Sunday, August 11, 2013
Last month I flew north to Thunder Bay to spend a week at my grandpa's camp with my family. It's been something of an annual migration for my family - the end of July inevitably finds the majority of us gathered at my grandpa's for his birthday, an occasion he does his best to dismiss with scowls and a wave of his hand. "It's just another day!" he insists, every time.
The day I landed it was beautiful, bright, and windy. Stepping out of the airport was almost a physical shock; only hours ago I'd been in Toronto where the heat wave (or as I like to call it, The Time of Sweating) had just ended, and I had only barely managed to get used to the constant humidity. All of a sudden I had goosebumps and felt the need to shiver - it was a balmy 22°C outside and I was thinking I should have packed thermal underwear. My suitcase was filled with shorts and summer dresses, with one pair of jeans I'd packed at the last second. I started to think that my wardrobe had been a complete miscalculation. A quick glance at the week's forecast only seemed to confirm my fears: rain, every day.
I shrugged it off. I'd been on enough frigid camping trips in my childhood to survive one week of rain. Surely I was tough enough for that.
We drove into camp that night, for once the first to arrive. My aunt and uncle, to whom the tasks of opening and closing up the camp usually fall, would be driving in a few days later. For the time being it was just me, my mother, and grandpa.
The place felt lonely. I was so used to walking into the small cabin already in a state of minor chaos, its tiny pantry bursting with my aunt's spices and other staples, while the fridge bulged dangerously, each request for a beer its own obstacle course through the fridge's contents. The coffee table would be piled high with magazines and cookbooks, one of my cousins would almost always being playing a game of cribbage, and if grandpa was there, he'd either be chopping down or burning things.
When my mother and I walked in, it was eerily empty. The counters were clear, and the shelves were almost bare save for an assortment of wide-brimmed hats and an old rock collection. The bedrooms were empty and there were no dish towels but plenty of beach towels. The kettle had been stuffed with tissues to keep it free of mice seeking a warm nesting place, their droppings scattered about, the only visitors the place had seen since my aunt had closed up shop in October.
We spent the evening sweeping and cleaning, making up the bedrooms, injecting life back into the place. By sunset my grandpa had a fire going in the wood stove and we were reclining on the couches, noses in our books. I baked a batch of peanut butter cookies (grandpa's favourite) which were unfortunately somewhat burnt on the bottoms, a fact my grandpa delighted to point out to me several times, even as he ate his third cookie.
The next day was the only other day of blue sky and sun I would see for the rest of the week. Keetah and I ventured down the road for a jaunt, and I returned hot and sweaty, ready for a jump in the lake. As evening settled in, so did the rain, and it stayed with us for the rest of the week. My morning dips in the lake went from refreshing to numbing, and each morning we lit a fire in the wood stove to help ease the chill out of the camp.
When my aunt and uncle arrived, they brought the frenetic energy the place had been missing. Box after box, laden with kitchen supplies, pantry staples, and food, kept arriving, until eventually, the camp was once again the way I remembered it: bursting at the seams, stuffed to maximum capacity with food, booze, books, and games.
Perhaps strangely, I felt more at ease amidst the crowdedness. The usual feasting began, and another batch of cookies became necessary (at least from mine and my grandpa's perspective). And, of course, there were calls for pie, which I apparently established as a new tradition last year.
And so, my last day at camp was spent with my hands in flour and butter, pitting cherries, and rolling out dough. It emerged from the oven a glorious golden brown, and the cherries had acquired the sweet taste of almonds, faintly like the flavour of maraschino cherries. In a matter of minutes, it was sliced, served, and devoured, the best kind of compliment I could have gotten. For a few moments, everyone sat (fairly) quietly, enjoying their slice of pie.
My grandpa claims that his birthday is "just another day", but it's a day that invariably pulls us together from our little corners of the world, even if only for the brief pleasure of sharing a birthday cake, or in some cases, a birthday pie.