"Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify." - Henry David Thoreau

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The End of an Era

On the weekend we went up to open the cottage and to help my mother move out of hers. We are very lucky to have had two places up north that have been in the family for over 60 years. My mother's family runs two summer camps and she inherited her parent's cabin on one of the islands owned by the camps which she moved into after she and my father split up 12 years ago. My father kept his family place on the next lake where I grew up and where my children have spent all of their summers. We would visit back and forth and the boys would go for sleepovers with their grandmother giving me a break to enjoy the peace and quiet which Algonquin Park is famous for but which we don't get much of when the brothers are in residence.

The little island was a magical place when I was younger. We would go over to visit our Geeya and Bompa and have cookouts on the point, catch fish off the dock and watch for the moose across the bay at dusk. My boys have enjoyed the same things with their Geeya There were never any fancy toys or boats but lots of imagination, make believe games and stories told. My grandparents enjoyed the luxury of having the workmen at the camps help them haul their groceries over to the island, they even had their laundry done at the camp but my mother has done this all on her own for the past 12 years. And finally at age 68 she has had enough. She recently built a new house and wants to spend more time there, working on the garden and making it home.

So the time has come to cull through 60 years of memories and memorabilia. Not to mention all the junk. My grandparents grew up in the Depression and they lived a very frugal life. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle wasn't a slogan it was the way they lived. They reused every plastic bag and the waxed paper from cereal boxes. Anything that didn't leak was a planter, their clothes weren't vintage, they were original. My mother lives very much in the same way so cleaning out the cabin is a huge task. There are mildewy books on everything from mushrooms to the painter Tom Thomson who drowned on the lake. Gorgeous black and white photographs of campers from the 1940's through to colour prints from the 70's. In the boathouse we found a dozen wooden paddles made from maple and cherry as well as a gorgeous cedar strip canoe that hadn't been in the water in a decade. The weathered logs which form the cabin walls are covered with paintings, birch bark birthday cards and macrame hangings, my boys each chose something to take home.

There wasn't any one thing I particularly wanted, the island wasn't about things, as I told my middle son the night before as he lay crying and asking why Geeya was leaving it. It was about the people - our family, the generations who were there before us. A friend once wrote in our cottage guest book, "You are so lucky here. You have such a sense of place." That is what the island gave us, a sense of place in the world no matter how far we travel. And while my mother is leaving it physically, she and her parents and her grandparents will always be there. I don't know if we will go and visit the cousins who are taking it over, the families are not that close but it would be interesting to see what they do with it. I can't imagine they will keep the separate bath house or the tiny kitchen with only a hot plate and 30 year old microwave to cook on. I can't imagine they will knock it down but no matter what they decide in my memory it will always be a little lopsided, in need of a coat of paint with tiny pine trees growing out of the cracks in the rocks, hummingbirds flitting from daylily to daisy and the sound of children laughing with their grandparents.


  1. It’s hard for children to understand that we can take from the past all that we treasure and hold onto it – they live so in the moment.
    I admire your mother.
    (life is indeed a journey, a highway…)

  2. Looks like heaven to me. A little piece of it will always be with you.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. You captured the essence of family and memories so well.

  4. what a special place, one that will always be in your memories.
    we have a similar kind of place in the woods, where I spent my summers, where we canoed across the lake to my grandparents house...lots of wonderful memories.
    Great post.

  5. I am Cid's little brother, living 3000 miles away as this chapter closes in our family's life. Thankfully, I have sisters who capture what I am missing in words and photos perfectly.

    Thank you, Cid. Love you and miss you... Jimmy


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