Happy Canada Day! To celebrate, let’s go way back and take a look at something that was an integral part of Canada Day for me for many years. Yes, that’s right, it’s finally time for the long-awaited Remembering the Cottage: Part Two
I have been slowly writing this article since 2007, which is not the longest that I’ve ever procrastinated on writing something, but it is a concept so close to my heart, so important to the foundation of who I am, that I feel terrible for not having finished writing it at some point in the last eleven years. During that time, many details have certainly been forgotten and memories jumbled up, so this is definitely not going to be as historically accurate as it should be.
To help illustrate, in the time since I posted Part One: two generations of Nintendo consoles passed; Obama’s tenure as US President began and ended; smartphones replaced flip-phones and human-to-human contact; I purchased two homes; I met a girl who I dated, married and divorced; and I bumbled my way into a job that eventually led to what darn well better be my career at this point.
I don’t know how long this article is going to go on for, but if the previous part is anything to go by, it’ll be a whopper. You all know the story anyway, and if you don’t, maybe go check out Part One and then come back. So let’s just skip the formalities and head right in, yes?
Overview: Hey, it’s a porch! A big part of it is screened-in, and the open part that wraps around the side of the cottage is mostly what you see in the photo below. It wasn’t always like that, though. I can’t remember the specifics, because my mind is dumb and overwrites old stuff with updated versions, but if I’m not totally mistaken, the screened-in part was not always screened-in. That was a more recent addition.
A Room to Itself: The porch was never the most interesting place to be. It was outside, but slightly elevated. Woo-hoo. That all changed once the screening came around. It was magically transformed into a room that was really appealing to be in. It was like being outside, but inside at the same time. There was even a full table and chair set in there so that we could eat meals in the fresh air.
Look Up: High above the porch was a small balcony that led out from the TV room. It wasn’t much, but it was super-alluring for young’uns. I remember being very interested in playing out on that balcony, but very seldom was I actually out there. Probably because a balcony like that isn’t the safest place for children to be playing. By the time I was able to just walk out there without worry of getting in trouble, I wasn’t interested in being there any more. Mostly because there’s a huge tree that blocks the view perfectly.
Sick Days: It must have been the year after the upgraded porch was finished, that I was down with a bad cold while on a cottage vacation. Rather than just be miserable and cooped up inside, I was miserable and cooped-up in the porch. That way, at least I was getting a bunch of sun and fresh air. Also it staved off the misery because it was really nice to just lay out there and read for long periods of time. In particular, I was reading the Final Fantasy VIII strategy guide.
Back Side: It’s notable that there’s also a smaller, much more closed-in porch on the back side of the house as well. It’s almost a legitimate room on its own, since it’s got solid walls, but it’s really just a fancy porch. This is where everyone comes in and leaves their jackets and shoes before heading into the main house. It’s also where the freezer lives. Back in the day, we used to actually spend time out here, and I recall many an afternoon whiled away in the back porch with my Power Rangers colouring books.
Overview: I don’t know a lick of Finnish, despite my heritage, and it’s a language that I’d like to learn some day. I’ve been told, however, that “tupa” means “boy’s house” or something to that effect. I don’t know know for sure, but who am I to question it? In fact, I don’t even really know the proper spelling of the word. Anyway, this is a little bunk room that was once a shed.
The Shed Days: Yes, for most of its life, this little structure was a humble shed. It housed all of our sporting goods, and the lawn mower, and probably the garden tools, and I don’t even know what else. All I was ever in there for was the sport balls and other sports-type equipment that I was much more interested in as a child. Though I do recall having a good sit on the steps of the shed and finishing Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land.
And, you know, let’s take a short stop here and discuss the correlation between the cottage and Wario Land. Somehow, by some magical coincidence, I was at the cottage when I beat each of the first three Wario Land games. I don’t know if they all just came out in the summer, or if that was when I had the best opportunities to sit down and really get through them, but yup, that’s a thing that happened. Wario Land 4 broke the trend because I never bought it and just played the ROM like the teenage scrub that I was.
