Summers, pre-teen, were spent at the campground. (fancy name for trailer park LOL!) Ring Tail Camp on Lake Katchewanooka to be precise. Even there, we were in the “projects”, but again, it didn’t phase us kids.
My mother and I would go on walks through the richer neighbourhoods at the park, and she would gaze longingly at the “Prowlers”. Those large, beautiful trailers, with all the bells and whistles. We had a one of those campers that fit in the back of a pick up truck, with the roof that popped up, creating a crawl space loft bed area. (that’s where my brother and I would sleep)
Each summer we added to our “estate”… a pop up 4-sleeper trailer, then a dining tent, a gas barbeque! Oh, and our lot had the fresh water well pump. Score!
We had about 20 mismatched lawn chairs (my dad would find them in the garbage when people would toss them away. “perfectly good!” he would say, then he would re-strap them and weld new arms on them) that were always filled with people. Fellow campers, friends of my parents, the teenage boys that played on the hockey team my dad coached, who would descend on our little oasis on the weekends and drink beer and smoke into the wee hours around the fire pit. I remember those summers vividly. I remember packing for the long summer, stuffing the camper full of everything we could possibly need to fill our days, sunny or rainy, for 2 months. I remember the drives up to the campground. My brother and mother would take the car. I always drove with my dad, the official map holder. Not that he ever needed a map, but it made me feel efficient and important in my role.
We would all stop at the Mr. Submarine for a sandwich to start our journey, and then talk and talk about what we would do all summer, and when my dad would actually be able to join us. Not shocking of course is the fact that my father was a workaholic too, and would only get to really come up for short stints over the summer.
We, my dad and I, would stop at the cheese factory in Lakefield (no longer there) to pick up supplies for the week, and a treat for ourselves: a milkshake container of fresh, squeaky, cheese curds and a jar of seafood sauce, which we would selfishly devour on the remainder of our journey and hide the evidence before our arrival.
To this day, at least once in the summer, I buy myself a pack of cheesecurds and a jar of seafood sauce, and sit somewhere sneakily eating them and chatting quietly with my long lost father about my life…
If it was still light out, my first task would be to get on my bike and ride to the swamp, with my basket of jars, where I would begin to collect my creature menagerie, which I would tend to all summer, and proudly show off to the boys at camp.
Tadpoles, and miniature toads, and frogs, and tiny lizards, and crickets and grasshoppers. Over the next few days would come the bullfrogs and sunfish (kept in closely guarded buckets with screens for lids.
Days were spent playing make-believe rescue heroes on the “treacherous” hill in the middle of the campground. (not really that dangerous, but enough of an incline, with rocks and branches, to add to our creative storyline) When we weren’t doing that we were bike riding or swimming at the beach.
In the later years, the early mornings were spent tending to our beautiful vegetable garden on a farm my parents bought across the street. (many weeds to pull) After my mom died, my dad sold the land to developers, all dreams of a retirement property gone.
On rainy days, we spent hours colouring in our “doodle art” posters, all the rage in the 70’s, or playing Yatzee, or whatever other board games we had stuffed into the cupboards before leaving the city, all while listening to music on the 8-track (!)
If things got really desperate, my mother would turn on the tiny black and white television in the trailer to see if there was anything to keep us occupied. No satellite or ipods, or ps3’s in those days. Human interaction & imagination got you through your day.
When my dad made it up, well that became an whole other adventure. Our days began before the sun came up, he and I heading out on a fishing adventure in the wee hours, bringing back strings of catfish and perch which were fried up in copious amounts of butter with breakfast, and fed to the starving and mostly hungover hockey players who had arrived on the friday night with my dad. Boys with silly nicknames and pimply faces, and mullets, who mussed my hair, and treated me like a little boy despite my crushes on them.
Driving home from the long summer away was an equal adventure. My brother and I crammed in the back of the pick up truck, now with a smaller “capper” on it, laying on the bed my dad build in the back, no seatbelts, holding on for dear life, the floor filled with bushel baskets of veggies from our garden. My dad would take the back roads, specifically the one we referred to as “rollercoaster road” It was a twisting, hilly, bumpy road, that made my brother and I squeal with delight through our terror and nausea. It was both thrilling and sad as it marked the end of our beautiful summer.
I went back there once, as an adult. I drove down what was an enormous hill as a child (barely a bump now) into the camp ground. It was much smaller then I remembered, and not quite as magical. I don’t think anything is as magical as it was as a kid. So as the calendar flips to officially become summer, I remember my mother and father, and our many happy summer days in the “trailer park”. I toast to them from a patio in the heart of the city, and long for the quiet glow of the campfire when I was a child, and I had my whole life ahead of me.