and no makeup. No bra. Some wore moccasins and everyone had a backpack which identified them with sewn-on patches of their home town and of different places they had been. No cell phones. No email. No video games. No social media and no effing selfies. Just patches, music and spoken word. Imagine.
At the white-sand, nude Wreck Beach Amy recognized John from home who was sunbathing nude, stretched out on the fine, warm sand. Amy told him to throw a towel on if he wanted them to speak to him.
Soon the money ran out and Amy needed to get home. From the ‘free’ phone at the Trans Union office, she called Mom and Dad and begged for airfare, mentioning that she didn’t even have money for food. Back then, a student could fly across country for under a hundred dollars.
‘Our blond daughter is coming back from finding herself! Wailed Dad to Mom.
Amy waited all day in Gas Town for the money transfer to come through, seeing sights that made her head spin. Men dressed as women. Gay lovers. Protests of every sort. The needle and the damage done.
Back home to reality and work at A&W. Dad and Mom had let Amy, Matt and Mark have the house that summer while they were at the lake for the summer. Bad move as there were parties galore and the house was getting more and more weathered due to them. In the seventies when the baby boomers were teens, there were just so many of them about that they took over every aspect of life. They walked around in packs. It’s hard to believe now in 2019, that they were ever that young. The baby boomers are now aging and their vast numbers are taking over the assisted-living homes, seniors resorts and most of Florida. Stores are stocking more and more seniors’ needs: reading glasses, purple shampoo, compression hose, knee-braces, Epsom salts, sore muscle balm, soup and the like.
Anyhoo, at home, Amy kept an eye-ball peeled for Donna’s dad who was the police chief. She thought she would be killed if he saw her as he was sure to blame Amy for the loss of his daughter to Vancouver…man.
(Eva Player – daisy pic – and Google images..thanks again )
I walked into Reid’s Meats one afternoon on a mission to buy some ribs to cook up a feed, a feed we have only a couple of times per year. Just every now and then I get that craving for fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I was the only soul in the place, other than the two brothers Conor, whom I always think of as the young guy with the dimples, and the older brother Michael, who is a more serious looking guy and all business (although I just called him and did get a chuckle out of him when attempting to get his email address, a long one).
Before I get further into the story, I need to give a description of the location of this meat shop. It is set in a tiny crossroads called Melanson at the base of the rolling hills of Melanson Mountain with the Gaspereau River flowing past it, about ten minutes outside of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This shop is constantly busy cutting wild meats in a separate room all night and domestic meats all day. When we first moved here, someone told us it was the best place for fresh cuts of meat. Always on ‘the hunt’ for the best quality food, I found myself patronizing Reid’s Meats. And, you’re about to read a good example of that.
Michael Reid asks me if he can help me. I tell him I’d like some ribs. He shoots back, ‘pork or beef?’
K, I didn’t even know beef ribs were an option. I decided to stick with pork and told him so.
‘How much do you want?’
‘How ’bout six racks about this big,’ as I held up my hands measuring about half a foot between them, thinking of my large roasting pan and how much I could cram in there, knowing the left-overs would be scrumptious the next day.
‘Just a sec’ he says to me and then to Dimples, he says, ‘sharpen my knife.’
Receiving his orders from his older brother, Conor quickly and deftly started on sharpening the knife while Micheal walked into the back fridge.
A few seconds later…
a whole pig carcass, lead by Michael, came whizzing out of the fridge on a huge hook which was attached to a track in the ceiling. Michael carefully guided the carcass into place.
‘Only in the Valley,’ I’m thinking as I blinked my eyes to ensure this wasn’t a figment of my imagination. It wasn’t. Geez, I wish I had the guts to start recording this. I had been told this was fresh meat. Got that right.
What happened next is that Michael butchered that pig right in front of me while it hung on the hook. He had this food-grade chain saw and a couple of different frightfully sharp knives, thanks to little brother, that he used to expertly and efficiently carve that meat, not wasting an ounce.
In a few minutes, while I watched with my jaw hitting the floor, he was smacking those fresh ribs down on the reddish-brown paper positioned on the stainless steel counter in front of me, his eyes meeting mine seeking approval to go ahead and wrap them up. Not on a styrofoam tray with plastic wrap and absorbent pad. No, in the old-fashioned reddish butcher paper and beige tape that he moistened using a small, wheeled ceramic device with water in its tiny reservoir.
My mind reeled, for a moment, back to the endless summer days at the camp and of ‘Jake’s General Store‘ in Maggie River before the god-awful fire that burnt it to the ground. Back when we would ride to town in the back of a pickup or walk there, barefoot, with a shiny quarter in sweaty little hands. The butcher at Jake’s was as impressive and the cuts of meat were beautiful. The ground beef was ground there in front of you from beef that you chose. Then, the butcher would reach up and grab the string which was in a creaking pulley system attached to the ancient ceiling. The package of meat would be wound with this string and his black oil pencil would scratch out the price on it while my large eyes watched in fascination, my fingers gripping the edge of the glass display case, my chin not yet clearing its edge. I could almost taste the burgers that we would have for supper, cooked by Mom outside the office on the grill, perched in the very rocks which formed the foundation of the cabin. Cooked over charcoal, started with ‘strike anywheres‘ and yes, always with a wee hint of lighter fluid, lending an added ‘je-ne-sais-quois’ to the burger.
More than a few decades later and back to Reid’s Meats…
I just basically nodded profusely at the pile of freshly butchered pork ribs with a big wide smile. I was feeling so thankful to be a part of such a great community where food is so wonderfully fresh and plentiful and the skill to handle it is still so present and of such a human scale.
Thank you, Reid’s Meats for carrying on a tradition and a family-run business providing this kind of quality for four decades. This Upper Canadian come-from-away is one satisfied customer.
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 barefoot. 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 (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 get 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. 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 a family friend 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 three inch 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 we called “the shop”. 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 mailbox 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, turning and even sniffing 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 worldwide, 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.
When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes and netflix. For entertainment, we would go downtown (actually leave the house!) to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called Light & Shadow Video. L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.
So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed. It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.
Nick was working that night and he was en forme. We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies. I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy? And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly. Nick was amazing. He knew all the movies, plot lines, and actors.
At some early point in the better-part-of-an hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm. My lips had been pretty dry and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on. Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good. I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure. My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling. I loved it.
I stood up with my selection: I, Robot. (I LOVE Will Smith). I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though. There were so many friends to talk to and banter with. As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong. I was getting some looks and double takes. Hmm. Strange. Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night. I was wearing my new jacket and my hair. Well, it was a good hair day. That must be it. So, I stayed a bit longer. It was busy in there. I was on fire!
