Monday, July 28, 2008

If they’re happy, drive fast. If they’re unhappy, drive faster.

It is safe to say that Isaac made no lasting friends at the Dryden Best Western. Not that he cares, but one day he’ll realize that waking up screaming at 4:24 a.m. and refusing under any circumstances to go back to sleep will not land you first place in a popularity contest with the people in the rooms on either side of you. To say nothing of the people in the room with you.

But because we are such adaptable, make-lemonade-with-lemons sorts, Rachel and I decided that we might as well take advantage of the early morning to get on the road. And so we packed up the car and the children, hit the Tim Horton’s on the side of the highway, and drove the rest of the way to Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba, Rowan and Isaac conked out in the back seat.

We made good time.

My father just laughed when I told him we had booked a last-minute cottage rental and were driving to the Beach. He is a veteran of many such drives — each summer, my parents hauled the family in our Ford sedan from Toronto to the cottage we shared with my mom’s sister and her family. (Apparently I nearly drowned in a hotel pool in Thunder Bay.) The moms and the kids stayed out all summer, while the dads showed up on weekends or, in the case of my father, for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer. The kids went to Winnipeg Beach Day Camp, the moms kept house and played tennis and picked us up at the end of each day and took us for ice cream and to the beach. At least, that’s what I remember.

Now my aunt and uncle still own the cottage, which they’ve renovated entirely to accommodate the new generation. My cousin Jill spends a month there every summer with her three kids, her husband driving the minivan from Toronto to the beach, and then showing up at the end of the summer for a couple of weeks. My mother’s brother and his family summer in another place, also recently renovated to accommodate their next generation.

And our cottage? Not so much with the renovations. Which was totally fine with me. “It’s been in our family for 90 years,” said the woman renting to us. I loved it because it smells like the Beach, a sort of chlorinated mildew, with a touch of fish fly. I’m guessing they last touched things up circa 1950. I did a little photo essay of the decor, and thought long and hard about the ethics of permanently borrowing the vintage Pyrex cookware and the fabulous three-tiered dainties tray. Even if I bought them replacement bowls at Sears? Come on.

Our second day there, Isaac took his first steps in the kitchen of my aunt’s cottage. He stood, surrounded by cooing, clapping adults, and burst into tears at the sudden attention. Rowan spent hours and hours playing with his second cousins, holed up in the bedroom I used to share with my cousin Jason, who was also visiting that weekend from Toronto. He’s still mad about the time I bit him on the ass when we played puppies. Isaac fell in love with his Great-Auntie Sheila, my mom’s sister, reaching for her and nestling into her arms, lighting up when she walked into the room, sitting on her lap while she fed him bits of cookie. Rowan went to day camp, albeit reluctantly. The camp is smaller now, a sign of the times, now that the moms work, too. The mosquitoes were terrible. We ate lots of ice cream and played on the beach with the cousins.

Our last night there, we went out with a bang at Boardwalk Days, where Rowan went on every ride he could while Isaac, who met no height requirements, screamed in frustration from the stroller until Rachel took him home and put him to bed. I idiotically took Rowan on the pirate ship ride. He loved it, but I almost hurled, and then sat with my head between my knees, trying to recover, while he, oblivious, rode the toy train. Staggering home, I was just starting to wonder if I would make it when old family friends, Sharon and Eddie, drove by and scooped us up and took us back to our “holiday house,” which Rowan keeps calling our “Halloween house.”

I spent every summer at Winnipeg Beach until I was 12, when, wanting to spend time with my own friends, I chose sleep-away camp for eight weeks. Then, bored, disillusioned, I swore I wouldn’t come back.

And then I did, and it was perfect.

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