Thursday, September 29, 2011

I used to travel up north every summer as a child to visit my Grandparents who lived in Sudbury, Ontario. My Dad grew up there, spending his summers swimming in lake Ramsey, or out at their cottage on Lake Penage- Don't picture anything too fancy, it hadn't changed much by 1998 when it was sold, from how it looked back when it was built in the 1930s or so. (i'll have to ask my dad about what year it was). Anyway, as time went on, the cottage became more accessible by road-I imagine when my dad was a kid it was probably a dirt track going in. When i was a kid you had to walk down from the main road, close to the length of a city block, down a steep hill. Trust me, we tried not to forget anything in the car- plus with bears around, who wanted to be alone running back up there to get it?! As you came down the hill you passed the outhouse, then finally the cottage, built into the side of the rocky northern landscape-. It was a white log cabin like structure with a porch on it,( red as far as I remember)Luckily there was a porch or else we kids would no doubt have fallen and rolled down the hill every time we stepped outside, because that walkway to the water and boathouse/steambath was plenty steep and rocky. Surrounded by pine trees, and the rocky northern landscape,it is burned into my memory, and I wish that my grandparents hadn't insisted on it being sold after my Grandmother's death. The Sudbury of my childhood had very few trees,though by my teen years increasing the height of the big nickle mine smokestack has caused a resurgence in the tree population, and it wasn't as bleak. But still, visits to my grandparent's house were not as fun for us as visiting them at the cottage. We would all tumble out of the sweltering station wagon, hauling pillows and suitcases and make our way down the hill where my grandparent's dog Korky would come racing out barking. My grandmother always seemed to dress the same at the cottage (camp actually. People out there called them camps. I guess because they were hunting camps when they started using them- my grandfather actually had a heart attack while the two of them were deer hunting out there on the icy lake- naturally in the days before phones out there, they weren't able to reach help in time) Anyway, invariably she would come out, a neat tidy woman wearing her slacks or sometimes camp shorts, white socks, white biway sneakers, a cardigan or blouse (depending on how hot it was), and sometimes her white camp hat-tilley style! Her hard little rounded belly when we hugged- and how she seemed to shrink as I got older, caught up and passed her in height finally. You entered into a super organized kitchen, which in turn opened into the other main room which had two walls that were almost all windows (weirdly enough, they didn't open! just tiny circles a the bottom, which had a flip piece of wood that covered them up when it got too chilly. I don't recall it ever being too hot though, except at night). My grandparent's bed was in the corner of the room, away from the windows, on the same side as the cabinets that held the dishes, cutlery, and other cottage necessities. There was a tiny black and white tv that didn't get any channels. A radio from before they invented FM, and the other side of the room held a large table, big enough to fit 8 of us, and afreezer, chock full of food- The one bedroom was through there, we slept in there in bunk beds, the four of us kids, two per bed. I'm guessing that the room was about 7 by 8 at the very most, likely not quite that large even. In later years there was a bedroom added, in an enclosed porch outside , but I only slept in it one or two visits that i recall, with my grandmother. I was terrified of bears coming in and barely slept between the fear and the constant drone of mosquitos. Whenever i was assigned the top bunk in the little room, i would lay awake for hours because the light from over the table shone right in through the window, right into my face-while my parents and grandparents played seemingly endless games of euchre and twenty one. That's something I totally miss about the cottage, cribbage, twenty one, euchre with my grandparents. we really only went there for 2 weeks or so each summer, after we got the haying done, but i have so many memories. One time a baby bear had gotten up a tree right by the cottage door, and there was the risk in case the mama bear was still in the area- Underneath cottage, built into the hill was a big storage area- fridge etc. I'm not sure that my grandparents could close it off, but i feel like the wood and lots of outdoor stuff was stored down there. I used to make my way across the giant rocks along the shore, to the steep rockface just to the right from the camp, between ours and pitkethleys' and pick blueberries from the scrubby little bushes up top. I liked perching up there looking out at the lake, across to the island there, pretending I was the only one around. My favourite thing though was the boathouse which also housed the steam bath. There were bunk beds down there for guests, and my parents usually slept down there- Sometimes i swear I still smell the cedar in the steambath woodstove, heating the rocks to a sizzle- getting to toss a cupful of water onto them was a treat- we'd lay on the benches in there, cool damp wash cloths on our faces , trying to stay cool and remain in there as long as the adults. Then, the door banging shut behind us, we'd race out, feet slapping on the paving stone path, racing across the cement pad to the diving board or water's edge and plunging into the clear chilly lake. In the woods just outside the steam bath , but near the "beach" was where my grandparents parked the little aluminum boat that belonged to my dad, and also where my grandfather (step grandpa really) was often found cleaning fish, in his green workman pants, plaid shirt and fedora hat. Sometimes early mornings he and I would go out fishing, zipping across the lake in the silence of the dawn. I don't think I ever really caught much other than rock bass, but my grandpa would bring back some fish, and we'd be have fresh fried fish for breakfast along with the mountain of toast, bacon and stuff my grandmother used to put out. As I got older, I used to love just sitting on the dock I don't think I realised I missed it this much- One sound that can transport me there is the sound of leaves on the wind. that Rushing sounds that northern trees make, starts far away and building as it reaches the shore, wooshing away over the water. If you haven't heard it, I'm afraid I'm not a good enough writer to convey it. It's a poignant sound to me, one I've come to associate with the end of the summer. When asked to come up with a happiest memory, that is what popped into my head. The sounds I would hear laying in my bunk at night- the rush of the trees, the wind racing though them towards the water, the lapping of the waves on the rocky shore, and the Johnathan G bumping against the sides of the boathouse. I still remember how it felt, to awaken, feeling as though i was on the water, the bunk seeming to rock with the waves- Lake Penage, i miss you so!

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