Growing up in the 60s living in the mid-west, my family and I would spend our summer's at a log cabin my late father had built on a lakefront property in Quebec, Canada. Now, this was interesting as I grew up both American/Canadian, born and raised in both countries, my mother being French speaking from Quebec. That said, let's talk about how we spent our summer's driving to Lac du Pimichaugan. Five kids, two cats and our dog Biff, a big yellow mix that really became distraught having been cooped up in a hot non-air conditioned car for hours at a time on the highways. We had one of those old Ford station wagons back then, and believe me when I tell you how lucky today we are to have cars with good a/c!!!
When we arrived at the beginning of the dirt road entrance from the curvy highway, the road that led to the lake and the tiny log cabin, we would all yell "Yaaay," as we then knew the summer fun would start, happily clambering out of that old hot wagon. As soon as we unpacked everything a swim in the cold lake was a must, right after everything was put away. The water was clear, I would lie at the end of the dock watching the fish swim underneath, the little sunfish and perch were my favourite to look at, their colours and stripes on the perch fascinated me then. The scent of the water's freshness gave me a happy place to be. I brought back with me the essence of those fish we caught, etched into my memory when we had to go home in the fall to school.
The dirt road led us through the dense wooded forrest, the variety of dense trees and shrubs, while blue jays wailing out their welcome as we got to the top of the hill that led down to the cabin. To me that was the sound of music, those blue jays. The thick trees fascinating me with a dark presence, every summer when we got there, waiting to be explored by us.
We fished, the fiesta pike, bass, perch, throwing the sunfish back in the water to swim away to their freedom. The catfish were easiest to hook but evil looking with their whiskers protruding from their mouths. Not my favourite among the variety. Crayfish were plentiful, we caught our own to use for bait or buy worms the boys would sell in little white styrofoam containers that they topped with dirt. Oh how I remember those nasty little worms. I would pull one up all squiggling still alive onto the hooks. "Merde, le phew phew", One of us said in French mockery. We sure had fun though.
We would hike up to the top of the hill and play on the dirt road with the woods on each side; until we got to triangle rock so we always knew where we were. After getting hot playing in the woods we would go back down to the lake and swim for several hours before lunch or dinner. One of my favourite things was the fireplace and making popcorn or toast using the cast iron gadget, I thought that was literally the coolest thing ever.
Another game we would used to play was on the moss couch back above the cabin near the roof, looking down the ravine and the lake. My sister and I and our neighbour friend Teresa, a pretty blond Polish child with big blue eyes we sat the three of us playing word games.
"If you were a kitchen gadget what would you like to be called and why?" One of us would ask.
"I would be a frying pan, then everyone would have something to eat", would be the reply.
"If you were a piece of furniture what would you like to be and why?" Was another question.
"A chair, because someone always sits on us." Would be the answer, so on and so forth the game would continue that way.
Ok, so all was fine and dandy during the daytime hours, when the sun rose and the loons would wail their haunting sound over the misty water, while fish would jump and the world would slowly awaken promising more hot summer weather for us. C'est bon le memoirs. I think those early morning hours were my fondest when everyone was still asleep I would go down to the dock and just inhale the life around our cabin.
We often took the power boat to the store, where one got gas and fishing supplies, and best of all a big box of pink elephant popcorn with a surprise inside. The box was white with a picture of an elephant on it and the popcorn inside was candy coated with pink!! We loved it, and would grab a bottle of coca-cola from the fridge bin that sat in ice water, opening it with the bottle opener that was attached to the labelled fridge. The old fashioned kind of fridge that always held the melting ice cubes swimming among the little glass bottles of pop. Ahhhhh, summertime tastes, and then we would go back to the cabin for more memory making after my dad got what he needed from the depanneur; that's French for convenience shop.
Our neighbour, Teresa had their cabin up the top of the hill were Polish. I first spotted her climbing down the hill when she and her siblings would come down to the water for a swim. Her blond curly hair and pink face made me curious and we then became the lake besties together, frolicking the land like two little wild things all scrappy kneed and sun burned cheeks boasting of our enforced adventures. We canoed to a tiny little island one day and had a picnic. We lit a small fire in the centre of the stone pile that was already there, and cooked our hot dogs. Teresa brought pre-cooked rice and beans her mother prepared, wrapped in tin-foil she warmed up that up, tasting like the embers of the wood we burned underneath. Nothing was better.
Teresa's mother Wanda who was a tiny woman, but very present her personality, bigger than life in her persona, used to go into the forrest and pick wild mushrooms. I always remember her standing over the gas stove stirring them, watching in childhood curiosity since we were not allowed to eat them. My mother feared poison and death. When we were older I once asked Wanda if she were ever afraid of eating poisonous mushrooms, she just shrugged her shoulders and said "No, I don't think about it", and today this same woman is 96 years old.
"Teresa, come into the cabin it's time for dinner." She would always shout, in heavy European accent while we played outside. Her two brothers Christopher and Voytek also hung around, most often fishing with their father. He would string them up and bring in big fish that they indulged in pan-frying with butter and salt, as well with the wild mushrooms from the back woods. Another fond memory for me was when Teresa used to brush her teeth with a small cup of water, as they had no plumbing. They literally fetched their water from the spring, or right from the lake, hauling it up the hill. I thought that was cool, since I never saw anyone brush their teeth that way. We had a hand an old cast iron hand pump, with a hose from the lake providing us with water, and my mom boiled it so we could drink. My father had taken me to the shop in town to get it I remember, one of those special 'just me and daddy" times, having four siblings that was a rare treat in itself to be with him. It was baking hot and we had an ice cream cone afterward, the soft kind with the waves like sea foam, standing outside the kiosk in the small village eating it quickly before it began to dribble and melt.
The large lake was filled with islands of various sizes, and beyond the lake were mountains and more lakes. That first summer we spent in '68 I could hear wolves in the far distant at night, when the sky was dark and stars were out, fireflies hung around like tiny little lights flickering in the blackened sky amongst the dark trees and bushes. The night trees hovered as their giant branches gave me the feeling something was lurking around out there and would come and take me away. Some of the maple's had sap so thick you could make glue with it I used to think, but under the starlight it appeared to look like monsters growing out from the thick trunk of the giants.
At night time, the woods were a whole new story, they frightened me. I would imagine and dream all kinds of things a child would dream about an unknown forrest surrounding our cabin. Wild animals, bears, bobcats, porcupines or even wild dogs I feared would come and take us hostage through the darkness. I saw gleaming eyes bold and unfearful during those early years as I huddled under my quilts in the attic rooms upstairs where we slept. Always forever grateful when the sun began to peak its pink and orange hues over the horizon from the East shoreline to greet us for another day.
Many families spent summer's going to Disneyland, or travelling abroad if they were fortunate enough to have the money to do that. Some friends I had boasted motorhomes, adventuring from place to place during summer vacations. I think we were the only ones in my school travelling cross border to a log cabin up in the wild country; fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, and yes, being afraid of the woods at night.
Those fond memories of our summer's got me going through some tough times in life, as I grew older - and living in the city I appreciated being able to think about those times with happy feelings. Picking raspberries that grew wild past the woods and my mom making pies or pancakes with them, the scents of those berries lingering etched in my. heart. The pretty colourful wildflowers and those rows of wild berries make me happy when I remember the past. Last summer, when covid restrictions began to lift somewhat, Teresa and I drove back there. We went to our old cabins, and things had changed. Of course, everything seemed smaller, and it didn't have the same feel that it did years before, but I could still see the flashbacks of childhood innocence living, and playing in the woods.
Based on a true story