(to see the first installment of this story, click HERE )
When we first started the cottage it was pretty rustic, as were most other peoples'. Very few people had TV's at their cottage, some had washing machines but the general idea was really basic. Ours was a little bit more basic than most, I don't even think we had hot water for a couple of years! But, as I said, my parents built it with their own hands so whenever they had the time/money/volunteers/skill they would add some component or another. For us the cottage was an idyllic escape, for them it was a never-ending project.
The phone got hooked up right away though. That was done by the phone company (as was the electrical) and was no extra effort for my parents. The entire lake was on a party line (younger readers won't know what that means so bear with my explanation). This must have been 1970 or so. We escaped Czech in August of 1968, spent six months in Switzerland (my parents thought we would live there but ended up not liking it so much) and six weeks to visit my aunt and cousin in England. I guess we could have started the cottage in the summer 1969, if my parents were really motivated.
Anyways, a party line means everyone shares the phone line. You would pick up the phone at some random moment, and if anyone else on the lake was using theirs then you could hear their conversation. You'd just have to wait until they were done! There was no indication when that happened, so you just had to keep picking up the phone every five minutes to wait for the dial tone. Most people kept their conversations short for that exact reason.
One time I remember my grandma needed to ask my dad to bring something or other, and had to get him before he left work (if you read the last entry, it was Friday afternoon and everyone was packed and ready to book it to the cottage! If you could manage to leave the office a few minutes before 5:00, all the better. It's actually pretty much like that even now in Ontario. And in Czech, for that matter.) Some lady was yacking on the phone for super-long and my grandma, extremely embarrassed and in her broken English, had to interrupt and explain she needed the phone for just a few minutes.
Everyone had their own ring. So let's say our ring was two longs and one short (I can't remember exactly what it was but it was always some combination of up to four signals, a mixture of long and short rings); if the phone rang (which was pretty rare) and it wasn't your ring you just ignored it. Then there was a couple of special rings, one of which was the 'emergency' ring, which meant everyone should pick up. Generally the message would be something like, "There's bears at Leslie-Anne's cottage, get the kids inside".
As I said in my last entry, most of my memories of the cottage are before the second, big cabin was built. I will have to get myself to my mum's house in the next couple of days to pilfer through the photo albums (she will likely not want to let me borrow them, but I will prevail!) for more photos. For now I'll use the last of what I have here.
OK this is the monster-sized fir tree that my parents specifically chose not to take down. It was close to the centre of the upper part of our lot (where the cottage and road was, as opposed to the lower part, at the lake).
That's me making a big presentation in front of it, it must be autumn (I can tell by my clothes), it could not be spring or else it would be very wet and there would still be evidence of snow around.
Oh yeah, a typical day at the cottage! You can see why I would get excited so, being stuck in the city, and at school, all year.
The little chipmunks would come by when we were eating, sometimes they would get rather bold. It wasn't exactly usual that they would do something like allow themselves to be hand fed . . .I bet we spent the whole morning dropping cookie crumbs on the rock trying to get this chipmunk to trust us!
I think that's my cousin's hand. Way back in the background you can see our neighbour's dock, and some kid just climbing out of the water.
Pristine summer days, I tell ya!
A bunch of local kids. That's me in the middle with the red t-shirt and big bobbly pig-tails, helping the baby stand.
That's the bottom of our property, at the lake. We didn't have a beach put in like some people, so you had to wear your lake swimming shoes. If you didn't have shoes on you had to jump in and climb up right off the dock (no ladder). If you tried to walk in on the rocks you would for sure bash your feet up badly.
This is again on the edge of the lake, one of the trees my parents selected to keep. I don't know who those two kids are, I think one of them might be Leslie-Anne. Her cottage was up the road a ways, off from the lake. At first I wasn't allowed to go there by myself (I guess it was a bit of a walk) but, once we were released from the property, we sure got up to all kinds of hijinks in the forest! So I was able to go over to her place eventually just because nobody really knew where I was half the time anyways!
She didn't really like to play outside as much as the rest of us did though. She liked to hang around with her mum, in the kitchen, or maybe draw. Or play with dolls (which always bored me to death), so eventually I didn't end up hanging out with her as much as some of the other kids.