A New Era: At some point in time, I really can’t remember when, my grandparents decided that it was too annoying to have all of us rowdy kids in the main house while they were trying to sleep. So they remodeled the shed into the much more majestic Tupa. Containing two sets of bunk beds, a TV and VCR, and all the storage space you could ever need, it quickly became the place for my brothers and I to hang out. Many nights were spent playing Pokémon or Mega Man Battle Network games until the wee hours of the morning. It was here that I learned to appreciate Kingdom Hearts, and discovered the insanity of Nippon Ichi Software strategy RPGs through Makai Kingdom. Maybe most important of all, though, is that this is where I formed a deep appreciation for the wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble.
Overview: I dunno, man. It’s a garden. My grandma grew plenty of vegetables and flowers here. Many times during my youth, she asked us for help out here. Being a lazy brat back then, I definitely didn’t like the dirty manual labour, but if I were given a chance to go back and do it all again, I would gladly take the opportunity to spend that quality time working with grandma.
Reduction: Yeah, the picture above doesn’t really jive with the way I remember the garden. Yeah, it’s got all the flowers and whatnot, but the vegetable patch is gone! All replaced with grass and another little thing of flowers. I mean, yeah it looks nice and all, but it’s… I don’t know. Something’s missing without the vegetable patch.
Outhouse: Oh yeah, and then behind the garden is the much-maligned outhouse. This… this is where you poop if someone’s using the inside toilet. Or maybe if you need to poop but don’t want to take your shoes off to go inside. The outhouse saw a major renovation in the latter years, transformed into a half-toilet/half-shed monstrosity once the actual shed became the Tupa. I, personally, always loved the mystique of the outhouse, despite the awful smell that always awaited you inside. Please note that is colloquially referred to as the “Potty Shed.”
Country music: My grandpa always had his radios tuned to the country station. I put up with this mostly because it was one of the few stations you could pick up so far away from the city, but I did not like country music in the slightest. When it started to become popular again in the mid-aughts, I did spend a summer trying my darnedest to get into it. It was late one summer night, sitting in the outhouse and listening to that country station, that I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would always dislike country music.
Overview: Hey, it’s a garage. Woo-hoo. Let’s switch gears and look at that car. That’s my first car! The Spirit! Oh, how I loved her. She was a fine lady, and we were forced to part ways much too soon. If I had to choose between having her or my ex-wife back, I would absolutely choose the car. …Wow. That was mean. I probably should delete that sentence, but meh.
Workshop: But seriously, the garage was a cool place to be. It was quite often not a place for car storage, but rather for playing with tools. While my grandpa used the space to make actual awesome things, we kids would spend hours sawing wood into bits and then hammering the pieces into different configurations. Sometimes just for the sake of making a mess, it seemed. There was also a hot glue gun that I was especially fond of, and a band saw that I had been taught how to operate safely, but I was still so afraid of cutting off my fingers that I rarely used it.
Story of Toys: Something that my brothers and I got into for a while was to bring our old toys out to the cottage, then hack them apart and glue their pieces back together. Yes, we may have stolen this idea from Toy Story. I can’t remember if the brothers followed suit, but I really took it to the next level by making wooden crosses, nailing the Frankensteined toys to them, and then burning them in the fire pit. I… may have been a little screwed up in the head as a child. (Just to clarify, this is a highly disturbing memory to me. I really don’t know who that kid was.)
Overview: You know, right? A sauna? That really hot room where you strip down and then go sit inside it to… sweat. I really don’t know the purpose of it. My grandpa always called it a “steam bath” and quite often we would in fact bathe in there instead of in the shower or tub. At least until my teenage years where I became incredibly self-conscious of my body and wouldn’t even go swimming when others were around, much less sit naked in a hot room together.
Magic potion: Something that my grandpa used to do was to infuse the sauna with a “magic potion” that completely mystified me as a kid. I think, but have never fully confirmed, that he just mixed some Vicks VapoRub into the water that he threw on the rocks to disperse that… I don’t know, aroma into the air. There’s probably a smarter way to describe the process and sensation that I don’t know. All I do know is that we used to go nuts for it as kids.
Polar bear club: Of course, part of the appeal of having that intensely hot sauna is that you can jump into the freezing river and then immediately warm right back up. I personally never went into the river in winter months, but I did, on occasion, jump into a snowbank while buck-ass nude and then retreat to the sauna to recover. Not really my idea of a good time, but peer pressure can make us do the weirdest things.
