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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Cottage Years

As I mentioned in the previous post, when I was younger we had access to my grandfather's cottage.  That grandfather was on my dad's side; my mother's father died when I was young of cancer, a period of time that was spent visiting hospitals frequently, and which I remember very little of.  I will probably get into that a bit more in another post, but there isn't a whole lot I can recall about that time, so even if I don't my readers will not have missed very much.  Regardless, this post is in regards to the cottage we used to go to.

As I have said, to get to the cottage you had to go by boat.  First, we had to drive about an hour and a half out of Toronto, north of Peterborough, to Bobcaygeon, and maybe another 45 minutes from there.  After doing some research on my own, I have found Mississagua Lake, and noticed it is about halfway to Algonquin Provincial Park, but more to the east.  Now that I've finally found it, courtesy of Google Earth, I'm hoping that at some point I'll be able to rent a boat and go and see if I can actually find the old place.  The cottage had a wee tiny little beach, nestled in the smallest little cove, and it is here that I first learned to float and ultimately swim.  The sound of the water of the lake lapping at the floating dock is a sound that always soothes me to this day.

The cottage was tiny, and pretty bad from the viewpoint of the types of buildings that come to mind when you think northern Ontario cottage nowadays.  It had a kybo, was built off the side of a steep hill so that it stood on stilts, and was mosquito infested most of every time we went up there.  I don't think my parents were aware of Muskol and their variety of bug repellent products at this time, so getting bitten was a frequent occurrence.  I can't really put the memories I have of the time spent there in any cohesive pattern, so this stuff will just be rapid fire and disjointed.

My first experiences driving a boat were en route to the cottage and the store.  We have Super-8 film of me doing just that, but i remember it independently as well.  I learned that the word 'Wednesday' had an 'n' in the midst of it from my grandmother up there.  That would be on my mother's side, whom I considered my only grandmother, but we'll get there in a paragraph or two.  At some point a swing was put in a tree by the path from the dock to the cottage, and I remember swinging on that.  I also remember learning about birch bark, and using it as paper after it had fallen naturally from the tree.  There was one time my mother was determined to wash my hair at the cottage, for whatever reason (I probably got something in it, but can't remember), and I was still afraid of putting my head under the water in the lake, so as my hair got brittle from the shampoo drying in it she convinced me to put my head under the tap in the kitchen.  I remember one year I was fairly ill (I had stomach cramps like you wouldn't believe when I was a kid - turned out I am lactose intolerant, and yet all I drink to this day is milk), and they got this little portable toilet so that I didn't have to leave the cottage constantly all day and night.  I remember watching the two channels of television we could get up there when it was a rainy day outside.  Not that we only got two channels when it rained, no, we only got two channels ever.  This is the 70s, remember, and the antenna was the only way to get reception.  I always got disappointed trying to watch "Huckleberry Hound" and having the television cough up "Huckleberry Finn."  I hated that little kid.  Turns out, I didn't like the book either when I read it in Grade 8.  Give me "Tom Sawyer" over "Huckleberry Finn" any day of the week.  Oh, and my first encounter with "The Beachcombers" was up at the cottage too, so I guess one of the channels was CBC.

There were a few big things that happened up at that cottage.  One year, I had fallen at home and scrapped the skin clear off my right knee.  We went to the cottage and each and every time the wound had scabbed over, I somehow fell and ripped it clear again.  Painful damn summer that, and a foreshadowing that eventually that knee was going to get really scarred, but that's a late high school story, and we're no where near there yet.  I remember playing with chipmunks under the cottage, which doesn't sound as weird as you'd think when you consider that apart from the first few feet of the entrance and the back wall of the bedrooms, the entire cottage was off the ground by a sizable amount.  I mean, sunlight got under there for crying out loud!  Think 'sandy-floored lower deck' more than 'under a house' and you'll be on the right track.  I for some reason remember going up there with a bunch of kids from Scouting on a weekend camping excursion, but given the size of the cottage I'm not sure I'm right about that.  If it happened, then all the kids would have been in tents while the leaders (my mother and Peter, who we'll get to eventually) would have been inside the building.  I remember a clue-laden treasure hunt leading to a chocolate bar tied to a tiny tree in the middle of a field clearing, and while were all looking high and low in the brush I spotted it and won the hunt.  Weird how these memories all jumble together.  Then there was the night of the thunderstorm...

One night, this storm swept into the area that really did a number on me as a kid.  I was afraid of thunder and lightning at this point, and the storm was so intense it sounded and felt as though the hill the cottage was on was sliding down into the lake.  My bedroom in the cottage was in the middle of the three I think were there, and I had a big window looking up the hill.  I swear that for a moment there the storm was centred directly above the cottage.  I have experienced severe thunderstorms since, but never in such a tiny shelter, and it was a life changer for me.  As a result of that storm, something in me became different, and it came to fruition when at home that fall.  We were having a pretty bad storm there too, and during that one I determined that enough was enough, forced myself to watch the lightning and really feel the thunder, and changed my viewpoint on storms entirely.  Since then I've loved thunderstorms, and have wished I was a storm chaser in the American Midwest.  One of my reasons for moving to the Dominican, though it is quite far down the list, is that the region gets really strong storms, some even at hurricane strength, and I'll be able to really watch one blow.

There was an island near the cottage, a fair sized one, and one time we decided to go out and take a walk on it.  This was with my grandmother as well, and I only remember her coming up there with us maybe once.  Anyway, we got over there in the boat, started wandering around, and came across this boathouse.  Now, none of us went in, and I don't even think any of us took a peek inside the building, but we all (grandmother included) got this incredibly weird and creepy vibe off the place, enough so that we turned around and hightailed it off that island faster than it took to type this paragraph!  Considering that looking out the windows across the deck of the cottage gave us a view that had that island dead centre in the middle of it didn't help things either.

The cottage years also included one of my first sexual encounters, if you can call it that.  A couple of cottages over, there were two little girls, and one day when my mother had us over there to visit we went to play.  Our play basically consisted of taking off our bathing suits and comparing body parts.  That was it, the sum total of that experience, but I don't remember ever visiting them again.  However, that could also have come from the fact that the cottage years ended rather abruptly after my grandfather died.  He willed the cottage to us, but my father's mother decided instead to sell it, and for some reason (probably financial) my family never fought her on it.  I hated her from that moment on, and never found it within myself to forgive her.  In fact, from that point on I never really bothered having any contact with her whatsoever, and that is why I consider my mother's mother to be my sole grandmother.  In my mind, from the age of about seven or so, I only had one grandparent, even though my other grandmother was around long into my teens.  Given how happy being up at that cottage made me, and how horrible family life was otherwise, it's no wonder that I held that grudge the way I did, and do.

So those were my cottage years.  I often times wonder if my life would have been any different if that cottage had stayed with us the way it was meant to.  If having a safe haven away from everything and everyone would have made me handle things better, or at least more maturely, when all the bad things happened later on.  I'll never know, but at least I can try and see if I can find the place again, and with any luck I can recruit Scott and Andi on my journey to do so.