Getting decked, in a good way

There are three men out in my backyard building me a new deck.

One is my son, Ari, 22, who knows this is the cost of living here. The other two are doing me a huge favour.

When Ari took control of the Deck Project, he called his stepdad, The Poor Sod. You might remember him from years ago in these columns. Good guy then, good guy now.

He brought along his friend, Matthew Bryant, who has built a lot of decks. Matt gave Ari a list of what lumber and hardware to have delivered, told him to get the old one ripped out, and the deck games began.

Dad built the last one when I was a teenager, which means it has stood (and in these later years, wobbled) for nearly 40 years. Not bad for a guy who made up his own plans and podged around and improvised when he didn’t quite know what he was doing.

It was fun watching Matt’s face as he peered at some of Dad’s handiwork. Dad was a bricklayer, so he was happy to plunge joists directly into the house and slap some concrete around them. Matt doesn’t know I heard him muttering. I also heard him explaining to Ari the correct way to do it.

No new deck project is complete without an entire day lost to a task you thought would take an hour, four trips to Home Depot, coffee, beer, rain and a row of cat faces in the window.

The first day was perfect weather; the next was rain nearly all day, yet the work continued. Matt would give Ari an instruction, then leave him to it. I watched Ari soaking up everything like a sponge; he’d spent a day at the cottage deck-building with his uncle and he loves doing it. It’s times like these I miss my father being there; for all Dad’s creative fixes, this is the grandson most like him, the one he could have handed the tools to.

Tape measures were flying the whole time and I realized early on that Matt wasn’t second-guessing Ari’s measures. It’s a small thing, but it’s a trust thing and I watched as Matt started incorporating some of Ari’s suggestions. And I watched that build confidence in Ari, who worked shoulder to shoulder with the other men.

Matt and The Poor Sod exchanged a few glances — I smiled as I realized it was an “I told you so; the kid is OK.”

When they finally packed up at the end of day one and left, Ari came into the house and got me.

“Come help me move the rest of the wood around back,” he said.

I stared at a pile of heavy lumber in the driveway and wondered what any of this had to do with me.

“The guys will be back tomorrow, right? I’ll put a car at a neighbour’s.”

“No, it’s better if it’s all around back. I don’t want it stolen, and it saves them doing it in the morning.”

Sighing, I picked up my end and grunted.

“I can’t lift this many boards at once,” I complained.

“Sure you can,” Ari grinned.

“You wouldn’t make Taryn do this, or Pammy,” I puffed.

“You’re right. They couldn’t, or they’d complain, but you’re …. you. Now be quiet.”

They’ll finish the railing this week but it already looks awesome. Watching my son become a welcome part of a crew is a bigger thing, something his stepdad knows.

Thank you, Matt. For the deck, too.

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Looking back on 60 years of Dunnville Slowpokes

I’d spent the afternoon taking picture after picture of old cars.

Some as shiny as new candy, others sporting their original decades-old finishes, all of them restored and adored by the throng of people I slipped through in the late afternoon sun. The golf club grounds were still drying out; a steady rain had threatened the event. But when the Slowpokes of Dunnville, Ont. hold a reunion, it seems even Mother Nature gets the memo.

The club was formed back in 1956, and last week was their 60th reunion. Four of the original six members — total membership would loosely sit at a few dozen over the years — are still about. But the roster of those who have passed away weighs heavily enough for club spokesperson Ed Bucsis to announce that this will probably be the last formal dinner.

As Ed’s wife, Linda, started assembling a group picture, I scrambled to get down names from men who were chatting and drifting about; some joking about cats being difficult to herd.

Back in the day Courtesy of the Dunnville Slowpokes Front row, from left: George Cowan, Bob Mmerick, Joe Cowan, Bill Stowe, Claire Moodie Middle row: Vince Redmayne, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, John Bain, Bob Culver, Pete Baird, Ray Booker Back row: Bob Case, Gary Featherstone, Tom James, Bob Smith, Jack “Alg” Heaslip, Mel Langkamer, Murray Baigent, Jim Erskine

Back in the day
Courtesy of the Dunnville Slowpokes
Front row, from left: George Cowan, Bob Mmerick, Joe Cowan, Bill Stowe, Claire Moodie Middle row: Vince Redmayne, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, John Bain, Bob Culver, Pete Baird, Ray Booker Back row: Bob Case, Gary Featherstone, Tom James, Bob Smith, Jack “Alg” Heaslip, Mel Langkamer, Murray Baigent, Jim Erskine

The men hold the stories, and there is no detail too small to be counted or corrected.