Playing with axes: The sauna obviously required wood to burn to heat it up, and that’s where my opportunity to play with an axe came in. On occasion I would be allowed to (attempt to) chop wood to burn, and while it was exhilarating for Young Ryan, he was never in the best of shape, and would often give up quickly. And I’d like to point out that while indoor axe-throwing has become a real hit with hipsters as of late, I was chucking axes at trees way before it was cool.
The Fire Pit
Overview: Speaking of chopping up wood for burning, hey look it’s a fire pit! A common evening gathering spot, we’d actually burn more branches and newspaper than anything because we were kids and nuts to logs; look at all these other burnables! An added benefit to sitting around the fire in the evening is that the smoke was a great way to drive away all those danged mosquitoes.
Bonfires: I think that I must have asked every single day that I was at the cottage “can we have a bonfire tonight?” Mostly just because I was mystified by fire, but also because usually when there was a bonfire, there would be appropriate foods to roast over said fire, like hot dogs and marshmallows. I did give my best effort with the hot dogs, but
half 90% of the time I would just let the marshmallows burn because it was so much fun to watch them bubble and melt away.
Fireworks: The fire pit was also a great place to watch the Canada Day fireworks spectacle that would be launched across the river. No obstructions, no crowds, and then you get the added benefit of any nearby cottage owners who decided to launch their own displays. In later years we would go into town and watch from the beach -a necessity once the cottage was sold- but my favourite spot was always right by that roaring fire.
Goodbye, homework: On more than one occasion, when summertime came around, we tossed all of our schoolwork for the year into garbage bags and proceeded to burn each and every paper and notebook. It brought a temporary feeling of liberation, but really, it was just burning paper. There are so many more interesting things to burn. Like toys or marshmallows.
Overview: Ah, the dock. Many years of using it for activities slowly morphed into a handful of years of just admiring it from afar. Mostly due to the previously mentioned body issues of my teenage years. Though I did spend a lot of time in that part of my life just chilling on the dock, watching the water in peace.
Swimming: I used to love swimming as a wee one. And then I got chubby and bacne. Also I became more and more averse to touching the seaweed that was so prevalent below the waves. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s one of my many weird hang-ups. There was also that one time that I was just sitting on the dock quietly, and my grandpa snuck up on me and tossed me in. People love that story. I… I was much less fond of it at the time, as a grumpy teenager. Now I can absolutely see the humour in it.
Fishing: I also used to love fishing! I have even caught several fish in my lifetime, but I am definitely more of a catch-and-release kind of guy, seeing as I don’t eat fish of any description. I know, I know, I’m a cruel monster. That’s part of why I quit fishing; I just didn’t feel right torturing those animals that I was definitely not going to eat. Also video games were more immediately appealing. These days I still heartily romanticize the thought of going out and spending the morning and/or afternoon fishing out on the river, but I’m perfectly content to enjoy the fishing mini-game in Final Fantasy XV instead.
Paddleboat crisis: My grandparents had three boats out at the cottage. One was a canoe that I had zero patience for. Another was the paddleboat. This was definitely more my speed. It was kind of like riding a bike, but more relaxed and you get to be on the water. One time I took it out on my own, and since I knew jack squat about water, I nearly got stuck way out upriver since I went under a bridge and the currents around its piers were almost too strong to keep me from getting back the other way. Fortunately I was stubborn enough to keep fighting it until I finally made it. And I never took the paddleboat out again.
Motorboat: The last boat was the revered motorboat. It was actually kept a ways upriver, and was only brought out on occasion. I didn’t understand as a thoughtless and selfish child, but it’s probably because it needed, you know, gas to run, as opposed to the other boats that were powered by human limbs. I didn’t get to drive it as often as I wanted, but man, when I did, it was intoxicating. In later years, my grandpa tied a plank of wood to the back so that we could enjoy a cheap approximation of wakeboarding. I was actually pretty good! I’d like to do that again…
Overview: I don’t know, man. It’s a front yard. Mostly it’s just here because I took a picture. I suppose one time I attended a wedding here. I was five and also the ring bearer. Many, many years later, I learned that the rings I carried were fakes. That’s when I lost faith in everything.
