cottage

#840: 40 Years in Photos

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.

 

 

#838: Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days

A sequel to #548:  Bad Boys

GETTING MORE TALE #838:  Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days

I couldn’t believe it when that red Daytona pulled into the cottage driveway.

“Is that Bob?” asked my dad.  It sure was!

Bob’s parents had a trailer not too far from our cottage, part way between Kincardine and Goderich.  It wasn’t unusual for him to drop in, but this time was different.  He was about to start a new job and wanted a little vacation before his first day.  He chose to come and stay at the cottage with us!

You might think it strange that he just showed up unannounced, but that’s not unusual for cottagers.  My dad’s friend Ron often showed up with his whole family, completely unexpected.  Bob had an open invitation; he was always welcome.

We raised hell that week.  Bob didn’t know, but my cousin Geoffrey and his family were also scheduled to visit.  Geoffrey was…how do I put this?  Hyperactive was the word they used, but at that age, he was…impossible!  I am glad he had since turned into a fine normal young man, but back then you could only take so much Geoff at a time!  Naturally, Bob and I ganged up against him, which was a nice change of pace!  It was during that week that Geoff infamously pierced his ear, while we took the blame for it.  I didn’t trick Geoff into anything, I just chickened out.  But that was just one of the many things we did that week.

Bob was obsessed with one album in particular that summer:  Extreme’s Pornograffitti.  In that Daytona, we all cruised endlessly to the sounds of that album.  My grandmother, in the cottage two doors down, was not impressed by our loud hootin’ and hollerin’.  I was at that age when I thought being loud and obnoxious was funny.

Pornograffitti is a special album, but that summer it was extra-special.  We played it on a loop, and I had just about every song memorized.  I asked for and received it for my birthday later that month.  While I liked all the rockers, “Hole Hearted” really hit me where it counts.  Its melancholy exuberance reflected how I felt at that time.  (I know that sounds like a contradiction!)  I was both excited and scared to be starting a new journey in my life, at University.  Fall was only a couple months away and I was nervous.  Whatever the case, the acoustic strumming of “Hole Hearted” was exactly how I felt, before I jumped into the deep end of school.

It was a beautiful summer, bright and warm.  Bob and I took the canoe out onto the lake.  There was a rock far from the shore, that was just inches below the water.  Finding it was the trick.  We were determined!  I knew roughly where the rock was located, but once you’re out on the featureless water, it was difficult to pinpoint.  Yet we found it relatively easily, by carefully looking for little crests of water where it rolled inches over that rock.

We dropped anchor and stepped onto the rock.  There was room for both of us.  Singing heavy metal songs at the top of our lungs, we both “mooned” the shore.  We were so far out that nobody would have been able to see.  I guess I’ve always been an exhibitionist.  But we did it — we mooned a crowded Lorne Beach.

As my dad likes to remind me, we could have been arrested!

Ah well.  “We didn’t,” was my answer then and now!

We had huge beach fires at night, and found plenty of activity during the days.  There was one afternoon that we took a trip up to Bruce Nuclear.  We usually did that once a year, to go on the tour.  There were actually two tours: one indoors through the visitor’s centre, and a bus tour through the grounds.   Bob came with the family on the bus tour.  And we were awful.  I don’t mind saying so.  That poor tour guide had to put up with our running commentary.  The grounds included nature preserves, and she was telling us about the wild deer that you could sometimes see in the trees to our right.

“Yeah, that one has two heads!” chuckled Bob out loud.  Chuckled, or heckled?  That’s up to interpretation.

I like to say that we were like Tom Green, but without the video camera.  If only we had one!  We were definitely a public nuisance.  And I’m definitely an old fart now, because I would find that behaviour annoying today.

But we didn’t hurt anybody.  Nobody got arrested.  We were loud and annoyed a few people, but at the time I thought that was very rock n’ roll.  We were ahead of our time.  My cousin started his summer by getting a hole in his ear and Bob and I had one last hoorah together.  That all sounds real good to me.

 

#754: High Steaks at Huron Lake

GETTING MORE TALE #754: High Steaks at Huron Lake

A lot changed in 10 months.

We haven’t been to the lake since last July.  Then Jen’s mom got sick and we spent the rest of the summer driving to and from Toronto, and in hospitals.  Then before we knew it, she was gone.

As part of the healing process, Jen and I have been aching to get back to the cottage.  Her mom loved it here, and she never made it again, though she really wanted to. We’d drive up with her mom in the back seat reading a book.  Every once in a while, I’d look in the mirror and see her, eyes closed, snoozing in the back.  Or so it appeared.

“Jen, look.  Your mom’s sleeping.”

Then suddenly before Jen could see, Mum’s eyes would open.  “I can hear you Michael and I’m not sleeping.  I’m resting my eyes.”

We’d laugh.

Finally we were going back. We packed our bags for the lake, and I spent an hour or so loading music onto a flash drive for the ride.  Specially curated of course, and including the newest hits like Flesh & Blood by Whitesnake.  I have so many flash drives, however, that I made the mistake of loading the one with the little Autobot symbol.  I should have thrown out that flash drive a long time ago.  It works on a computer but not in the car, not since it fell in a puddle a while ago.  We were forced to listen to another random flash drive that I had in the car, which turned out to be serendipitous.

The only album on this specific flash drive was Alice Cooper’s A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris.  Our first concert together happened to be Alice Cooper, so at least it was something we’d enjoy.  “Hurricane” Nita Strauss is phenomenal on it, so I was really tuned into the guitar playing.  Jen was just rocking out and singing along.

But things sure do change in a mere 10 months, the last time I was driving those particular roads.  There is a new Tim Hortons, a few improved roadways, and some traffic lights where there were none before.