Ok so this is part of my dad's other family, our little half-sister Sonja. I was actually surprised when I looked closely at this photo because the big cottage wasn't built yet. I remember it going up before Sonja was born! Huh. I guess that goes to show childhood memories can be sketchy.
Or, maybe she was there but I just didn't really pay attention!
That's my brother, the big dofous, making a great show . . .I think Sonja just planted a kiss on him or something? He always liked to make faces when having his photo taken. In fact, he's still like that now!
What a suave devil, hey? This is from just a few months ago when I visited him at his caravan in Cyprus.
So here we are again, I totally remember that blanket. Clearly the big cottage is not yet built. That's really weird, I don't even remember being there with Sonja hardly at all! But her mum, my dad's wife Liba, was there with us a bunch of times.
One one side of us was the Purdy's, on the other side was an empty lot. My mum bought it with a friend of my parents, and they just kept it rough. We used to go play there all the time when it was too close to dinner or bedtime and we weren't allowed out into the forest. Wild strawberries used to grow there; one time my brother and I just sat ourselves down (it must have been a really good year because it wasn't always like that . . . there was like a field of them!) and just ate and ate and ate. Liba came out to tell us to stop, it was too close to dinner. Well, that's more difficult than telling a kid to stop eating candy. I mean, they were FANTASTIC. So we got really full and didn't want to eat right away.
Liba got mad, put the food away, then we got hungry later and she had to go through the whole thing again. Oh well! that's what kids are all about.
Recently, after a graduation ceremony from Columbia University (congrats again on the MBA, Sonja!), part of my family took a trip down memory lane. From NYC they drove to Niagara Falls, through Ottawa (my old home town) and a bit south-east to where our childhood cottage was. Mississippi Lake, Ontario!
Like religious fanatics, we used to bust out of town on Friday afternoons and head for the cottage. I remembered the trip as being an hour and a half, but my mum recently told me it was only 45 minutes. Usually we had the car stocked up with groceries and supplies for the weekend, but sometimes we would stop in Carleton Place. There was a shop there that sold cheese curds, the kind they use in Poutine; I would beg until my mum bought me a bag of "squeaky cheese". Good times.
We'd do our best to make it to the cottage before dark, then we could feel like we were actually able to spend part of an extra day there. It's my magical childhood memory fun time, that place.
We'd resist coming inside until it was almost completely dark, mosquitos and moths be damned! By the time my parents managed to rustle us inside, get us to calm down enough to eat, and cleaned up for bed we would realize that the sooner we fell asleep the sooner we could get up to play outside.
In the winter my dad would stoke up the wood stove; the little cabin would heat up immediately. He'd get it red hot just before my parents went to bed, but it would invariably go out long before morning (it was a small little stove). We'd wake up all a-shiver, until one or another of my parents would get the fire going again. Of course my mum would never let us lounge around in bed until the cabin heated up, much as we tried! It was to the basin to get your face washed with freezing cold water, then bundled into all manner of longjohns and sweaters. By then the cabin would be getting warm, the light outside would be getting strong, and breakfast would be ready.
Our faces tingling and our bellies full we would tumble outside into the crisp snow.
In the summer it was immediately into bathing suits, as many bowls of cold cereal as we could force into our faces then a whole day in the lake. Mosquitos and black flies be damned!
My family sent me photos of what the cabin(s) look like now; I was amazed that the small cabin is still there! My mum and dad built that with their own two hands. It was just one room, with an alcove close to the front door holding my brother's and my bunk beds. Across from us was the stove. At the back was my parent's beds, at right angles to each other. Their beds lifted up, and all the beddings went into the storage space inside. Later my dad built a cube table in front of their beds, so we could sit down to eat (the few times that we ate inside) or use it as a drawing table. That also opened up, so my mum could store towels, sweaters, and all our old clothes that was too ratty to wear in the city anymore.
This is the cabin now, looking pretty much exactly as it did then (except for a fresh coat of paint). (on the left is someone else's property), on the right is the 'new' cabin, build many many years later after my dad got remarried. The fence, and path are new.
I was saddened to see the big stump (in the foreground), that used to be the most hugest fir tree! My parents deliberately left it when clearing the land. I guess the new owners have built the new cabin and the deck up so much there wasn't really that much land left.