At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face. As he looked at me, then down at my selections, then to the computer, then back at me. I had the feeling he was suppressing a giggle. I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.
Off I drove home. Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.
THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS. Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake. I had used my dark brown-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.
Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the dark lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips. Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me????’ I shouted at him.
Pause, muffled chuckling.
‘I thought you were trying something new,’ he said.
Update: I originally posted this a year ago but am re-posting because this story takes place in my wee town’s video store. Said video store has since been closed and re-opened under a new name by one of the original, amazingly talented employees. It then moved twice and now, several years later, it is about to close for good. It seems there is no longer a market for videos and DVDs, no matter the incredible collection. I was saddened to read this story in our local paper and then to hear the owner speaking on CBC Radio about her ideas and aspirations for the future. So, this re-post is a tribute to our closing video store.
Around six in the evening, the canoe finally drifted into the little cove on the island. They carefully unloaded the gear to assure it would remain dry. They set up the tent, threw the sleeping bags inside and paddled off to Echo Rock. As they paddled, Luke looked up at the rock cliff, and he began to remember the first time he had jumped from Echo Rock. He recalled the mixture of exhilaration and frightening feelings, as he slowly scaled the naturally laid stones to the precarious ledge which opened to a panoramic view of the bay. Local history has it that in the late nineteenth century, before roads were built in the area, a steamship that supplied the towns of Maggie River and Almond Harbour caught fire and sank in the bay. On a clear day, one can still see the timbers of the old steamship from the ledge at Echo Rock.
They docked the canoe to the side of the majestic rock surface and tied a line to a birch tree conveniently overhanging the surface of the water. Like most hot July days in the north, the day’s end was a subtle transition into a long, warm evening, with the heat of the day still prevalent in the mid-summer air. On this particular day, the late evening temperature was higher than usual. As he dove through the air, he anticipated the cool feel of the water on his sweltering body. After thirty minutes of climbing and diving, they were both ready to retire for the evening. They jumped back into the canoe and headed toward the tiny island campsite, just three hundred yards in front of them.
As the distinctive sound of crickets filled the air, accompanied by the multitude of mysterious sounds from other diverse night creatures, the sun’s powerful radiance created a timeless portrait on the night’s western sky.
The buzz of thousands of mosquitoes hovering over the surface of the water were silhouetted by the red glow of the sunset. The night became animated in sound and the peculiar northern environment came alive with tranquil vitality.
The time was 9:30pm. Jason started a small fire and they cooked a meal of beans and wieners as they quietly watched the flickering flames. Luke turned and asked Jason a question and he was surprised to see him already heading for the tent to go to sleep. Just then, he looked up at the night sky and saw a ring of clouds forming in the western horizon. Suddenly, he heard a splash on the other side of the island. He ran over to a barren rock-shelf and flashed his light in the rippling water.
A big snapping turtle appeared in the dark water below him. The characteristic hooked head and long tail on the lonely reptile gave it a sinister look as it frantically swam away from the light. As he looked over the water, the rain then began. Nevertheless, Luke doused the fire and headed for the tent.
The air in the tent was hot, but after a while the rain’s hypnotic sound on the tent softly lulled him to sleep as it quenched the night air of its sticky heat. The wind was picking up as the sound of trees bowed to its might and it could be heard all around the tiny island.
Suddenly, Luke awoke. He looked out the tent window and saw a flash of light in the night sky. Just heat lightening, he optimistically thought, as he drifted again into a twilight sleep.
Twenty minutes later, however, the tent abruptly shifted as the wind became strong and severe. They were both awake now and wondered if this was a smart time to get off the island.
Luke looked out the window of the tent at a tiny porch light, about a quarter of a mile up the lake. The light flickered and went out. A power-line must have gone down, he thought to himself. He realized then that this was not a normal storm. As he looked out at the turbulent lake and heard the white waves hit the shore of the island, he knew they were trapped.
The canoe could easily capsize if they took the chance to reach the nearest shelter. The storm raged on, and with every flash of lightening their fear rose as they waited for the inevitable clap of thunder, which sounded so close it shook the tiny island and rang in their ears as a warning of its fury.
Luke reminded himself and his young nephew not to panic. The combination of rain, wind and lightening became so intense that they were forced to yell at each other to communicate over the furious tempest.
What could they do?
Their bodies were drenched from the deluge of rain. They were sitting ducks in the midst of a powerful storm. The lightening flashed with great intensity and they both knew that they could be electrocuted at any second.
The time slowed to endless crawl. The lightening crashed down so close that the ground was alive underneath them. Fear became their greatest enemy. Luke thought about the headlines in tomorrow’s local paper:
Two Careless Canoeists Swept To Death Camping On Tiny Island
They had to act!
They both jumped out of the tent and into a blinding shower of rain. They had to get to the canoe to get off the storm-besieged island. They looked in amazement when they realized the canoe had flipped over and dislodged itself from its original place high up on the rock. The tie-line had torn off the tree limb. They were just in time! Luke had to get to the canoe before it was swept away into the deep water of the lake. He dove into the tumultuous water and came up on the other side of the canoe. The waves lapped against his head and he luckily braced himself on the bottom of the lake, pushing the canoe into the island’s rocky shore. Jason grabbed the tie-line and they lifted the canoe up and over, to empty it of water.
The lightening flashed and they saw its giant forks crash into a tree near Echo Rock, splitting it in half with ease. But, they were paralyzed with fear and decided they had to wait it out in the water-soaked tent. Going out on the lake now would put them in more danger.
It was three in the morning, and the storm had raged for more than three hours. At three-thirty, the lightening and the wind began to subside and they were ready to risk an escape in an empty canoe.
They placed the canoe in the water and paddled for the nearest cottage with all their might. The lake was still rough and the white waves became a formidable obstacle in the dark.
The wind gusted unpredictably. The canoe turned abruptly and the waves haphazardly hit the side of the tiny craft, pushing it into the bay. Luke started having second thoughts about their decision to cross over to the cottage on the mainland, but they could not turn back now.
The cold rain dripped from their weary faces as water lapped over the sides of the canoe.
The wind subsided and attacked like a bull on a rampage. After forty-five minutes of wind and waves, Luke pointed to the dock in excitement. Just as hope became alive in them, a colossal wave rolled mightily over the side of the canoe, sweeping them into the uproarious lake.
Fortunately, Luke and Jason were both strong swimmers and they did not panic easily. The night seemed endless and surreal as the dark water encompassed their every thought. Luke then looked behind him and saw the protruding dock just a few feet away.
