Barefoot Summers

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

My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents.  We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake.  At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around 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.

Can U Canoe? ๐Ÿ›ถ

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 โ›บ๏ธ)   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.

canoe paddleI 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.

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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.

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By my eldest sister Eva.  These are flowers from the weedy part of the cove.

When my friend Ben MacNeil would visit (my neighbour from the city, see post: Let the Games Begin ๐Ÿ€), 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.

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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 ๐Ÿงก. 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!!!

GIRL ON BRIDGE

This post features pictures by myself, my husband and my eldest sister Eva. The header shot is from google images.