At dinner later that evening, I watch the faces in that picture I’d taken go backward in time. It’s easy to see the camaraderie as well as the knots; you don’t get this many people who share such an intense interest to all hold the same memory.

It’s an easy kind of jousting, however. These men still meet up for lunch once a month to talk cars, and you know both the exploits and arguments are now as smooth as soapstone.

But the women also hold the stories. These were often the family cars being worked on, work and hobby joined at the hip.

“Well, who do you think was home with the kids?” laughs Jean Smith.

Her husband, Bob, was an original Slowpoke.

The Slowpokes today. Front, from left: Vic Powell, John Drynan, Peter Baird, Bob Smith, Joe Bolanjski. Rear: Roger King, John Franklin, Ed Bucsis, Tom “Jessie” James, Mel Timms, Gary Featherstone, John Bain, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, Mel Langkamer, Bob Johnson.

lowpokes today
Lorraine Sommerfeld,Special to The Hamilton Spectator
The Slowpokes today. Front, from left: Vic Powell, John Drynan, Peter Baird, Bob Smith, Joe Bolanjski. Rear: Roger King, John Franklin, Ed Bucsis, Tom “Jessie” James, Mel Timms, Gary Featherstone, John Bain, Dave Cowan, Bud Martin, Mel Langkamer, Bob Johnson.

“The women had that role, though they did have a road rally one time and it was almost all women who did that. I had one kid at home with the measles and one I thought might come down with them, so I just brought him along and he was happy to have the whole back seat to himself for the day. I wanted to win, but my co-pilot couldn’t read maps.”

She pauses. “I really wanted to win.”

Speaking of winning, you know that once a bunch of men build hot rods, they’re going to want to race them.

The Slowpokes held the first Canadian race sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association out of California at what is now Toronto Motorsports Park in Cayuga. They just called it Kohler in reports at the time, and a black and white photo of proud club members taken in 1957 reveals many of the names in the group photo I’ve taken almost 60 years later.

“I took the oldest three to the track when their daddy was racing,” says Jean. “But between getting this one a drink and that one something to eat and somebody needing to go to the washroom, they missed their daddy’s race. I swore I’d never go again, but we did.”

Linda Bucsis reflects on a different kind of bond as time has marched on.

“The women have been a tremendous support for each other, especially as we lose members or go through illnesses. There is comfort here.”

Friendships that have spanned decades also span distance, and you can see the tendrils of this club throughout the community.

As storm clouds gather, the stars of the day — those cars — are tucked away and I head inside to hear more stories.

From those stars who still meet once a week for lunch.

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How do you lose a cat that never goes anywhere?

Sweet Pea, the cutest cat with the worst inner time clock, gets up at precisely 5:45 a.m. every day.

I have no idea how she does this, but she does.

And I should have just named her Domino because she wakes up the other three cats and they all stare and yell at me until I wake up, like a small choir of feline potentates.

I get up and stumble downstairs and feed them and go back to bed, because 5:45 is the middle of the night.

The other day I knew I wouldn’t be getting back to sleep, so I fired up my computer and put the kettle on. I’d opened the front door so the cats could peer outside, the extent of their interaction with nature. We have a chipmunk that sits on the front step and chatters to them.

Before my tea had even steeped, Pea started yelling. She’s a soprano, occasionally pitching into notes only a dog can hear.

I ignored her because it was 6 a.m. Soon, Marco and Cairo — the kitty kids — started yelling as well. I finally looked up to see JoJo, my old black cat, staring back in at me.

I blinked. I’d fed all four cats half an hour before and JoJo had definitely shown up for grub. There was no way she could be outside. As I stepped toward the door, she took off.

Pea continued to accuse me of neglect while Marco ran around looking for the security breach so he could join JoJo. Cairo ran upstairs because she’d ended up terrified on the wrong side of the door a few weeks ago as I brought groceries in. Her little cat brain probably thought I was trying to shed cats — and my cat lady status — one cat at a time.