They had made it….
Luke opened his eyes and it took a few moments to realize where his exhausted body had fallen two hours before, in the dark. The water was now calm as the early rays of the sun shone over the tree-line in the east. The canoe was rhythmically hitting the rocks just twenty feet to the left of the dock. As Luke’s eyes came into focus, he thought that the once proud craft looked broken and demoralized as the water swelled over its humble crescent form.
A man then appeared on the dock and told them about the tornado that had touched down in the area. They suddenly realized that the storm had left a path of destruction, with immense pine trees split in half and cottages with trees leaning on them, precariously.
As Luke and Jason drove out onto the main highway, they looked in wonder at the legacy of the storm. It was a storm that would be well-remembered by the two fortunate survivors.
Luke turned to his nephew and said:
A philosopher by the name of Nietzsche once wrote what I am feeling right now…
‘What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.’
Leave a comment! I love ’em and the guest writer, Luke Player, will love ’em too!
For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother. Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow. Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors. They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us). We certainly could never do that with our son Leo. The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English. Worth it to them. Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.
At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get-go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life. Charlie loved math and studying. Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego. Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much. Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch. He was a maniac. Leo was pretty chill, usually.
The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby. Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby. I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that. Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’ So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel. After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month. Canadian kids play every chance they get. Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’ Charlie took my advice. The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying. So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study. Oooookay.
When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’ Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy. He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change. I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night. Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning. I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello? At 2 in the morning?” Something like that.
Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls. Quite a big difference. One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility. That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic. Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?” He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.
One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk). Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park. Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read. We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish inVirginia when we lived there and when Leo was born. I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff. I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.
Charlie really liked his food. I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side. Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie. He was inspecting. He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently. A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup. We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’. He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them. Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’. We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end. He cottoned on. We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home. He was a visitor in our home. He got it.
Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the schoolyard to pick up Leo and Charlie. Charlie was nowhere to be seen. I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea. Suddenly, there he was. He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.
Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times. This always made Leo laugh. Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school. Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back. One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up. When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’. We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.
To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends. It was a lot of fun. We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again. From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days. We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea. Maybe he is?
Yesterday I asked my friend Victoria if she wanted to get out for a mid-afternoon walk in a nearby Watershed Nature Preserve, just a few minutes from our Nova Scotian town. She had never been there she said as I explained where it is located. She asked if it would be a tough walk because she still had a sore leg from taking a tumble over a root while walking Cape Split the weekend before. My response:
‘No, it’s just a little stroll’….
Into the woods we wandered, after taking a big swig of water. ‘Are you bringing water?’ Victoria asked. My response:
‘No, I never carry water for a short walk. I just top up now.’…
Our first stop was to look at the old Reservoir Lake, walk over the new small log bridge and then along the shore of the lake for a little bit. Then, a hard right into the woods again and it was there that I thought it would be a good idea to go on the Ravine Trail for a few minutes. There was not a soul around and the trail was quite nicely marked with bright orange tape on trees the whole way. The problem being that my phone rang and so I was not really watching as we got further and further along the trail that I had previously thought we would just be on for 5 minutes or so. I had been distracted and wasn’t really watching the way and thus missed any chance of getting off the trail and heading back to the car.
Victoria asked me if I knew this trail? My response:
‘Nope, but I can’t image it will be too hard to figure out. This park can’t be THAT big. Right?
We saw startlingly green ferns bathed in a beam of sunlight and stopped for a moment to admire them. Little creeks and small waterfalls. I was tempted to take a drink from the rushing water, but, thought better of it lest I give Victoria a heart attack. She is from a medical background. Enough said. I informed Victoria of the cool item I had seen on TED talk called the LifeStraw. That you can just use the straw to drink from even stagnant water and it is totally safe. In fact our friend Daisy and her boys had used one in Australia on a hike there. I had two LifeStraws at home. Oh well. It takes days to die of dehydration, right?
We forded a few boggy areas, stirring up many a biting bug: black flies and mosquitoes. Victoria then showed me an angry red bump on her forearm and explained that she gets a bad reaction from black fly bites. Oh wait, let me dig out my emergency bug dope for you. I thought as I reached over my shoulder for my small day pack. Nothing. Didn’t bring anything on this ‘stroll’ except my phone and a tissue…we were now approaching two hours in the woods. Victoria’s face was getting pink.
I started to imagine what we would need to do if we couldn’t find our way out of this pretty place. We would have to hunker down and try to stay warm until morning and then just walk until we would come to a road. I was loathe to get hubby Dean to come look for us, should we then all be lost in the woods. My imagination was getting the better of me. We had hours of daylight yet. For sure we would find civilization before dark. Right?
I said to Victoria: ‘It could be worse, we could have a fifty-pound pack on our backs.’
‘And an army radio,’ chimed in Victoria, ever the good sport. We both had army experience, mine Reg force, hers Reserve. An army radio is an army radio, is an army radio. We both knew that to be true.
Over another log bridge, a glimpse of a ruins of an ancient moss-covered stone bridge then squealing like school girls when a brown stick wriggled furiously away from our falling feet. Next, up a soft pine-needle trail where the path split. One way went slightly down through a nicely cut trail into a sunny meadow, the other went slightly up and into a dim tangle of woods. The upward tending trail was marked with orange tape and upon inspection of the map just now, the very map we didn’t have yesterday, it would have taken us on a incline back up to the parking lot in about 2 clicks. We chose the downward sloping pathway and walked for about another forty minutes coming out at a country road.
Looking right we saw L’Acadie Vinyards. I smiled with relief. I knew exactly where we were. I may or may not have been here before, sampling their wares… I said, ‘Okay, now we have to follow this road left and then left again on the next road and the next.’ It would have been 5 clicks more.
‘Can’t we just go in and have some wine? Couldn’t Leo come get us?’
My response: ‘Um, YES! What a fabulous idea!’ My son Leo had his licence now. He could come get us.’
Much like that old much-loved but very corny tv show we all watched as kids in which a group heads out for a ‘three-hour cruise‘ and ends up on a deserted island for years and years…we had headed out for a wee twenty minute stroll and ended up in the woods for about three hours. It all ended well. Our worst fears were not realized and we even had wine and then a cutie come pick us up and pay the bill. Gotta like that.
We had zigged when we should have zagged. Ever done that? How did it end up for you?
~Leave a comment below.~
(Thank you google and those who took them for the pictures!)
Last summer an idea struck. How about I take summer seriously? How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible. I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days. Why in keeping with the tides? Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on. Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in. It happens to unsuspecting folks every year. Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing. Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously. I just wanted to eat those beaches up. The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk. I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.
