Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back Then in my Favorite Place

The original Cottage 1970's

It's been kind of a reflective summer. And you may have caught from previous posts that I've spent a lot of time in Kenora. Spending time with my parents at the cottage has been different this year -- the attitude has been different. My parents are older now. Not old, but older. My father is 74 and he had quintuple cardiac bypass almost a year ago. My Mom is 66 and she has two bad knees, one of which has been replaced and the other of which badly needs to be. My Mom has been making not-so-jokey jokes this year about wanting to sell her half of the cottage..... I'm not sure to who..... my father, I guess, who just says "No damn way," one minute, and then calls it a "money pit" the next.

There is no doubt they made a fantastic investment. The lot our cottage sits on was bought for $465 in 1966 (the same year they got married). It is 3/4 of an acre. There was a stipulation that they had to build within the year so up went a very tiny two bedroom cottage.

That's bald little me getting a bath on the dock.

I took my first steps on the front porch of the cottage.

Two George's

My Dad's best friend George, bought the lot next door. Here's the funny thing: my Dad's name is George too. The friend George was married to a woman named Judy. Here's a funnier thing: my Mom's name is also Judy. You'd think this was planned. So to simplify things my Dad became Mitch and George stayed as George or "Joe" or sometimes Shelly. So Shelly and Judy S. and Mitch and Judy M. built side by side cottages in 1967 and eventually they all had a bunch of kids -- 2 each to be exact -- except the kids did NOT have the same names: Brad (67), Cindy (70), Kim (71), Darren (73). We often wished we had the same names though, 'cause that woulda been kinda cool. And these kids wandered back and forth between the two places because both cottages were our homes.


Very early in my childhood, my parents acquired a caboose. A REAL caboose from a real train. I was the only person I knew who had a caboose as a guest cabin. The caboose was where my grandparents stayed when they came down and it still smelt like train engine oil. My brother and I used to wake up and run up to the caboose and jump on my grandparents to wake them up (which probably allowed my parents to roll over and go back to sleep for a little while longer). My grandfather, who once was in an amateur movie making club, made a movie one time with my brother and I as train conductors. And then when I was a teenager and brought friends down to the lake, we stayed in the caboose.

I'm not sure if this was a CP or a CN caboose but they scratched the logo off at delivery.

The inside of the caboose once it was set up --  1974

The caboose has been rotting and unstable for a number of years now. The last time I remember sleeping in it was when my now-ex and I were dating (around 14 years ago). Just this week a cottage neighbor came and bulldozed it to the ground.


In 1977 on a Thursday night before the May long weekend, a big storm happened out in Kenora and our Cottage got hit by lightning -- likely right in the electrical box. The fire was seen by the owners of the Golf Course across the lake but by the time the fire department arrived, it was too late. They say that it was down and flat on the ground in a flash and that if anyone had been there, no one would have got out.

I was playing in the back yard of one of our neighbor's back in Winnipeg when my Dad came to get me and, with very somber face, told me the news. And I don't remember much else. I don't remember missing toys that were left there (something my own kids have asked me recently). But I do remember sifting through the carnage of the lot, all the appliances and metal objects still standing, tilted and awkward, where they stood inside the cottage. Just with nothing around them but debris.

That's me sitting on the burnt-out bathtub

I don't remember the clean-up but I do remember the building. So that summer of 1977 and fall as well as the following spring, all the neighbors around the cottage pitched in and the second cottage went up. And I mean, literally, everyone helped. I remember helping nail down the floor. And I've always taken this as a testament of the kind of people my parents are. I'm sure they've helped everyone else too at some point. Cottage neighbors let us stay in their places when they weren't there. One of my favorite stories of cottage building was of one of the neighbors, who was afraid of heights, getting up on the ladder for the roof raising.

Everyone helped. The guy on the ladder and the one holding the beam are John and Jim. They were two Americans who bought a lot 2 doors down from us in 1966 to avoid the draft. They were 17 and 18 years old at the time. John owned the cottage for quite a few years and now Jim owns it.

Guess who the munchkin doing the cartwheel is?

Who let these kids on the roof?

The freshly finished cottage that still stands today.

Work and Play

That's what I remember my Dad doing at the Cottage, helping George with whatever. George (the other one) had an elaborate dock system, an airplane, a boathouse, a sauna, and a slide, coming off the top of the sauna. (George and Judy -- the ones that aren't my parents -- owned the Kenora Husky from about 1979-1988). All this building made the two George's very very thirsty. I delivered a lot of beers in mugs to the dock area as a kid. I always made sure to pour it with head and then sip it off the top. I'm sure I was doing this even at 8 years old. I was well schooled, early.

The boathouse before all the other stuff went up. Must be spring, the dock is under water. That boathouse was always our sight point when boating from across the lake. We used to suntan on top of that roof.

The docks, the slide, the sauna, the airplane, and George (Shelly) just being George.