I started hollering for JoJo in the house, essentially useless because she’s mostly deaf now. She’s arrived at that old cat autopilot — sleeping and eating.

I went outside calling for her, which made no sense because there was no way she could have been outside. Pea kept crying, helpfully.

I yelled inside the house a little more, mostly hoping I’d be able to wake up one of the human kids, who would feel so awful that JoJo might be missing that they’d help look.

That did not happen. The only thing I could think was that a neighbourhood cat, Banks, had been the cat I’d seen. Except Banks may be a black cat, but contrary to popular belief, they don’t all look the same. JoJo is bigger and wouldn’t I know my own cat after 14 years?

I shook the treat bag because surely that would entice a deaf cat who had just been fed. Three cats got treats; none of them was JoJo.

I frequently have a disconnect between my brain and my heart, and nowhere is it more acute than with my cats. I knew in my brain JoJo couldn’t be outside; I knew in my heart that if there was even a slender chance she was, I had to find her.

I had a noon meeting and told the kids, now up, what was going on. They didn’t see much urgency in a cat making a break for it for a few hours, but Taryn nonetheless texted me a picture of JoJo (sitting on my bed) an hour later.

I got home and looked at Pea.

“Don’t you have cat radar?” I asked her.

I swear she shrugged and said all black cats look the same to her.

“So I guess it was Banks,” said Ari.

“No, it was FauxJo,” I replied.

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When the internet is down, call a librarian

My kids think I’m a Luddite because whenever my computer blows up or melts down I just sit there and holler until somebody comes to fix it. It’s usually because Mark the Cat has fallen down the back and dislodged cables I can’t see well enough to reconnect, even if I knew where they went in the first place. Ari sighs and asks me what I’m going to do when he moves out. My reply is always the same: “First, I will celebrate, then I will learn to do it myself.” Kids today.

I like to think I can cut the cord, so to speak, easily. I have severely limited WiFi at the cottage because it costs too much. Then a funny thing happened on the way to that enforced blackout: I rather liked it. It was baby steps at first. I’d check on emails every hour or two, because the nature of my job is that a missed opportunity can impact my earning ability. Very few people have my cell number which is probably the smartest thing I ever did unintentionally. I’m not a good texter and I can’t be bothered typing out emails on my little phone screen. If I go up north to work, it’s only to use my laptop as a typewriter. It’s blissful.

Except.

Except when I realize how much I take that connectivity for granted. I read a lot and had no idea how often I’ve come to rely on the internet to answer questions that chew at the back of my brain as I’m reading. At the cottage I was reading Lonesome Dove again (because how could you not?) and I reached for my laptop to try to figure out if an event had been fictionalized or was true, and hit the no WiFi wall: I couldn’t know what I needed to know right this second.

About twenty years ago, I was in a pub with friends when the conversation turned serious. A debate got rolling about the origins of World War I. What can I say; I run with the cool kids. With egos at risk, we did the only thing we could do, which was to haul out someone’s cell phone (no doubt as big as a brick), ask the bartender for a phone book, and called the local library. Oh, how we straddled the eras that afternoon.

I sheepishly asked the librarian if she’d mind doing a little fact checking for a table full of drunks, which she did with good humour and professionalism. I know that I’ve now replaced much of that skill with the internet and take it just as for granted.

Late last year, I hit a dead end in some research I was doing. For an event that happened long before the digital age but hadn’t been significant enough to register on anything but local radar, I was stumped. My sister had dug deeper than I’d been able to, but we both hit an impasse. Then I remembered that long ago afternoon, and did the only thing that made sense: I called a librarian. Peggy Mackenzie used to work at the Toronto Star, and if she can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. She gave me excellent direction and help.

I didn’t call Peggy that day from the cottage, though I did go into town to my favourite used bookstore. There among the stacks I found my answer, along with several other books I didn’t know I needed. That’s when I remembered the internet is both a porthole and a rabbit hole, and a librarian can help you tell the difference.

She can also tell you who started World War I.

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My first sports injury

I grabbed the handle of the paddleboard and tugged.

Oh. Heavier than I thought. This is the point where I would be hollering for one of the boys, but I was at the cottage alone and determined. Somehow, I hauled it up three steps and started off down the hill to the lake.