First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I. That worked! Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in. There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs. All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swallows that make their homes there.
Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village. The Big Blue, I like to call it. And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay. The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine. I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel. Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.
The tide was way out. Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide. The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect. The sun was high. It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:
Shiny Happy People Laughing.
Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay. It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at Stirlings Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.
The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us. There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about. I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us. They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds. I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach. He said it was world famous to geologists. That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it. The boys were quite impressed. I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.
Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by. On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud. In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes. No kidding.
Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.
At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall. We savoured it all and it was magical. Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles. So simple. So good. The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.
Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon. I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day. Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us. We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach. Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach. The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach. She normally walks with a cane. Not that day. She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant. She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo. Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady. A great memory. Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.
So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach. We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor. It was magical. At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.
Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt. The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily. Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand. Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.
Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day. It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach. As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it. Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.
From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim. Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing. Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand. It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.
In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship. No better kind.
When Dean and I were honourably released from the military in 1992, (see post A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂) we brought back a 1976 VW Van with us from Germany and called her “Betsy’. Like the one in the picture above (from google images) but our Betsy was dark green. We knew that travelling would be part of our lives, having already seen a lot of Europe and enjoying the experience of embracing other cultures and locals but, before seeing the rest of the wide world, we wanted to experience our huge, beautiful country first. We would travel every Province and each Territory with the mandate of seeing at least one National Park in each of them.
We spent the spring with Dean’s parents in Newfoundland, which was sweet, as it gave us some quality time with truly wonderful and good people.
To be in the vicinity of my father-in-law when he laughed was magical. He was like an elf with a sweet spirit and kind nature. When he would laugh, his shoulders would come up and his body would shake while his laughing smile took over his whole face. One couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Dean’s mom was an incredibly strong, kind and thoughtful matriarch. She worked tirelessly and subtly for her family (which was ever expanding with more and more grand and great grand-children), supporting them with Sunday Jigg’s dinners, knitted and crocheted sweaters, table cloths, toques, mitts, socks, home-made pies, jams, chow and beets, baby-sitting and advice.
Neither of them was given to showy acts of affection like hugs or spoken I love yous, but their love was obvious and ever present and seen in the way they looked at you, asked if you had had enough to eat or in the manner they would engage in conversation or try to help with a concern. Dean’s parents were the best kind of folks and it was my absolute pleasure to meet and live with them that spring. I could see why my Dean was such a wonderful young man.
We had spent hours getting Betsy ready for the trip. We wanted to be completely self-sufficient. We had tons of storage space in her. Under the seat in the back we neatly stored many containers of dried foods: a variety of beans, rice, lentils, cereals, pasta, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, hot chocolate and sauces. In the front top area we stored two dozen gallon jugs of water. There was also a coleman stove, fuel, pots, plates, utensils, knives and a cutting board. We packed her with our clothes, laundry soap, wash basin, books, candle lantern, down duvet, pillows, maps, hiking gear and more. We were kitted out AND we had several bottles of preserves as well as home-made wine and Bailey’s thanks to our sister-in-law’s suggestion. (We would have never thought of that. Ever.)
We had already seen lots of Newfoundland and had hiked several hikes at Gros Morne and Blow Me Down so off we went to the ferry and arrived in Cape Breton and pointed Betsy up the Cabot Trail. Its a highway trail that travels the edge of cliff for a few hundred kms with breath-taking scenery of the big blue below.
I have to say, the drive was terrifying. I would lean way over toward Dean as he was driving, away from the certain death of driving off that cliff.
Next was P.E.I. where we camped on a red sand beach and, in the pouring rain went to a pub in Charlottetown to celebrate our anniversary. A big indulgence, since we were on a very tight budget but which was quite lovely due to the rain and our special occasion.
On to New Brunswick where we stayed at Fundy National Park and walked on the ocean floor, marveling at the huge high tides, not knowing that a decade and a bit later we would be living in a tidal town just across the water (see post: A Simple East-Coast Life ) Next was Quebec where we visited La Maurice National Park and where we had picked up an old friend and her two pre-school boys to travel and camp with us for a couple of days. That was eye-opening. The boys never stopped and consequentially, nor did their Mom. We had been enjoying such decadence, doing whatever we pleased. Now learning that, as a parent, it’s not all about you. Who knew? It was a valuable lesson to behold.
At another park in Quebec we did an overnight canoe trip which was very scenic and physically challenging during the portages but, horrible in the torrential rain for hours.
In Ontario, of course there were many visits to make to family members and friends residing there. It was lovely to be greeted, questioned and welcomed and to bathe and launder our clothes was nice too. In Ontario we visited Point Pelee National Park with it’s long boardwalk that traverses some wet lands on the way to the sandy beach of Lake Erie. It is the southern most tip of Canada.
From there we heading North and wow, Ontario is a big province. We headed up to muskeg country and then across the top of Lake Superior. We stopped in an unmanned provincial campground and met a couple of wonderful travelers. A Dutch guy biking across Canada and a 65 year old Retired US Naval Captain who was traveling and sleeping in his station wagon: John Shaughnessy. We cooked up a simple pasta meal and invited them to join us at our picnic table. It was a lovely evening of travel talk. When we offered more food to the Dutch guy, he accepted. John Shaughnessy would say: ‘No, no. You go right ahead.’ Good answer, right?Another thing we liked about John Shaughnessy is how he would greet new people. It could be Joe Gas Pump Man, he would stick out his hand and say: ‘Hello. John Shaughnessy. How are you?’ It was fascinating comparing military stories with him. We had just gotten out of the Army and this was a retired US Naval Captain. That is four gold stripes to our two. To us, that was something. He was bright, adventurous, charming and intelligent. We would see him several more times over the next few months, partly because we encouraged him to travel our way. We all got along famously.
In Manitoba we visited Riding Mountain National Park and in Saskatchewan – Grasslands National Park. One night, in Saskatchewan, we pulled over at the edge of a vast farmer’s field. There wasn’t a soul or a vehicle around. We could see for hours, so we knew that for sure. We decided to camp there for the night and so, popped up the top of Betsy. We used to call the top of Betsy upstairs, as in, I’m going upstairs to bed. Watching the sun set in the West, we thought we had it all: each other; a wonderful adventure; good health; good humour (most of the time); and just when we thought that list was complete, we looked over to the other horizon to see the moon rising in the East. Such a big beautiful sky in the prairies. That was the first time I had ever seen both orbs in the sky.
