Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice, Yeah, I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life
~Bryan Adams
Summer of ’69

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 me.  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…

popcorn

I digress.

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.

cabin

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.man on tractor

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.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 projectile vomited 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…..

outhouse

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 hockey great 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 there were a few 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.

dock

The Camp ⛺️

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.

marti-fish-bmp-2
Morgan’s first fish – age 3

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.

Minnie

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.

Flying Bacon

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 Pattersons

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.