The view from the bottom of the property, in front of the lake. (that's my dad on the steps). You can see the small cabin behind him, and the edge of the new cabin. You can't see under the deck or steps because it's covered by lattice, but there is a big rock formation ('skala' in Czech); when my mum heard, so many years ago, that the new cabin and adjoining deck was built on top of the rock she was sad. "The skala was the whole reason we chose that property," she said. (she also said they chose it for the big fir tree and a couple of other reasons, but that's another matter!)
One time when I was a kid we were playing hide & seek and I was cowering beside the crook of the rock formation, there was a big crack in the rock (like from a former earthquake, we liked to tell each other); I guess there was a wasps nest inside there and my sweaty excited self drew a few wasps out to defend their territory. I was looking the other way, watching Tommy - the kids that was trying to find me - waving my left arm trying to grab into the rock so I wouldn't fall into view. One of the wasps stung me, my reflexes were so fast from being eaten alive by mosquitos constantly and black flies sometimes that I *smacked* it, rolled it down my arm then looked to see a yellow streak. Went to show my grandma, who immediately put a facecloth soaked in baking soda solution on it. before the day was out the swelling was completely down!
Where those steps are now my mum had built a path, levelled by large rocks, and surrounded by flowers. It was a just a dirt path worn into the grass. One time, in the late afternoon when the adults were nicely intoxicated, a bunch of kids were sliding down it. We'd fill a bucket of water at the lake, run up the hill, pour it down the path to make it all slidey, then squat down and ride to the bottom on the soles of our feet. It went on for quite a while (I guess my parents were hosting a party because all the kids from the cabins around were over). I took my turn like everyone else, until . . . . I guess all our activity wore the path right down and we exposed a small tree root! It ripped the bottom of my foot.
Having had experience with iodine I didn't want to tell I was hurt. The other kids called me a baby because I didn't want to play anymore; I showed the biggest kid my foot and he told everyone to 'steer away from that side'. They kept playing, but I had the sense to stop. Even before the cut my foot was encrusted with dirt! After an hour or so it started to hurt so bad but I still didn't want to tell my parents. (that iodine hurts like stink, kids today have no idea! haha). So I just started limping back and forth in front of my mum. A couple of times she asked me what was wrong with me, I said, "nothing!" and she said, "Well walk properly then!" After a while she caught on, turned me outside down and shrieked when she saw my foot.
They took me inside the cabin, my mum had to sit on me while my dad poured iodine on my foot. They actually had to scrape the dirt out. I screamed so loud a neighbour came by to see if they were doing child abuse. When he saw what was going on he stayed to give my parents moral support; they were both white and sheets and completely horrified.
I have a few photos from those days here (I'll have to raid my mum's photo albums to get a good selection). A few years ago my brother went on a mission to collect whatever stray photos he could from our various family, and found a couple of real gems.
My brother and I on the way to some fun outdoor adventure, either in Ontario or Quebec. There's other photos of that day (I can tell because of what we're wearing), climbing trees and such with another family and some kids.
I mean, wouldn't you consider this pristine paradise?? That's my cousin, standing. She's four years older than me and used to visit us from England every summer. She always seemed to grown-up and exotic, with her accent and knowledge about Europe and history. But still a kid enough to run around with my brother and I, catching frogs and climbing trees! I liked it when she came because it shifted the balance of power; now my brother had someone older and bigger to deal with, haha.
I'm sitting between my mum and my brother (I look like a boy, I know) and that's Tommy standing behind me. He's about a year and a half younger than me, has a brother my brother's age (a year and a half older than me). He had some growth in his stomach when he was really young, not cancerous, but they had to operate. His older brother, Robert, stayed at our cabin (their cabin was just down the lake a ways) while it was happening. He was really worried that his little brother would die!
That's the bottom of the property, by the lake. This must be at the very beginning, because my parents (plus Robert and Tommy's dad) are still clearing the land. I was not kidding when I said "with their own two hands"!
This part looks pretty much exactly the same now, except more lush and greener. The new people must water the grass, something we never bothered to do.
Just in case you weren't quite sure what level of "with their own two hands" I was talking about, that's my mum hauling the big freaking piece of log out of there!
I'm going to stop now, but there's more to come, you can be rest assured.