And when they weren't building they were flying off to some remote no-road-access lake and they were fishing. And they brought back fish and fried them up often late into the night, sometimes over a bonfire. One of my Uncle George's favorite things was baked potatoes over the bonfire with the skin burnt to charcoal.

I lived in a bathing suit from about 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. at the lake. Of course the start got later and later as we got older. We were in and out of the water, going off the slide, lying on, usually, "Shelly's" dock with baby oil smeared on our skin (who knew anything about SPF in 1983), hauling out our row boat with the 4 horse power motor and cruising around the lake. Often we tied inner tubes to the back and pulled each other around, seeing who could stay standing the longest. Or we would get out on the lake on those tubes and float for hours in all water temperatures as soon as there was no ice and yell, WAVES!!, every time a boat went by. I learnt how to waterski when I was 10. I tried when I was 9 but I wasn't strong enough to get out but they patiently let me try about 12 times because I didn't want to give up.

Our dock -- 1979 I would guess.

Cindy going off the slide

We even had late night sauna's at midnight. It was wood stove heated and we poured water over a pile of rocks to create steam and then we'd go running out the door and climb the ladder to the roof and slide into the water and emerge gasping from the shock of the cold.

And I've always always dreamed of swimming across my lake and I'm 39 now and it still hasn't happened.... soon. Soon.  It was supposed to happen the weekend I did my training camp with Jenn but the waves precluded it.

Then comes change.....
I went through various phases of love-hate with our trips to the cabin. I had a "lake" to go to before having a "lake" to go to was a trendy thing. We were out there every weekend from April till October. So while my friends were hanging out in the city riding their bikes around, I had to go to the lake and there were times and ages where I resented that. I worked at the Husky that Aunty Judy and Uncle George owned the summer I was 15. The summer I was 16 I had a job in the city and from then till when I was married my trips to the lake were infrequent as I was working nearly every weekend. But it didn't stop my parents from going and I was pretty much left alone to my own devices in the city. (That will have to be another blog -- or, you can just read my first novel when someone finally consents to publish it.).

George S. died in 1991 from some respiratory ailment that in all probability was blastomycosis although it was never diagnosed as such. Blastmycosis is rampant in the Whiteshell and the Kenora area. His death changed everything for my father about the lake. He was less motivated to create. To work. To boat. To fish. To hunt. To drink beer.

My Dad, the year I was born... so he would have been 35

"Mitch and Shelly" had an interesting friendship. When George S. died, I wrote a short story that I entered in an American contest with Writer's Digest that likely gets thousands of entries and I got onto their top 100 list (I was numbered somewhere in the 50's or 60's, although I am not sure how you can rank anything beyond 10). The characters in that story were very loosely based on the two George's and on the premise of how "Shelly" told my father when he was dying that he wanted his ashes loaded into shotgun shells and used to kill moose.

I didn't know much back then, I was 20 years old. There was stuff I sensed from my observations of Uncle George's moodiness and how he seemed to have different personalities in different situations. You never knew which version of him you were going to get. One day he was the guy showing you the dimples on his hands and feet and telling you that they were from when they nailed him to the cross, or cooking up rocks on the BBQ and explaining how they were the greatest delicacy and won't you please try one, or telling you with particular detail and with a straight face about the time he saw a jackalope and it came right up to his campsite and begged for food. And the next day he'd be sullen and quiet and snappy. I can't imagine what it would have been like to live with him. At the end, the only person who bothered to visit him while he was ill was my father. My father seemed to understand him and know how to handle him. It is a story I would like to tackle again one day. I'm probably  more equipped and have lived enough life to handle it now.

This guy and the muscle making man is the George I like to remember.

But I remember this guy too.

Judy S. got remarried in 1998 to a man who works many months of the year out town. "Shelly's" and Judy's cottage fell into disrepair. The boat house eventually collapsed. The Sauna slipped into the water. All that remains of the empire that was are the vague areas under the water near the shore where the rocks are piled high from all the many dock cribs. The docks were carried away by the ice many years ago. The path systems that ran between the two lots, once well walked and worn, are essentially grown in or blocked by new sheds my parents have put up recently. Judy sold that lot with its 1967 cottage this summer to a firefighter from Winnipeg for over $200,000........

Lady, Me, Darren -- probably sometime during the year of cottage rebuilding


Tri-Guy said...

The 70's were a great time to be outdoors..... damn that ozone hole. All that's missing from your photos are Fisher-Price adventure action figures.

Kim said...

The thing that amazes me is that I was 6 years old and doing cartwheels and climbing on roofs. My kids are both older than I was in most of these pictures and neither could do a cartwheel. So goes the childhood focused on video games and TV. Our children live in a different world.

Lisa said...

Geez...the similarities in our upbringings are eerie...right down to the fire. (But ours was our house which was built where the cabin used to be). I have all those same memories of our cabin in the 70's...I'll have to dig out some of my pictures for you sometime...

Kim said...

I'd love to see the pictures. And yes, it has occurred to me, Lisa, that we both have a "house" fires in hour history. Very much too weird.