I had an idyllic paddle around the whole lake that evening. It was the last time I would not be in excruciating pain for nearly a week. I waited 36 hours to get medical help because how on earth do you tell anyone you’ve turned your butt inside out lifting a paddleboard? The last hemorrhoid I’d had was in labour, where you at least get a consolation prize to go along with the homemade ice pack they’ve smacked up your wazoo.

I crept into the ER in Parry Sound, where a young man anchored the desk.

“Yes?”

“I have a hemorrhoid as big as a planet.”

He hesitated, and said he’d be right back. I never saw him again. Instead a woman took my info as I perched on the chair like a barnacle allergic to boats.

She told me it was going to be a wait.

“It’s the rain,” she explained. “All the tourists come in when it rains.”

Of course they do. A splinter can wait three days in the sunshine, while a hemorrhoid is literally on the dark side of the moon.

A doctor finally took a peek and a poke as I gasped profanities; the attending nurse didn’t try to hide the stunned look on her face as she rushed to get an IV and Dilaudid, which is morphine in a prom dress.

As I got that floating feeling, I suddenly opened my eyes.

“Wait. I have to drive back to the cottage,” I told her.

“You drove here?” she asked me, incredulously.

The doctor was still staring at my butt.

“I’m gonna need the surgeon,” he muttered.

I texted my sister, Gillian. “I’m in the ER with a hemorrhoid as big as my head. Waiting on surgeon. Owowowowow.”

“WTF? Do you want me to come up?”

“Nah, I should be OK, I’m just worried about the cats.”

Two cats sleeping blissfully were my biggest worry as I was being prepped for surgery.

“We can be up in three hours.”

“Crap. They won’t let me drive.”

“Not too surprising, Rainey. We can come up.”

“Lemme try one more thing. I know a guy in Parry Sound.”

“Not surprised.”

“Not like that, a reader. I only have his email though … I’m still trying to find if they can do this awake so I can drive.”

I wanted wide-awake surgery on my inside- out butt. Ah, morphine.

“Awake? Yuck. Ouch.”

“Yeah, even the surgeon just flinched. I’m getting dopey.”

“Will leave shortly.”

“Gawd I love you. I’m sorry.”

“No probs. Bringing Manuel so we’ll drive your car back.”

“That’s awesome. I will pay you all the moneys.”

“Shut up. You are high.”

“My bum hurts Gilly.”

“Sorry Rainey.”

“I’m hungry but I’m scared to poop.”

“Good to know.”

Along with the painkillers, the doctor had prescribed something to keep things moving along called lactulose, which I called flatulose.

I’m lactose intolerant, which I’d forgotten to mention, so I was basically guzzling something that turned me into a bloated fart machine.

Gilly tried to feed me but I know enough science to understand what goes in must come out so I had an apple. Three days, three apples. I would swing from a charm bracelet before I would poop.

For anyone wondering, I AM the kind of person who would call a reader from an ER in a small town and ask for a ride home.

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Two murder suspects, one victim

When I was growing up we had an amazing cat: Nooly.

At home he was just a normal awesome cat, but at the cottage he was Supercat. The forest was his jungle though he came in for regular meals. He’d line up his kill outside the back step. His record one morning was 13 mice, neatly arranged like hors d’oeuvre.

My father was quite proud; my mother was horrified. We used to giggle that Mom was so silly about a cat doing what a cat does. Plus, there is no good way to kill a mouse — none. A cat is about the fairest fight a mouse is going to get.

Last week I’d taken two cats to the cottage — the good two, not the Terrible Two: the kittens who remained home with Ari and Taryn, who stared at them like they were holding a losing lottery ticket. I tricked Pea into her cage while JoJo strolled into hers; JoJo knows the cottage means respite from the kittens. This is the same cat who once dislocated The Poor Sod’s shoulder, getting her into her cage.

JoJo settled in instantly while Pea yelped her way around the place. I laugh that I think I’ve come up north on my own when I’ve brought along a howling little noise machine. I let her carry on, reasoning she would settle down by evening. She did not settle down by evening.

I’m used to my 5:45 a.m. wake-up call from Pea. She wants her breakfast, and she sets off a chain reaction in the other cats. I’ve learned to deal with it by getting up, feeding them, and then going back to bed.