In Alberta we
visited Elk Island National Park and it was here that we encountered a very large bison in the woods. We had been simply hiking along quietly, on a hot, twisty trail through woods of young saplings. Suddenly, looking up, we saw a huge snorting shape quietly staring at us and a bit beyond him, his harem lying on the ground. We retreated, rather hastily and then breathed a sigh of relief.
From there we headed north into to the bottom of North West Territories, stopping at Fort Simpson where, with John Shaughnessy, flew into Nahanni National Park in a tiny Cessna aircraft, puking all the way. No kidding. The updrafts of warm air batted us around crazily. Thank goodness for the airsick bag. The scenery was gorgeous but I, for one, was way too nauseous to enjoy it. Once on the ground we hiked into the falls. Spectacular and quite noisy. I immediately dunked my head in the freezing cold water, aiding the departure of the nausea. I should say here that John Shaughnessy sure as heck did not get sick.
Next we meandered our way to Alaska and decided upon a truly physically challenging adventure: hiking the the Chilkoot Trail at Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park starting in Skagway, Alaska and ending three to five days later in the ghost town of Bennett, BC. It is the trail that had been used in the 1890s by the Goldrush crowd heading over White Pass to find their fortunes in gold. John Shaughnessy bid us farewell, as it was not part of his plan to do such a hike. We would miss him. The hike was challenging for sure. The photo is of the prospectors in the late 1800s who were risking life and limb in the hopes of finding gold. When I look at that angle they are hiking at, carrying huge loads, in ancient gear, I think: hopeful desperation. Many died horrible deaths due to harsh conditions, starvation, tooth decay, frostbite and many other unpleasant issues. The line formed by the ant-sized black dots in the photo are heading up over the pass after having gone through The Scales. At The Scales their amount of supplies were weighed and assessed. They had to have one ton of goods per person!! They had to have certain survival items, like a tent, frying pan and so many pounds of flour, sugar etc before being allowed over the pass. Dean and I had a back pack each. We were good. Three days later, Dean and I walked into the final camp ground of the hike. It had been a physical test but it also had been eye candy and interesting to traverse the same path as those old fortune seekers. We also met Michelle and Mike from Oz, whom we visited a couple of years later. (See post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)).
From British Columbia to Kluane National Park in the Yukon and then to Banff, Alberta where we enjoyed the hub-bub of that city. It was in Banff that we were pulled over by the police which was puzzling because we had done nothing wrong. The Mountie leaned into Betsy and asked: ‘Are you Dean Joyce?’ Dean’s face fell. If a cop in Alberta knew your name, that couldn’t be good. ‘You need to call home as soon as possible.’
Finding a pay phone and making the call, we were informed of the sad and tragic news that Dean’s father had suffered a massive heart attack. We flew to Newfoundland the next day. After quite a battle, Dean’s father rallied and lived another ten wonderful years.
The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall. My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing. Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there. With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.
We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age. We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught. Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin. In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on. Jobe was good at that. Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire. After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire. We would just love those days with Mom…
It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless. One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight. Kel just chuckled at my antics. At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin. Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.
Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon. We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes. I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker. She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today. So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting. All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.
Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god. The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today. You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.
The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town. Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.
Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend. We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness. The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen. It was like it was written for us.
Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin. There were a few of us in his little jeep. We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive. Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change. Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left. The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK! It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows. Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out. The last person climbed out and let the door slam. It slammed on my right thumb. Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew. That was a close one. The jeep did not blow.
During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together. As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).
One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road. Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it. In we piled. There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk. We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp. Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye. He had projectiled such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall. We should have seen it coming. I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door. Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time. He was moaning, groaning and puking. He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no. I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.
The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse. There was Sue. His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me. He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind ‘reeled’ back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me. Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink. Frozen in horror at what I had just done. Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)
Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole. He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter. This was going to be interesting. I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green. His front teeth were missing. He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter. It had fallen out when he was sick…..
Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place. He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.
The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a the late hockey great, a former Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below. There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair. I could not stop looking at everything. Up at the top of the wall, hanging from the open rafters were huge posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.
Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear. The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop. The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below. It was teenager heaven. He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride. I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend. Imagine.
In the 60s my parents buy a piece of lake-front property north of the Muskokas in Ontario, Canada where we move to every summer to live bare-foot at the lake: fishing, swimming, sunning and doing chores each day…
In 1960, the year Mark was a born, my parents with my paternal grand-parents, bought a 21-acre piece of lake-side property north of Huntsville, Ontario. The Camp, as we came fondly to call it, had ten cabins, each on private, wooded lots, most with their own water frontage and docks, on beautifully picturesque forested property beside the soft mineral waters of Eight-mile Lake. The lake is part of a very long and historic river system. The camp is still up and running but is now owned and operated (since the mid 80s) by my eldest sister, Eva and her family.
The Camp was an integral part of my childhood and it was instrumental in my love of the outdoors. You see, as soon as the school year finished, Mom and Dad would have us packed up in the huge boat they called a car and we would move, lock, stock and barrel, up to the camp for the two months of the summer holidays. We never returned to the city during the summer. The City, in the summer, was a place where the less fortunate had to live.
Driving to the camp was always an undertaking. There would often be five or six of us in one car at a time for two hours straight. Once we were in, it was the lake or bust. Dad didn’t dare stop for anything. He had already gassed-up the boat and if one of us had to pee, it would be at the side of the highway, no kidding. That two-hour drive seemed to last forever, such was my eagerness to get there. Once we would pass Gravenhurst, we would be into The Rocks where the Canadian Shield would start to show its lumpy head. The Rocks was the first milestone that proved we were making progress. The Rocks we would say to each other and grin and point, then poke at each other in anticipation of all the fun the summer would surely hold for us.
The lake was the best place in the world to be in the summer and oh, how we pitied, for once, our neighbours, The MacNeils who only got to go on a short summer holiday somewhere closer to Walden. One or two of the MacNeils would usually come to visit at the lake and stay for about a week. Never the whole family though.
Once at the lake, life became a little simpler and a lot more basic. We would shed our shoes and heavier clothing and run around for hours at a time in shorts, tee shirts or just bathing suits. I can remember days filled with hours of swimming, canoeing, running back and forth to the trampoline, playing outdoor games and having the time of my life. All of us became expert swimmers, canoeists, fishers and water-skiers thanks to the black, soft water of Eight-mile Lake. I was swimming by the time I was three. I would spend hours in the water and became such a great underwater swimmer that people would often think I had drowned because I could hold my breath and swim underwater for so long.
