Sunday, March 9, 2008

childhood summer

In 1954, not too long after the end of WWII, with England heavily rationed, hospitals laboring to look after the wounded and much of the country still scarred by bomb craters and debris, my parents decided to move to Canada with their asthmatic daughter.. me. We went directly to cottage country by a little lake 25 miles north of Toronto and that's where I grew up.

Lake Wilcox was close enough to the city that it was a very popular spot on summer weekends. Although you could drive to the bigger lakes further north, doing so wasn't practical back then since the only way to get to them was by two lane roads many of which weren't paved. Going that far was possible but it had to be for a week or two just to make the drive practical. So never mind Sauble Beach on Lake Huron with its miles of white sand, Sunday picnics often meant Ash's Beach at Lake Wilcox and it sometimes seemed as if half the population of Toronto drove in. The cars were filled with irritated sweaty grownups and tons of kids just plain looking for a place to stop. Most of the beaches were private and there were no parking lots so once the park itself was was full the only hope of a spot was a slim chance that someone with a pregnant woman would have to drive to the hospital right that minute. Come to think of it there were likely a few babies born in those circling cars. All was chaos on the weekends.

But there was a roadhouse with beer (except on Sunday when people brown bagged the stuff), pool tables, pinball machines and a good size contingent of bikers usually on hand. Across the road was Ash's booth that sold soft drinks, ice cream, burgers, fries and hotdogs. Next to it was the entrance down the stairs to the beach and next to that was the dance hall - jukebox, jitterbug heaven. I didn't get out of the house after dark to check the nighttime action for years but we knew it could be dangerous.

Even though the weekends were crazy and the nights could be it was the days that belonged to us kids and the mothers who occasionally paid attention to what we were getting up to. We spent the summers in and around the water. There were artesian springs that fed the lake and we loved finding where they'd sprung up from one summer to another. You could put your arm or leg into what appeared to be a wet hole in the beachgrass and feel the icy cold as deep as you could reach while the sun baked the rest of you. We'd cover each other with wet clay and then go dashing into the lake to clean off. Since I wasn't allowed to swim until July I often had to find other ways to entertain myself and one of my personal favorite places was a very old and decrepit roller skating rink further along the beach. There were hundreds of pairs of old roller skates lining the walls and the trick was to find a pair the right size with unbroken straps you could fasten to your shoes. I liked to spend hours pretending I was a famous skating queen or a magic flying fairy.

Now our own beach was a lot of fun but the cool place to go during the week was Ash's Beach. Every winter big dump trucks filled with sand would drive out onto the lake and dump their loads on the ice of Ash's so there'd be mostly sand under the water and not weeds.. a very big yuck to all of us. There were also things to play on at Ash's - water slides, diving boards, rafts that floated on big empty barrels and the boats. All of them were great places to play pirate and, since every year Mary Martin appeared live on television to do her Peter Pan role, we were all very big fans of pirates.

Jean Ash, who was also mother to two of the kids, ran the ticket area for the beach. The .25 cent admission was about as much as any of us got as a whole weeks allowance so paying admission wasn't exactly on the agenda. But Jean was very cool, our own local version of Bettie Page who really had seen everything, and she pretended not to notice when we came swimming around the fences that went out into the water. She'd even tell us stories about some of the wackier people who came to swim - like the butch women who demanded to rent men's bathing trunks. None of us knew what to make of that but it was pretty funny.

One of our favorite activities was climbing down the rope that anchored the rafts. The idea was to stay down there holding your breath as long as possible. Strangely enough, me with my asthmatic chest, won those contests more than anyone else.

Then there was the booth. My friend Linda's mother was one of the women charged with watching me since both my parents had jobs in Toronto and Linda's mother worked at the booth doing the food preparation and serving the customers. One weekday afternoon Linda and I heard shrieks of laughter from behind the closed shutters so sneaked inside to have a look at what all the fun was about. A lot of ladies at that time were what you might term statuesque, not necessarily fat but big, buxom women who'd given birth to several children. An old brass balance scale was part of the kitchen equipment inside and when we peeked around the ice cream coolers we couldn't believe what we saw them doing. There were five women with their blouses unbuttoned and their bras lifted up or unfastened and they were having a contest of their own to see who among them had the biggest, heaviest breasts. Linda and I sneaked back out without them knowing we'd been there.


Anonymous said...

Hello, Susan.
I really think you did the right thing. And I would like to follow your example.
(although I can't help but wonder what was given out as first prize)

Exit... Stage left!

fairlane said...

I just want to say,

1) I enjoy your stories, and drawings.

2) I'm glad more people are enjoying them as well.

3) You did the right thing by sticking with it.

4) Fuck

I have to curse at least once per comment. I'm under contract.

Mathman6293 said...

