Adventures in Day Camp

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When my family moved out of the city, I was seven years old. We had previously spent every summer at our family cottage on Lake Rosseau and this cottage became our permanent residence until we purchased a four-season home in the same town. We still spent every summer at the cottage, a five-minute drive from our house, and life was great.

A few years after we had moved, leaving many of our family members behind, my parents thought it would be nice if I spent some of my summer holiday with my grandparents…..in the city! We lived in one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in Canada and they wanted me to spend part of the best time of the year in Muskoka in the concrete jungle! I was too young at the time to question the reason behind their decision and, with packed suitcase in hand, I climbed into the back seat of the station wagon to head back to my hometown.

The small silver lining of me spending some of my summer holiday in the city was the fact that I had been signed up to go to a day camp. When I was given the run-down of all the awesome activities I would be doing, I had pushed aside the memories of spending most of my summer days in the lake and was actually excited to go to camp.

On the first day of camp, my Nana made sure I had a good breakfast, helped me to organize my backpack and walked me to the bus stop for 8:00 am. Together we stood and waited and, as the bus came around the corner, I could feel my excitement building. We said goodbye and, from the bus, I waved to her as excitedly as Forrest Gump waved hello to Lieutenant Dan from his shrimp boat.

The day camp was a fifteen-minute drive from my grandparent’s apartment. Even at my young age and not wearing a watch, I knew the bus ride had exceeded fifteen minutes. The outlines of the city buildings had faded into the background and the landscape outside my bus window began to look much more like my scenic cottage-country home. When the bus finally arrived at its final destination about an hour later, we were in the middle of nowhere.

Unsure of what was happening, I was the last kid to exit the bus. The Camp Director was standing at the bottom of the steps with her clipboard in hand and when I gave her my name, she looked at the sheet in front of her and looked back at me. She lifted the page, looked at another sheet and looked back at me. My name was nowhere to be found in the list of children expected to be at this day camp. Unlike all the other kids who seemed enthusiastic about their surroundings, inwardly, I was starting to panic.

I was taken to the Camp Office and I fidgeted in my seat while the staff tried to find my grandparents contact information. Had the internet been invented in the 1970’s, this process would have been far more expedited than it was. I don’t recall all the details of the investigation, but I do know they eventually found my camp information in my backpack and discovered I had boarded the 8:00 am bus when I should have actually boarded the 9:00 am bus in the same location. I spent the day with a group of kids I would never see again and was actually thrilled to get back to the city.

The next day, I boarded the 9:00 am bus for my day camp and loved every minute of it. The added bonus at the camp I was meant to attend in the first place was the fact that we learned to sing all the songs from the musical Annie. Looking back at it now, I think the payback for my Nana putting me on the wrong bus was the fact that I sang Annie songs at the top of my lungs for the two-and-a-half hour drive from Oakville to Muskoka to return me to my parents. I’m sure there were many moments when my Grampa thought of throwing himself out of the moving vehicle onto the highway just for a moment of peace.

To this day, I can’t hear those songs without picturing myself with my arm hanging over the front seat and singing like I was Little Orphan Annie on Broadway.

 

The birthday present that keeps giving

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The first phone call today won’t be my mom or my dad calling to wish me a happy birthday but somehow I know theirs will be the first wishes of the day.  That is how it always was and how it shall remain.  And the first face I shall see when I wake up is the same face (or close to the same face) it has been since I was a child.

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My mom made this Winnie The Pooh for my first birthday in 1970 .  Since then he has helped celebrate my successes, been suffocated in my hugs, saturated in my tears and dragged through more drama than a bear should have to face.  But his allegiance to our friendship remains just as strong now as it was then.

Birthday celebrations would not be the same without Winnie.  It may be a childish tradition but that bear represents a great deal of love and a longing to hold on to the memories that mean so much.  He has seen his share of joy and tragedy.  He has undergone facial reconstruction and some botched plastic surgery (thanks to an over-excitable Labrador Retriever that belonged to a roommate) but he never fails to hang in there to share year after year with me. He and I have weathered many successes and many ominous periods together but he still remains the same source of comfort he has always been.

I can’t imagine a birthday celebration without him.  And now that my mom is gone, Winnie is the strongest connection to her that I can still hold in my hands.  His abiding presence in my life not only allows me to look to the future but keeps me rooted in my past.

Happy birthday Winnie.  May we be together, sharing our day, for many years to come.

 

 

 

Daily Prompt: Ode to a cottage long gone

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The Daily Prompt has once again made me take a leisurely walk through my past.

It was the middle of three cottages, the anchor.  It stood on a point of land that encompassed three family cottages, but my fondest memories of childhood fun were created in that cottage in the middle – the one that belonged to my uncle.  Our family cottage flanked one end of the trio and my mom’s cousin’s cottage bordered the opposite side.

Tilley Cottage From Fords 1911

Our cottage was the last of the three built and was erected in 1911.  The two other cottages were built in 1907 and 1908.  Each of the cottages had rustic Muskoka charm and beautiful views of Lake Rosseau, but the thing I found most intriguing about my uncle’s cottage was the staircase that led from the kitchen to the maid’s quarters.  Although there had not been a maid occupying those quarters for decades, that passageway provided many years of childhood entertainment.

That staircase was the gateway to the best hide and seek games, it was perfect for sneaking into the kitchen for a midnight snack and it was the best spot to lay in wait for the true element of surprise, either upstairs or downstairs.

As time marched on, my parents sold our cottage.  Not long after that, my uncle sold his cottage and the structure that entombed some of my favorite childhood memories was obliterated.  It was replaced by a four-story monstrosity that has no place on Muskoka soil.  The new owner went so far as to rip out the century old trees to pave the driveway to his new eyesore. It honestly sickened me.

The remaining cottage of the three is still in the family and we gather there fairly regularly in the summer.  Thankfully the trees are in full summer foliage and our vision of the spaceship next door is limited.  It still amazes me how much a wooden structure could embed itself in my heart.