The Camp had a built-in source of friends every summer. Nine of the cabins would be rented out to various families who had usually made bookings for them in the winter months. The campsites would also be filled up with people on vacation from the hotter, muggier climes of southern Ontario and of the northern United States. The odd time we would have customers from somewhere exotic like Europe. We would make friends one summer and then see these same people and their families return for several summers to follow. Together, my friends and I would explore the camp and surrounding area. We would swim, trampoline, canoe or walk to town, go for a hike, go fishing, go bull-frog catching, play hide-and-go-seek and have amazing sing-songs around the camp fire and under the vast starry sky at night. We were constantly on the go. We had a lot of good times. On rainy days we would play board games and spin-the-bottle above the work-shed that we called The Shop. Dad didn’t like us to have friends into The Office where he was trying to conduct business. (There were many fights about keeping The Office – our house where we ate and slept – professional and quiet. It was very difficult to keep it so serene especially with the screen door always slamming on the way out.)
‘Slam it!’ Dad would sarcastically yell from his inevitably prone position on the couch, with the newspaper. Conducting business was exhausting work. Meanwhile, Mom had already probably cut three huge grassy cabin lots, cleaned and dug four grimy, foul outhouses and had nothing but an open-face sandwich, a cup of black coffee and a gingersnap for lunch. A calorie deficit was often bragged about for some reason.
Saturdays were the worst days of the week at the camp. Saturdays were turnover days. All of our friends would be leaving and because we had so many chores on Saturday, we often didn’t even get a chance to say our good-byes. From the crack of dawn, we would be tasked with cleaning the cottages, picking up the garbage, cutting the grass, painting and making repairs. Of course, we had many of these same tasks on a daily basis but on Saturday we had a new element involved: time constraint. We had to have it all done before the new customers would begin to arrive and would be expecting their cabin or site to be absolutely sublime. When I was little, I would work closely with Amy, Eva or my mom on cabin cleaning. I would marvel at how quickly and efficiently they could complete a task. I would wish and wish that I was older and more capable, and I would try very hard to keep up with these experts but, I was a child and had the attention span of a child so I would find myself wishing I were swimming instead. Mom knew my love of the water and so would give me a task that would take me down to the dock. I would be given a large blackened kettle to scrub with sand or told to sweep off the dock! A few years later though, I was in charge of cleaning some cabins on my own, or with Luke as my assistant. Wanting to do the very best job, we drew up a list of the various tasks that would have to be completed in each cabin. It went something like this:
Make the beds. Wipe the bedroom furniture down. Sweep out the bedrooms. Clean and sanitize the fridge. Remove any left food and bait. Organize the cupboards. Blacken the wood stove and empty the ashes. Sweep down the cobwebs. Clean and sanitize the sink. Clean out the outhouse and drop ashes down the hole. Sweep and mop the floor. Sweep the porch. Sweep the dock. Tidy up the outdoor fire-hole.
Dad was very proud of this list that we drew up and he would show it to some of his friends and they would all have a chuckle over it – especially the sweep down the cobwebs line. Even now, when I sometimes (actually very rarely due, sadly, to living a few provinces away) help Eva with the cleaning, I mentally run over this list as I lovingly go about the task of cleaning those rustic, very special but ancient cabins.
Dad had a few nicknames that were given to him by the older boys: Cheapskate, Tightwad, Lard-ass, Oaf, Ogre, Moose and Minnie. Moose and Minnie were the ones that stuck although, on occasion, when Job was mad about something, and he was often mad about something, he would refer to Dad as that cheap tightwad or that Lard-ass or something akin to that. Nicknames were big in our family. From the second my Dad laid eyes on me he nicknamed me. I had all this black hair and my skin was a little brownish in colour. I was not cute. I became known as Petite Laid, meaning little ugly and later this was shortened to just Titty. I can still feel the humiliation, as a young girl, perhaps just starting to develop, Eva would holler across the aisles of Woolworth’s, Titty, come over and take a look at this. Just the other day, when on the phone, long-distance with Eva, she slipped and called me Titty. Oh my God, where did that come from? she asked. We just had a chuckle over it. Now, a few of decades later, I think it is a cute nickname. Back then, we all had a nickname, except for Eva who only got one when she met her hubby who called her Tuda. Amy was Doobie and Big Sweets. Matt was Feebert and then Feb. Mark started out as Goobie-Goo and then got Bert (except for the summer he was Manic and got ‘Skeletor’ due to not eating or sleeping). Job got Bert as well. I got Titty and then Ditch. Luke got Bert then Bertrum Brothers then Buttox. Mom was Big Bubbles. She used to leave the kettle on until there were lots of big bubbles and Dad used to goad her about that calling it a waste of energy.
Raising a family of seven kids, on a teacher’s salary, means that frugality is necessary. One day, at the lake, My brother Job 🧡 climbs out of bed and down the ladder from the loft. He decides to cook up some breakfast before starting on his morning chores. Noting that Dad is on the riding-mower out front, he decides to take some extra time and savour the peace of being alone in the office. He can just about taste the crispy bacon and eggs he will make.
Job pulls a pound of bacon out to the fridge, takes one look at the generic brand, and is so disgusted by how fatty it is that he flies out the screen door and whips the pound of bacon at Dad on the riding mower. The pound of bacon hits Dad on the back of the head while Job yells, Minnie you’re such cheapskate!
Dad would try very hard to stick around The Office most of the day. He liked to be there to collect the mail and to answer the phone and to sell a bit of ice and worms or gasoline to the customers. Of course whoever paid in cash made him very happy. Dad had a perpetual role of twentys in his pocket and would often get one of us, especially me, because I was honest, to count it for him.
Anyway, during the warm afternoons while the Northern Canadian sun danced on the large south-facing windows of the office, and the house flies buzzed angrily on the fly-catchers, Dad could invariably be found snoozing on the couch with his newspaper on his chest. Dad had bought a couple of massive, partially rusted deep freezers second-hand and they lined the north-facing exterior walls of the office with ICE printed on front and each sporting a Yale pad lock. Dad would tediously freeze huge blocks of ice in discarded fridge crisper bins. He’d then put the bin up on its edge on the kitchen table and it would begin to thaw and drip on the kitchen floor and then finally, it would yawn and tumble out. Dad would most often be there to stop the block from smashing on the floor. Here we go kids, another couple of blocks of ice to sell. Make sure to tell the customers that we sell ice down here at the office.
Dad would then, almost lovingly, wrap the blocks in old newspaper and sell them to the customers for a buck or two, as inflation dictated. Dad seemed to enjoy the process of making and selling ice and could be seen smiling dreamily as he slid the beef-laden freezer baskets out of the way and lay another completed block in its bed in the bottom of the massive freezer.