I might be going out on a limb here but I think Dcup can corroborate this, the contest you describe is my kind of contest.

susan said...

pt - It seemed the only reasonable response both then and now.

fairlane - Fuck.. I'm so glad you like them and there will be more whether anybody comes by or not. But it pleases me when people do :-)

mathman - I'm pretty sure people used to have more fun. Everybody and everything was so much bigger but then again, I was pretty small so it's likely a perspective thing.

Ben said...

I guess by that time you had learned that discretion is the greater part of valor.

I love all the patterns and shadings in these drawings. You're really on a roll with this series.

susan said...

ben - I had to learn it somewhere and that was as good a time as any.

Yeah, this is the first time I've done this kind of drawing for general viewing but it seems to be what happens when I work fast in the effort to visualize those memories where focus was sharpened into clarity. I'm glad you like them.

Randal Graves said...

Those damn Canadians, the root of all our moral decay.

grannyfiddler said...

anything can happen at the lake on a summer's day! i remember a gaggle of us @ our local puddle, spending an afternoon with rulers and notebooks measuring people's smiles.

susan said...

randal - yet even then we got to giggle about American tourists showing up at the border crossings with sleds and skiis in August.

GFid - and they actually allowed you to measure them? You must have all been extremely cute.

lindsaylobe said...

1954, was also a very memorable year for me as we lost our family home and posessions in a huge flood.

I enjoyed reading your recollections about your happy time in your life and the move to Canada and what transpired.

We moved to another town, which was probably far less dramatic than your move to Canada.

I presume there was far less asthmatic attacks and it improved ? with all of the swimming in the lake, diving and fresh sea air?

Those places and the descriptions about the throngs that visited are interesting recollections, made doubly so by your pictures. Its interesting to hear how easily you entertained yourself and become self satisfied, caught up in the joy of an unfettered imagination. No doubt the idea of women secretly determining those who were the biggest breasted would be something of a hoot. I don’t think there would be many takers to day do you, just based upon weight?

A wonderful posting bursting with interesting memories.

grannyfiddler said...

well, how could they NOT smile, when we told them what we were doing? fastest ruler in the north!

susan said...

Hi Lindsay - I do have some pretty intense childhood memories including having to walk two and a half miles to a 3 room school - rain, shine and snow. My husband and son were reluctant to believe that one so we walked there and back one fine summer day. After that they stopped scoffing.

Yes, the asthma went away.

GFid - I still think that was a pretty funny escapade.

Anonymous said...

I so love your stories and drawings. Love them! When I read your descriptions, I'm right there again, 12 years old, running around Camp Shore, barefoot, swimsuit clad and having the time of my life.

And yes, that it MathMan's kind of contest.

Now where can I get myself some brass scales?

Randal Graves said...

I'm sorry.

Seraphine said...

I love your drawings and childhood memories/stories. Kids are fairly self contained, the world is so big growing up, and full of possibilities. And secrets.

CDP said...

Oh curse you Dcup for bringing me to yet another blog to which I will immediately become addicted!

Amazing post, I love your drawings and stories!

Gary said...

What a great story and the art is fine. I loved the little house on the lake that you grew up in. And your early art on the walls too...

susan said...

Dcup - I knew I got the damn scanner for a reason and it wasn't for digitizing the old family pictures either - although there are a few I may make some use of.. just thinking about Tits posts here.

If I had the scales I'd send them to you since mine could be managed with a gram scale :-)

Randal - I'm thinking about it Banana rana ran.

Sera - Your skills in the electronic arts are amazing - no competition from here. Back in the day I would have looked silly carrying my Brownie all over the place.

You're right children are very self-contained and self-sufficient too. It's a shame so many of them are so thoroughly managed these days. Freedom is inspiring.

Cdp - The blog meme is contagious indeed but not to worry, it's mutual and I'll come over to visit. I'm delighted you like the stories and one of these days I'll figure out how to post decent looking links to each.

Gary - Since Jer doesn't blog (damn game forums) you and Ben are the only ones who can attest to the veracity of that sweet little place. It always seemed big to me :-)

Scarlet W. Blue said...

You tell the best stories and have the best pictures to go with them. I keep getting distracted by the pictures, though, and have a hard time not looking at them so I can read.

susan said...

Scarlet - I must disagree since I think it's you who writes the best stories. I, on the other hand, have to draw the pictures just to make a story worth the telling.

Once again, thank goodness I got the scanner!

Anonymous said...

I wish I was with you for that contest. Damn!

Ingrid said...

I wish I had more time to just sit and read but I'm on a schedule today. Before I 'take off', I wanted to say that get your booty to a publisher..your drawings are beautiful, expressive and a joy to look at! I wished i could draw like that (yea yeah, start practicing drawing from the right side of my brain yadayada..if only I had the time)..
your drawings AND stories are truly captivating. Have you ever thought of publishing it? You could use a nom de plume if you felt uncomfortable putting yourself out there..honestly, I wish you would pursue that, I think you're totally publishable!!