At the cottage the other night, she kept on yelling long into the night. I closed my bedroom door, and JoJo helpfully shouldered it open. JoJo was always my late (and much missed) Maggie’s muscle, and it appears she remains so for Pea.

On and on it went, past midnight, past 1 a.m., past 2. Then I heard a different noise, one of rustling and banging. And it was both cats, not just Pea. As a rule, I never turn on lights at night; there is a nightlight in the bathroom that casts enough of a glow to make your way around without waking you all the way up. For some reason, I snapped on my bedside light, no doubt wondering if I was about to wrestle a bear or a raccoon that one of the cats had let in through the screen doors.

I walked out to the kitchen in time to see JoJo leaping off the island. A bag of cat treats remained behind, desperate tooth marks on the bag. She’s not as crafty as the kittens, who can rip apart a treat bag in 10 seconds. Pea continued her high-pitched yelling, like she’d been offered a plea deal for snitching on JoJo.

I stashed the bag away, shook my head sadly at JoJo (who knows better) and told Pea to shut up already. I trundled back to the bedroom and stopped cold. Beside the bed was a mouse, in no way molested but definitely dead.

An offering from my fur-coated murderers, who now stood in the doorway bursting with pride. JoJo had simply been trying to reward herself for a job well done.

I did the mouse removal, silently thanking whatever urge had made me turn on the lamp. I also considered how much worse this situation could have been.

I could have had all four cats with me.

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Mom’s hit and run diner

I’ve discovered the best way to see more of my first-born: have him move out.

Before Christopher and Pammy moved out last fall, Christer and I were more or less just two ships that passed in the night. We kept opposite schedules, and because we essentially irritate the crap out of each other, we tended to cut a wide berth. I love him, and I’m sure he loves me, but our personalities are too close for comfort. I was eager to allow two clichés to battle it out: will it be out of sight, out of mind, or would absence make the heart grow fonder?

They only live a few blocks away, and their dog, Alfie, spends some time here. Pammy drops him off and I babysit; we believe Alfie thinks he is going to summer camp, because we stay out back all day and he plays with Shelby, our other dog. They have a paddle pool, they run through the bushes, sun themselves when they’re tired and get snacks if they behave. Summer camp.

Christer dropped Alfie off the other day on his way to work, and I told him to stay for dinner when he returned. “It’ll only be 3, but thanks. I’ll just get Alfie,” he told me.

At 3, his stomach had obviously had a change of heart. “What time are we eating?” he asked. I told him to come back at 6. When Pammy is working late, Christer will often call or appear on the doorstep at dinnertime. He’ll ask what plans we have for food. I usually look at him blankly, because I frequently have no plans for food. I see a small light go out in his eyes when this happens. Sometimes I send him home with leftovers. Sometimes I send him home with money. Mostly I send him home with an empty stomach and a broken heart.

We used to come home for Sunday dinner, as many of us as could make it depending on where we were living and working. Mom and Dad loved it; Mom would cook all day and Dad would take most of the credit, and they’d gather their growing brood. Mom would hand out care packages of whatever had been on sale that week and Dad would hand out newspaper clippings and random offerings from the garden — you’d get a liquor store bag with 2 tomatoes, an onion, a pepper and some garlic in it. You were expected to return the bag.

I do a much truncated version of that, and try to have all the kids here once a month or so for a planned dinner. I see why my parents loved it, but it’s a helluva lot of work for someone who finds no sense of peace or accomplishment in making a meal. I think they appreciate the effort, and I enjoy seeing the four of them evoking memories I’ve held for years.

Christopher came back at 6 the other night, Alfie rocketing through the doorway excited at this double-barrelled day with Mama Lorraine. Dinner was ready, though Ari had disappeared upstairs. Christer and I talked as he ate in the kitchen. At 6:08, he gave me a hug, and said, “let’s not pretend this is anything but exactly what it is.” He went to the back door to call Alfie, who had barely had time to run through my garden knocking tomatoes off their stalks.

I looked at him and scowled. “You just gave your mother a food booty call,” I told him.

“And we’re also never going to use that term again,” he replied.

And left.

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My most intimate relationship is with the Internet

I have been told I’m not allowed to click on anything.

