Friday, March 21, 2008

Deep In Cottage Country

Near Tait's Landing on Lake Manitouwabing where you can rent one of these pontoon golf carts. A fun way to spend the day, away from people again. Wish there were more of Stephen Leacock's small towns. They've disappeared and Orillia has sadly lost its Sunshine Sketches, now a big, but still charming and attractive place. The Rathskeller has been bulldozed by the huge Chinese buffet. Still you do get some sentimental incidents that ping back from the old days. Fussy old ladies getting their hair done at jam packed beauty salons doused in stinging peroxide. People jumping out at you thinking they know you. Kids and dogs and picnics. Wet frisky dogs on the beach. The trip to the bank, an ordeal of a different sort. Book ahead, like at the beauty parlour, but they don't answer the phone or you can call an 800 number in Calcutta. Don't fret about polishing your shoes and the cravat knotted right. The guy behind the desk isn't the manager or the assistant manager or even the loans officer, but a customer service rep who types into his keyboard. It's the financial software and his printout that gives you the final, absolutely final, bad news about your loan application. Cubbyhole bars and bars tucked into restaurants can be social stomping grounds. The bigger places are just noisy or empty. Smokers don't like them anymore. You might find a few chewing emergency nicotine gum. Suspicious characters are still rare, but now you find them talking into their cellphones on street corners. Watch for the cop on his beat in his squad car at the only traffic light in town. Could cost you plenty. Weddings and funerals, the big social occasions right up there with church basement Jackpot Bingo. The strangers in town, the still contagious city slickers whether loud tourists or LL Bean catalog cottagers, and the occasional drifter who wants directions for somewhere else. Bibles on your doorstep from a half-dozen evangelical outfits and always a pair of Mormons somewhere. Hassles at the liquor store, a pint of whisky or an armload of beer, cut off by bourbon stuffed buggies hustling for the door and the double parked Mercedes. Or the revenge of the locals: Waiting at the Beer Store while pickups unload 300 cases of empties and cash them in. The rumor mill and the grapevine from the old Rathskeller now at the Tim Hortons. Ask a nosy question. Somebody has the answer, spell it for ya forwards and backwards.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sentimental Places

Summer. Dillon, near Killbear. Cottage vacations always remind me of other cottage vacations. When I was growing up it was either that or playing ball during the long hot city summers. The rich kids flew somewhere with their parents. Getting in the car a few hours out of town was a big enough adventure. The air was sweeter. It made you eat a lot or sleep a lot or play a lot of cards at night on the porch. We didn't have our own cottage, so we rented this and that. Every day was great when it wasn't a drag or raining and boring. Odd things left behind in the cupboards, a Playboy Magazine found under the mattress, no hot water or no running water, just a kitchen hand pump and the outhouse outside. Poison ivy, mosquitoes and ticks. A local general store in the nearest small town or at the gas station for something to do, some still surviving like this one, nothing trendy and expensive, dropping in for a Coke, some candy and other junk for kids, plastic rafts that took dad a half hour to blow up, board games and jigsaw puzzles and comic books. Lazing on the beach with a transistor radio. Sunburn and Noxzema, and sand between your toes.