One afternoon, while Dad was snoozing on his back on the couch, a slim, curly dark-haired, handsome seventeen-year-old Mark decided to have a steak dinner. At that point in time, Mark was on the outs with Dad and was staying in one of the unrented, less popular cabins. Mark or Job and even Matt were often on the outs with Dad. Usually it was over a lack of respect. Personally, I don’t think there was much respect flowing in either direction in these relationships. Mark sauntered up the office screen door, to verify what he suspected would be the scene at that point in the afternoon. He then whipped out a screwdriver and proceeded to work the screws out of the latches on one of the freezers. He was successful. He opened the freezer. Squeak, the old hinges complained loudly. Oh Shit! Sure enough, Dad had heard his freezer door opening when it had been locked. He was up and he was mad and he was coming out of the screen door. Mark had already snatched a couple of steaks and was running through the trailer park up into the camp and yelling, I got some! I got some! Dad never saw those steaks again. Dad didn’t like to run and especially didn’t like to make a scene in front of the trailer park.
The trailer park was located beside the office on the way up to the rest of the cabins and other wooded camping sites. There was one older couple who used to always take the first site and were, therefore, closest to the office. The Pattersons were excellent fishers and liked to be close to the office dock where their boat and motor was tied. Every time we would have an argument or a kafuffle in the office, which was usually a couple of times a day, Dad would say: Keep it down, The Pattersons will hear. One of these fights got pretty bad one day. Fights were about money, nick-names, laziness, poor grammar and lack of respect. This time the fight involved Mark and got extra bad and very loud. Lots of harsh words were screamed in each direction and, of course, Dad said: Shut up! The Pattersons will hear. At that point Mark flew out the front screen door, slammed it loudly, jumped off the porch, ran down past the shop and right past The Patterson’s tent-trailer and screamed, at the top of his lungs,
FUCK THE PATTERSONS!
A few years later Mr. Patterson died of a heart attack while seated in his lawn chair. He had been looking out at the lake. His ashes were scattered over his favourite fishing hole.
I started canoeing when I was tiny. A brother and I would go out on the lake to catch bullfrogs and to explore the lily pads around the cove. We would often harvest a few lilies for Mom who would float them in a bowl of water on the table…
Last night I had a dream about canoeing at dusk on Lake Cecebe in Ontario’s cottage country. (The Camp ⛺️) I was over by number four cabin and the dark, soft familiar waters were choppy. I was solo. Suddenly I realized there was a lot of water coming into my canoe and it tipped over. I was in the drink. In real life, I have never capsized a canoe, not even while standing and lunging and reaching to catch bullfrogs as a child, never once did the canoe overturn. But in my dream last night, it did. The current became unusually strong and, still holding on to the overturned canoe, I was carried way down the narrows and into big part of the lake by Echo Rock. I was not afraid. Suddenly, I was overcome with a feeling of foreboding….but…then, I woke up.
I have many fond memories of canoeing on Cecebe. Like the late summer of 1983 when my little brother Luke would canoe into ‘Mag’ to pick me up from my shift at June’s Diner. He would slowly and quietly walk up from the dock, having tied the canoe there, to the diner to get me. I would be in my simple cotton uniform holdng a carton of to-go food. I would follow him down to the dock and take up my place in the bow and eat, famished, while Luke would paddle and tell me about his day and usually about his struggles with Dad.
After I would finish eating, we would sing for the rest of the trip. We would sing. The echo of our combined voices off the water was entrancing: Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad by Meatloaf:
Baby we can talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere, I told you everything I possibly can, there’s nothing left inside of here. And maybe you can cry all night, but that’ll never change the way that I feel. The snow is really piling up outside. I wish you wouldn’t make me leave here…
Yep, we would sing that uplifting song. For some reason we knew all the words and, of course, various Bob Seger tunes and the odd Bob Dylan tune.
Mom wasn’t at the lake that year. Dad and Mom had split up. We missed her very badly. Her light always shone so bright at the lake. It was her favourite place on earth. When Mom passed away in 2001, we sprinkled her ashes in the upper field of the camp, under a pine tree. Eva, Amy, Mark and I took turns saying a few words and Mark sang a song that he wrote for mom. It was simple but sweet. Rest in Peace, Mom. We miss you.
Mom loved to canoe the lake. She would gather us up and we would make a canoe convoy out around the point beyond number six cabin in order to see the sunset.
We would laugh and tease and splash each other all the way. On the way back we would sing various camp songs and Mom’s favorite: Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. As kids, we loved to go see the sunset on the lake. It was a big event. And Mom was with us, which made it extra special.
When my friend Ben MacNeil would visit (my neighbour from the city, see post: Let the Games Begin 🏀), we would go out in the canoe every day and usually we would canoe across the lake and then over to town. Sometimes we would take a fishing rod each and some worms and tie-up near the footings of the lighthouse and try for perch, sunfish and bass. Squealing with delight when we would catch a fish, pulling it into the canoe to be taken home where mom would clean it and add it to the other catches to be eating for breakfast the next day. She would roll each piece of fish in flour and salt and pepper and fry them in the big cast-iron pan with lots of lard. There would be a stack of fish and frogs on the table for breakfast —the most important meal of the day! Mom would say and then after grace, we would begin, with gusto. I have to wonder about the current trend toward veganism — there was nothing so natural and better than availing ourselves of the fruits of the lake for our morning meal and that flour and lard made everything extra delicious. Not to mention, we would have had to BUY vegetables. We didn’t have to buy our lake bounty. There were no children as fit as us as we bent to our chores, swam, tumbled and canoed the summer days away.
On calm days we would be beckoned by the still waters of Cecebe to adventure out for a day in the canoe. Luke and I, or Jobe and I, or Mark and I would head down the mysterious Distress River and follow all of its twists and turns seeing blue herons take flight as we rounded a corner or a beaver flapping its tail on the calm black bottomless water. The Distress was always so quiet and calm. There were stories about it and beliefs about the water because it was so black. People would say that it was bottomless. None of us wanted to swim in it, but mom would, no problem. Sometimes, just every now and then, Jobe would water ski down the Distress – My brother Jobe 🧡. He loved the challenge of it but, it did scare him, although he would never admit it. I remember being proud of Jobe. He was so courageous.
If you get a chance to canoe, give it a try and then you can say that U CAN CANOE!!!
This post features pictures by myself, my husband and my eldest sister Eva. The header shot is from google images.
I am from Ontario and Dean is from Newfoundland. Leo was born in Virginia. How did we make our way to a small East-coast town and how did it become our home in 2003 when Leo was four?