Ari, 21, has made it abundantly clear he is sick of bailing me out of my trigger finger; I may not look at these adorable cats, I may not see this amazing deal, and I most certainly may not wonder what Marcia Brady looks like after all these years.

The stupid thing is, I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to teach my sons the difference between a good source on the Internet and a bad one, and yet there I go down clickbait rabbit holes. Yes mom, if all the other kids jumped off a cliff, it appears I would go, too.

You’ve noticed your Internet pages and various feeds are locked in with algorithms that make them nearly impossible to ignore. You can put up ad blockers, but that is the modern equivalent of tearing the ads out of a newspaper before you read it; if those ads weren’t there, the paper wouldn’t be there …. oh wait. Never mind. Instead of ad blockers I subscribe to the major dailies and magazines that I read; I realize there are many people who believe if it flies through the air it should be free, but I am not one of them.

And so on other sites, I get helpful reminders that I need to buy more boots. The stupid thing? They keep suggesting boots and shoes I already bought. I guess they want to be super sure I’ll like them. The irritating thing? They show me the sale price. They suck the joy out of my new shoes. Instead of thinking I’m strutting around in 150-buck shoes that make me feel like a goddess, I am now scuffing around in $55 shoes. I hate you, Internet.

Of course, if I happened to buy them at the sale price, I believe I am strutting around in $150 shoes again.

Their advertising backfires sometimes. My sister and her husband both use the same computer, and every Christmas gift she was looking at for him kept popping up when he was on. Bad Internet, bad.

Ari asked me why there is a Visa card on my bedside table and I looked at him like he was nuts. Doesn’t he know how many shiny things go on sale late in the evening? When I complained to a friend that buying over the Internet is too easy, she helpfully suggested that I used her address in the autofill portion of the order form. We’re the same size; she likes my taste.

If you think about it, our computers know us more intimately than any human or journal. It’s terrifying that every mood or curiosity is captured, and the narrative we construct for others bears very little resemblance to who we actually are.

I’ve joked that my browser history is allowed to be as eye-popping and weird as it is because I’m a writer, but if you looked at it you wouldn’t know whether to get a shrink for me or a restraining order against me.

Murders have been solved through browser histories. And while thousands of marriages have blown apart over what’s in there, I think instead of a first date you should just take a boo at each other’s drop down menu.

Mine currently contains Martha Stewart, Innsbruck weather, Sommerfeld shotgun, how fast do airbags explode, Nine Inch Nails, Pokemon Go, Civil War, Bentley SUV, unicorn floaty toy, Yul Brynner, are forget-me-nots perennials, Lamborghini, hickory sticks, Hammer pants (I was proving something to the kids; don’t ask) and Jeep Wagoneer.

Thankfully it’s boot season soon.

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Never say ‘What else could go wrong?’

Ari, Emerson, Vishu, Swapnil, Cort, Adam and three Christophers, one all the way from Texas. That is how many boys were at my cottage last weekend. Oh, and Taryn, because I needed to tip the estrogen levels just a little. But still. Nine boys.

Young men, really. I still think of them as kids, but they’re all aged 21 to 24 and hardly youngsters. On Friday night they were playing cards, awaiting the arrival of the last three revellers, including my oldest son. The discussion was centring on themes, as each year something emerges to make it most memorable. Several years ago, Ben choked on a baby carrot and the ensuing trip to the ER produced a Motherlode column his grandparents had framed.

I was keeping an eye on a toilet that was acting up, trying to judge if I had that cottage nightmare on my hands: a plumbing crisis on a Friday night in July.

Around 10 p.m., my Christopher appeared at the back door.

“There’s a tree down over the driveway,” he announced to a roomful of testosterone laden boys experiencing varying degrees of drunkenness.

This, of course, can only mean one thing: field trip. Outside they traipsed into the mosquito-rich forest.

Sure enough, a massive tree was blocking a huge portion of the base of the driveway.

Cort’s little VW sat forlornly on the other side, bugs dancing merrily in the headlights. I stared at it dumbly; we’d been in and out all day and the thought that anyone could have been hit by that tree was terrifying.

While I tried to form a plan for the tree as well as the toilet, I suddenly realized that someone had popped open the shed.

I was instantly surrounded by some Lord of the Flies re-enactment, all of them clutching something from my late father’s medieval tool kit. Crosscut saws, hand saws, axes, hatchets and a machete. I prayed my brother-in-law had hidden the chainsaw well.