By the time Alice Cooper informed us that school was indeed out for summer, we were past Lucknow and well into the windfarms.  That meant the lake was close.  Again we laughed.  Jen’s mom hated those windfarms.  “A Liberal financial disaster,” she called them.  We tried to count the windmills on the way up and it’s all but impossible.

Finally we arrived at the cottage and smelled that country air.  A mix of pine, rain and earth.  I was napping within hours of arrival!  I knocked out good.

We always arrive at the lake prepared to entertain ourselves.  With a killer wi-fi connection (welcome to cottage life 2019) I was showing my dad scenes from Infinity War within minutes.  I also copied that faulty Autobot flash drive over to a fresh one and tossed out the original.  Won’t be making that mistake again, but recovered the Whitesnake album in the process!

I didn’t have much in terms of goals, except to relax and not let anything stress me out.  One thing I was looking forward to was cooking, so I did up a couple steaks, hot dogs, and fish for the family.  I wanted to try a couple new things this time.  First, I wanted to do one of the steaks on a wood fire instead of the barbecue.  We have not done them like that in over 25 years, but the smokiness of a real fire can add its own character to a good steak and make it perfect.  That’s what happened this time.  The steak cooked over the fire was the superior steak for flavour.  I did it to a rare, which was something else I love.  I did the fish over the wood fire too (using maple and cedar).  I chose a nice fatty piece of salmon, and a cheaper but larger fillet of Lake Huron trout; both darker fish.  I tried something different for them.  I laid down a bed of lemon slices onto the grill, and then cooked the fish on top of the lemons.  For seasoning I only used salt, pepper and a roasted garlic olive oil.  The result was a juicy, perfect fish that took longer to cook than normal but acquired all that lemony goodness right into the skin. I added more salt as I went, then I finished them directly over the flames to get the crispy skin.  Surprisingly, the lake trout was the superior tasting fish.  I’m usually a salmon guy but I haven’t eaten a trout since I was a little kid.

We had a birthday party and cake for my dad, now young at 81.  You know what my dad enjoyed more than any of that stuff?  Going to a car dealership on a Sunday and help me pick out my next vehicle.  I won’t reveal what I’ve chosen until I buy the car — stay tuned.  We took my dad’s new car there, and he showed me all the latest gadgets that I’ll be getting too. I was impressed to see that he had three USB ports!  I plugged my flash drive into one of them and treated him to some music.  Max the Axe – “Next Plane to Vegas”.

“This is my friend Uncle Meat singing,” I told him.

He listened for a bit and said, “Your friend Uncle Meat can sing.”  High praise from him!

The weather wasn’t the greatest, but we slept with the windows open and the lake air coming in — the best way to get a great rest.  And rest we did.  We ate some good cooking and came home with bellies full.  Best of all, I have some ideas for the next cookout.

The May long weekend is the official ushering in of summertime.  Welcome, summer 2019 – we’ve been expecting you!

Sunday Chuckle: Sh*t LeBrain’s Dad Zaps

#567: Creatures of the Night

GETTING MORE TALE #567: Creatures of the Night

“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” – Bram Stoker

For decades, trips to the cottage and music were synonymous. When I was a younger fella, I would bring all my music with me. That usually meant five or six tape boxes, full of cassettes, and a walkman. I even brought my turntable with me for a couple summers.

As the music collection grew, I’d have to pick and choose tunes for the trip. It’s sad to admit it, but true nonetheless: I spent hours picking music, far more time than I used to pack clothes and essentials. It wouldn’t be unusual to find I didn’t pack enough pants, but plenty of Deep Purple.

It’s much easier today. Load up some flash drives, or better yet, bring all the music I have ripped so far on my 2T external hard drive. In the olden days, we didn’t even have a phone or cable TV. We had radios and a big TV antenna that could pick up two channels.  It was a cavalcade of classic Ontario television:  Bowling for Dollars, the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, and Trivia Company with Johnnie Walters.  Now, we have five or six devices fighting for the Wi-Fi signal, with me usually streaming Netflix. We have multiple computers, several phones, and of course cable TV. Talk about roughing it! In the 1980s, my sister and I would struggle to pick up any radio station that wasn’t playing country. Now, I just set my browser window to my home station of 107.5 DaveRocks. Unbelievable!

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The interesting thing is, there are already plenty of sounds available to listen to if you don’t bring your own music. People used to spend tons of money on “nature sounds” CDs, but at the cottage you can get that for free.

You haven’t lived until you’ve gone to sleep with the sound of crashing waves coming through your open window. Nothing can put you to sleep faster, even when it’s just an afternoon nap. The sound of children playing in the lake only makes the afternoon snooze that much more peaceful. In the evening, the waves pick up intensity and are augmented by nocturnal woodland creatures. These “children of the night” can be heard pitter-patting around the deck, and in the branches just outside the window. Soothing sounds. Nothing to be afraid of, even in the dark. The only thing to fear would be a wayward skunk poking around looking for garbage. I used to like pitching a tent in the back yard and sleeping there. I used to bring a Walkman in there to listen to tunes on the earphones, but sometimes in the night I’d be woken up by a raccoon sniffing around for scraps.

The absence of city sounds can be strange for those not used to it. In the city there is a constant backdrop of automobile sounds, planes flying overhead, and trucks hauling their freight. Even at night, there is a dim background hum of traffic, and of electric lights buzzing overhead. At the cottage the quiet is amplified by the dark. We are so used to the light pollution of the city, that the pitch black of a cottage night can be quite striking, especially during a late night stroll.

Bringing music to the lake is still mandatory. It’s important to turn it off now and then, and just listen to the creatures of the night.