We had been living West of Toronto in a country property for a couple of years. We had bought it upon returning from two years in Virginia where Leo was born. (And what a birth it was!! A couple of stories from Virginia: Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳and Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 )
While there, Dean was working at a huge, multi-national corporation and his commute was 1.5 hours at high speed across the top of the city on the 407 doing about 140 km per hour. He soon over-taxed the engine of his vehicle and it began to need a lot of oil. That may have been the straw that broke to camel’s back because, it was about then that I told him that this lifestyle was just not working. Although I had all kinds of time with our son and we had a big country house, we had large week-end long parties for family and we had Neighbour Night gatherings, his work life and commute was not what I wanted and he, being quite exhausted by this point, seemed to agree rather easily. I had come up with an idea for an exit-strategy. Ask for a transfer to their East-coast office. Even if it had to be on our own dime, it would still be quite welcome.
Sure enough, they, accepted the idea and said we could move East as long as it was at our own expense. Too easy for two former Logisticians! On-line, Dean found us a furnished garden apartment right downtown Halifax near the large public gardens and we were allowed to have our two dogs and cat with us. We packed our things and sold the house.
We arrived on the East coast, in Halifax, and just breathed a sigh of relief. Immediately we noticed the sweet nature of the people. They were prone to smile and chat and just be sweet, almost all of the time. Even when walking the hounds in the pouring rain, I would see folks and they would smile at me. This was such a gift to me, the jaded upper Canadian. Also, I was in the early stages of pregnancy and feeling a bit off. I would take the dogs out before Dean left for the office so that he was home with Leo. I would hope and pray that this had been a good move for us. All these years later, I can say that it certainly was. Without a doubt.
We had bought a Halifax house (2 story salt box) but, we were not yet feeling that this was the situation that we wanted. Dean’s company began to offer some employees an exit package if they would quietly go away. Dean and I thought it would be a perfect time to do that extended bit of travel we had wanted to do. Four months in Mexico and CentralAmerica. Could we really make that happen? With our four-year-old? The planning began, and it was extensive. We bought our flights into Mexico, to arrive at Guadalajara….
While away on our trip, we took the opportunity to talk about what we REALLY wanted in our next living arrangement. We made a simple list:
Getting back from Central America we decided to take day-trips to all of the various towns around. We spent a day in Antigonish – too far North; Mahone Bay and
Lunenburg – too quiet in the winter; Truro – loved the park, but not quite right; Parsboro – too far from everything. Hubbards – too small. Then, we rolled into Wolfville….it was
just right. Instantly we felt at home. People were everywhere, smiling, chatting, drinking coffee and discussing things. The energy was palpable. The students were all over the University green. It was April and Spring was springing and everyone was out and about. We walked on the dykes and my cell rang. It was my sister Eva calling. I tried to explain to her the phenomena of the dyke-lands (now a World UNESCO Heritage Site). She would see them for herself when she visited in March, she said. We had a wonderful day and were quite hopeful when we left to return another day, just to be sure.
A few days later, we had another sunshiny day and took the opportunity to drive back out to Wolfville. It was only an hour away. We pulled in to a curb-side parking space in front of a Real Estate office on Main Street. I was the passenger. I looked at the window to see a small, hand-written notice done in a Senior’s hand:
SUMMER RENTAL $700 ALL INCLUSIVE 542-1234.
I knew it.
I absolutely knew what this meant.
We would be moving here and taking this summer rental. It was another one of those forks in the road mixed with serendipity showing a pattern that I knew was pointing us in the right direction. As I picked up my cell to call the number, cautious Dean says: ‘Marti, we can’t take this place. We’re not ready to move to Wolfville.’ All I had to ask was: ‘Why not?’
The elderly gentleman on the phone had a cheery German accent. I told him we had read his notice and that we were interested in the summer rental. I said: ‘There is just one problem….well, actually two.’
Two minutes later we pulled into the driveway of our new summer home which boasted a beautiful view of Cape Blomidon and the Minas Basin which was an off-shoot of The Bay of Fundy. We got the dogs and Leo out of the wagon.
While our new landlords were watching, Grizzly saunters over, backs her ass up and proceeds to pee on their basement window. I was mortified… for a moment. Hubert and Suzanne just chuckled. They had lived interesting lives and seen it all.
We moved in in mid-April and a few days later after putting my resume in to a few places, I got a call that I was being invited for an interview at Paddy’s Pub, downtown Wolfville. I hadn’t stepped out to work in six years. Overjoyed, I found myself jumping up and down in sheer delight at the possibility of winning the position. I was clapping and jumping up and down and smiling so widely that Dean just looked at me and smiled. He knew it was going to be a good move and he was very happy for me. With Dean able to stay home with our four-year old Leo, it would be just lovely to step out to work, knowing that the boys would be together.
I worked the lunch shift and was trained in a couple of days. I was told I would be working on the deck or in the hall for most of my shifts. Translation: many stairs. Many steps. Crap tips. They could have told me I would be working in a shit-hole; I would have been happy. In my mind, my getting this job was instrumental in us transitioning to Wolfville. I met and worked with some great folks at Paddy’s and we made it our business to have a good time a work – finding any excuse possible to laugh. We had a great team and we all backed each other. I served almost every soul in The Valley and therefore, met a good slice of the population. This helped with making good friends and connections in a new Province.
For a year and a half, I worked almost every weekend and many nights per week, missing supper with Dean and Leo and bed-time with Leo. It was tough, physically draining work. Sometimes customers were hard to deal with and sometimes it was funny and sometimes it was emotional.
One evening, the place was dead. It was a Tuesday shift and I was working up front. I saw a lone customer up by the front window. I walked up to the table with a menu and my face must have fallen because I recognized the man at the table. He was a small man with narrow shoulders and a cute chipmunk-like smile. He had been a colleague of mine in Germany when I was posted there as a Captain from 1989-1992. He had actually asked me out one time and I had turned him down. So, this guy looked up, recognized me and with a look of horror on his chipmunk face says: ‘M, what the hell happened to you? The last time I saw you, you were an Army Officer doing well in your career. Now you’re serving tables???’
I almost began to cry, this insult cut to the quick. I gulped and waved my hand at him and said something like: ‘Oh, we just moved out here and this is a stop-gap until we have time to find better jobs or start a business.’
Next, we rallied and started our business which is now over a decade old. It is going well. We have never looked back and continue to be happy and content in our sweet little East-coast town. Our son, Leo, who started here in Primary (kindergarten) has now grown up over six-feet tall, attends Acadia University here and…
…he is still walking to school.
Most of the pictures come from google images…thank you to the folks who took them.