At one point, Christopher said he thought maybe the whole tree thing was an elaborate trick. That I would drop a massive tree over my driveway at night as a joke. I looked at him like he had three heads.

As Adam walked past, I grabbed a hatchet from his hand. He looked sad. I ignored him.

As I got the most dangerous tools into the most sober hands (the new arrivals), I announced that the toilet was broken and the price of using it was bringing a bucket of water with you.

Contemplating a toilet-free existence, Taryn and I exchanged haunted glances as the boys continued devising a plan to clear the huge branches while smashing at mosquitoes and laughing about having steel toed flip-flops. The difference between the sexes at its most basic level was crystallized for me in that moment.

Back inside, the tree got larger and the cliffs they’d been jumping from earlier that day got higher. Each evening, I feed them Platter. It’s become a proper noun over the years, and every night is different. Tonight was a ton of veggies, crackers, cheese, pâté, hummus, tzatziki, barbecued chicken and kielbasa.

Adam instantly seized a baby carrot and held it up to me.

“You won’t let me have a hatchet, but you’ll let me have a carrot?” he asked, incredulously.

The Summer of Ben and the Carrot had rendered baby carrots lethal weapons.

At 11 p.m., a friend sent me a text, saying she was having a bad night and asking how it was going.

“I have nine boys, a tree across the driveway and a broken toilet.”

The reply was succinct: “You win.”

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The foundations of cottage lore

I think of the cottage as my second home, and in many ways it is. It has become kind of suspended in time, and when we walk in each year, we pick up where we left off. The months it spends in the cold and the dark keep it preternaturally young. Or maybe old. I’m not sure which.

Nostalgia lends a certain generosity to the viewing lens; we finally replaced couches that had been here twenty years. They were that red and green Santa Fe pattern that was all the rage probably, well, thirty years ago. I remember buying them; you could get a whole room of furniture – couch, chair, love seat, coffee table, end tables, lamps – for five hundred bucks. It looked it; those deals are the equivalent of a supersized meal deal, with quantity failing to take the place of any quality, but the abundance makes your heart jump at the thought of filling a whole room – checking so many things off a list – in one swoop. Sold.

Ari is taking a critical eye to the place this year, or more exactly, an owner’s eye. He’s lent a hand on a new deck, and wants in on the discussions on maintenance and upkeep. I like this; it’s the only way this place made it to the second generation, and very few make it to a third. My father’s dream was passed to his daughters, as was his goal that this place should unite, not divide. As much as we cherish the vacation time and understand how lucky we are, we also know we are keepers of so much more.

While Roz and Gillian and I often overlap for a day or two, we’re mostly up on our own time. As a result, we each hesitate when it comes to ditching anything. Generations of kids have created a lot of handiwork and collected a lot of games. Nobody knows what someone else’s treasure is so we carefully keep things on the shelves. Board games that only one of us knows the rules to anymore, others missing the money (“just take it out of Monopoly”), a dozen decks that almost have 52 cards in them, pompoms, googly eyes, popsicles sticks, glue guns and a plastic cup labelled RIP full of dead batteries.

Ari held up a bunch of popsicle stick creations. Gilly had carefully set them aside, a veritable flotilla of totally un-lake-worthy ships that had been born one rainy afternoon years ago. “I made this crap. Can I throw it out?” he asked. I laughed. I’m sure Gilly had been unsure if they were keepers or not. “Ditch them,” I told him. He held up something else, but I shook my head. If my kid didn’t make it, I wasn’t making the call.

He knows I won’t part with the coffee table he teethed on; he believes it to be of historical significance himself. I explained that you can’t toss cottage art made by others, because it is the foundation of cottage lore, and without the stories you don’t have the history, and without the history you just have a rental. I sometimes dream of a space you’d find in a magazine, a rustic oasis whose rough edges are only those that have been engineered to be there. And then I look around this place and know it won’t happen, and I wouldn’t let it.

“What about this?” Ari asked, holding up another artifact.

“Stop it. One day it’ll be your kids who made this stuff and you’ll understand.”

From the other room, I heard Taryn sigh, and giggle. Ari smiled.

Pretty crazy when you can see the next generation.

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