GETTING MORE TALE #840: 40 Years in Photos
According to Ye Olde Photo Album, we began building the cottage in the summer of 1980. Until then we stayed in a log cabin down the road with Grandma and Grandpa. It was a tight squeeze. Grampa had a bunk house out back where he spent the night. Grandma had a bedroom where Little Baby Kathryn Ladano slept in a crib. My mom and dad had a room. That left me to sleep on a cot in the living room.
Many of my memories of that cabin are Star Wars memories. The Empire Strikes Back had just come out. I remember reading the comic book and the collector’s cards by the little front windows. My mom bought a whole box of Empire Dixie cups for the lake. Our action figures were always there with us. I didn’t have a Boba Fett yet, so in the meantime I used a Micronaut with missile-firing backpack. The cabin had structural support cables running from front to back, and they were great for hanging Star Wars figures in precarious adventurous positions.
There wasn’t much room in that little log cabin so eventually we needed to get a place of our own. My parents bought a vacant lot nearby and began clearing the land. We had no phone, no cable TV, nothing other than what we brought with us. That was usually our Star Wars guys and sometimes a little Fisher-Price tape recorder to play cassettes. But all my Star Wars soundtracks were on vinyl. My grandfather had a record player at the cottage but we didn’t play Star Wars records. Just country!
The land was cleared, a foundation was poured, and flooring laid. Insulation was installed under the floors and that’s when it rained. Insulation had to be re-done, a messy job. The construction attracted attention from local cottagers and a curious little boy named Cyril became my first cottage friend.
Cyril was not only my first cottage friend, and not only my first black friend, but also the first black kid I’d ever met in my life. Growing up in Catholic schools in Kitchener Ontario was a very white experience. I’d never even see a black kid before that wasn’t on television. The picture of Cyril checking out the brand new window delivery was typical. That was as exciting as things got. There were always trucks dropping off mountains of lumber. Like all other little boys in 1980, Cyril was a Star Wars fan. We got our figures together and played. I remember freezing Han Solo in a glass of water. It was the best way to make a “frozen Han” back then!
Funny thing about Cyril. He had an older step-brother. Eight years after meeting Cyril, his older brother was my science teacher: the legendary Mr. Marrow, one of the greatest teachers I ever had, and a guest star in my “Nothing But A Good Time” music video. He played – surprise surprise – the teacher! And he nailed it!
I’m not sure what happened to Cyril or Mr. Marrow as their family sold the cottage long ago. I did see Cyril once as an adult. He towered over me, and apparently developed a love of Phil Collins!
By 1981 we had a space we could live in. The interior was not finished, and we used an old folding table in the kitchen. The back yard was nothing but dirt and stones. My mom’s ashtray and cigarettes sat on the kitchen table. It took years to finish the inside, room by room. The wall slats went up and the ceiling was eventually finished too. Soon, front and back decks went on.
The next photos come from Easter of 1986, an occasion I’ve written extensively about. Easter fell in March that year, and we spent it at the lake. The water was still partly frozen, but a few leads opened up in the ice and we took out the canoe for a trip. You can see my little sister hunkered down in the middle while my uncle and dad paddled. Later on in the back yard, I could be found playing air guitar on my favourite weapon – a badminton racquet. If there was a tape deck on the back porch, it would have been playing “Turbo Lover” by Judas Priest. The video had just come out and I recorded it to tape so I could listen to it whenever I wanted. Naturally “Turbo Lover” was followed by “Locked In”. I wouldn’t get the album itself until September.
One of the most interesting things to me about the older photos is the lack of puppies. The first Schnauzers arrived in August of ’86. We had two to choose from – Gentle Ben and Crystal Belle. I connected with little Ben as the photos show. I thought he might like to listen to some Triumph on my earphones. But we chose Crystal (I was outvoted 3-1), and she was our puppy for the next many years. I’ll be honest and admit that the stories you’ve heard were true. At the time, I did not want a dog. I didn’t want a dog because my sister did, and I didn’t want her to have her way.
In a photo from fall of 1987, she can be seen looking for cookie scraps as we lounged on a hammock. I was wearing an Iron Maiden “Trooper” shirt that I don’t even remember owning at that age. Later that fall we went on a big hike, following the lake north. Shortly after, I painted that black vest with flames, and it became part of my Alice Cooper Halloween costume.
During the school years, I stayed home more often. I didn’t want to miss any WWF wresting, or Much Music Power Hour music videos. The absence of cable TV and a telephone made it feel like you were really out of contact with the outside world. Of course, that was the point, but when you’re in your teens that’s not a point you really feel like making.
In the winter, my parents would go for day trips while I would stay home and get into mischief with Bob Schipper. A photo was snapped of my dad shooting one of his guns on one such trip. I stayed home to make cardboard guitars with Bob.
Time flew – and so did we! My dad had a good friend named Jack, who was an airline pilot. Because of Jack, any time we were going on a flight, he could made arrangements with the pilot to let us come up to the cockpit. I felt like the kid in the movie Airplane!, meeting Captain Oveur. Jack was a customer of my dad’s at the bank and that’s how they met.
Jack also had a small plane over his own. When he came to the cottage for a visit, he didn’t drive. He flew. Summer after summer we always looked forward to his visits. He’d take us all up two at a time if we wanted to. It was pretty wild being able to see the cottage from the sky. Too bad we didn’t think to take pictures from the air.
The 80s turned into the 90s. I’ve written extensively about the summer of 1991, and the photos show change! The old brown back deck was never meant to be a permanent fixture. In ’91 we designed and built a bigger and better deck. It was my job to cut out holes for the trees to grow through and you can see this in the photos. Or at least you can see me goofing around for the cameras in my beloved Jon Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory T-shirt. I bought that album there, on cassette the previous year. The “bloody” scene was caused by a bottle of ketchup, cropped out of the photo (but left in on the original print). Neon pink was in at the time, by the way.
1991 was a special summer because it was the last summer that Bob came to stay, and the first one that my buddy Peter came for.
Seasons passed and hair grew. I had pretty good long hair when my Aunt came to visit in 1992. You can tell it was 1992 by the Wayne’s World shirt. I just had to have one. Wayne’s World was everything in 1992. I started talking like Wayne, using words like “spew” and “not”! The tape deck that summer was loaded with Queen, Iron Maiden, and my favourite band Kiss who was out for Revenge. We still have those old plastic deck chairs too!
What is really amazing to me is how quickly the time has gone by, especially those early years. It felt like ages to finish the cottage. It seemed like the unpanelled walls and temporary furniture was forever. Even into the 1990s, our closets were not finished. You could find the words KISS and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK inked into the wooden 2x4s framing our closets. Archaeologists will be able to determine whose room was whose based on hidden graffiti.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane and can imagine what it was like to be a kid at the lake, playing Star Wars, and later rocking the air guitar badminton racquet to “Turbo Lover”. Maybe next time there I will break out the racquet for another go.