The other shed: You can’t see it in the picture, but there’s another shed off to the left. It’s where the riding mower lived. And other assorted things, I guess. It wasn’t a place of great interest, but I did enjoy any opportunity to ride the mower that came up. I don’t recall them being overly common, as my grandparents were smart enough to know that I’d be more likely to just goof around than to do a proper mowing job.
Bocce ball: Off to the side of the house was a stretch of open yard. It wasn’t really much of anything, but it was the place to play bocce ball. I don’t know why, as there were plenty of other places that would work just as well. Maybe it was just because this spot was conveniently located between the garage and the porch.
Family gatherings: My grandparents would occasionally host large family get-togethers in the summer, and as I recall, this is where the picnic tables were placed. That’s really all I’ve got.
The Spare Lot
Overview: Between my granparent’s cottage and the next one over was a big ol’ spare lot. This was the perfect place for all kinds of play, and also sometimes used as an extra parking zone.
Baseball: I played baseball for a few years as a wee lad, but never enjoyed it as much as I did just playing “flies and grounders” out at the cottage. I guess it was kind of a baseball version of Horse, where one player hits the ball out to the other players, who compete to catch it for points. Of course, my favourite position was always as the batter. What can I say? I enjoyed hitting the ball, and did not enjoy getting hit by the ball.
Mini-golf: My grandmother, on at least one occasion, thought it would be fun to create a mini-golf course out in the spare lot. So she did. It was obviously very basic, but at this point in my life I can appreciate the effort and say that it was awesome. As a kid, I don’t recall being too stoked on it. Kids are dicks, and I was certainly no exception.
Fishflies: The one thing I hated more about the cottage than anything was fishfly season. I don’t remember exactly what time of year it is that they show up (spring break?), but when they do, they’re everywhere. Like, we’re talking Biblical Plague numbers. And then even when they’re done and gone, their gross little cocoons are left everywhere. They’re less annoying because they’re dead husks and don’t move, but still. Yuck.
Overview: A large body of flowing water. Although there were absolutely times when it was so calm that you’d think it was a lake instead. In fact, when I was really young I’d call it “the lake” because I didn’t know any better. I was a stupid boy.
Boat fishin’: One of the best things about going out to the cottage were the times where my grandpa would get the boat out and we’d go fishing out on the river. Of course, as kids, we were still pretty loud and usually just scared all the fish away, but it was still fun. It was way more exploratory than just driving the boat around, too, because we’d go into all these neat little nooks and whatnot looking for good places to fish.
Almost died: On a mild winter’s day, my grandpa was taking us boys out for a stroll on the frozen river. Having been taught from very young ages to be very careful about walking on the ice, it was completely unexpected when I actually fell through. I can remember vividly how I just barely managed to grab onto the ice around me to keep from going all the way under, and that quick grab my be the only reason I’m alive today. Fun fact: I brought up this incident in conversation recently and my parents had no idea that it ever happened. Whoops!
Fantasy Island: Not too far upriver was a small island, which my dad and uncle has christened “Fantasy Island” in their youth. It sparked my young imagination as a pace for adventure and exploration. As an adult, I now understand that it probably would have been a great place to take drugs or girls, if I’d had any interest in either of those things at the time.
Overview: This is a picture of a road. It represents the hour-long drive from home to the cottage. It was a very tough trip as a kid (even with Game Boy), but when I grew up bought a car, I came to truly enjoy the beautiful simplicity of the drive. I could probably tell stories about driving back and forth, but really… meh. Nothing could be as riveting as my previous blurbs about bocce ball and how I hate fishflies. I think this is where we’re going to call it done.
I guess this is it, huh? I suppose now that we’re at the end of this very sentimental project, maybe I’ll finally be able to get some closure and move on with my life. Nah. Probably not. The fact of the matter is that the cottage will forever be in my heart, as for the first 20 years of my life, it was an integral part of spring break, summer, and many other things. Simply waking up on a sunny morning, hearing the wind in the trees and the birds chirping their little birdie songs is enough to take me right back to the lazy summer days of my youth. That’s right, waking up is nostalgic to me, and I don’t know if something that deeply ingrained is a thing that a person even can get over. I know I can’t go back, even though I can drive by the place (and did for years!). It’s a part of me that’s not a part of me any more. It’s super weird, and a little depressing to think about. But it’s also really happy, because I have pages and pages worth of wonderful memories of that place and the times I spent there with the people I love.