The Reading

It’s two o’clock on a Saturday as the regular crowd settles in. There is an elderly couple sitting next to me, waiting for the show to begin. They say, “Son can you recite me a memory, we’re not really sure how it goes, but it’s funny and sweet and we both knew it complete, when we were in our cottaging clothes.”

“Tell us a story Mr. Cottage Daze, weave us a tale today, we’re all in the mood for some silliness, so make sure you get us feeling happy and gay!”

I suddenly realize I have zoned out in the middle of my book reading. A restaurant full of diners stare at me, probably wondering what I’m doing standing up here. Silence has fallen over the place – unlike the general ruckus that was going on as I was trying to read. I wonder how long I’ve been lost in my daze. I think I was in the middle of a story about frogs, when I started daydreaming, picturing myself as the supreme entertainer, a crowd full of patrons hanging on my every word, greeting me with thunderous applause as each witty tale drew to its brilliant conclusion.

I’m thinking, “How do I get talked into these things?” It’s the Art in the Heart festival in Bracebridge, and somehow I’ve been coerced into reading some cottage stories in a crowded downtown restaurant. At most fine dining establishments around the world you might have some soft piano music playing in the background, a guy named ‘Sam’ on the keyboard, or some French guy hovering about the table playing some romantic tunes on his violin. Heck, in Mexico you might have some mariachi band bothering you as you eat. Here in Muskoka, as you savour your chicken Caesar salad and sip a pint of local brew, you have some guy in the corner rambling on about his cottage.

Then I hear the table in the back chanting at me, “Tell the wiener story! Tell the wiener story!” Oh, nice, I am thinking, some adoring fans familiar with my writing. Then I recognize it as a table of family and friends. They’re eating and drinking and having fun heckling me – and I’m sure I will pick up the tab. Well, I had wanted to make sure somebody was here to listen to me! I read the story about setting my shirt afire, so that they can have a good laugh at my expense.

I can’t help but notice the group of men sitting around the bar in the back, notebooks at the ready. I recognize them as dads, all of them … fathers of teenage daughters who have come to hear my story about how to rid the cottage of pesky boyfriends. I give them what they want and they scribble down ideas. I feel a little like Cottage Daze is Muskoka’s Dear Abby!

I am forced to shout as I read, and avoid waitresses who spin here and there, trays laden with lunches and drinks. A table of people from England seem to be enjoying themselves, likely thinking that this is a regular occurrence at Canadian eateries during the lunch rush. Fellow Muskoka writer, the talented Bracebridge historian Gary Denniss, hides in the dark shadows of a corner table chirping me: “Do you know the history of this place?” he shouts.

The usual questions come my way.

“Where is your cottage?” (Why, are you a stalker? I’ve always wanted to have a stalker, but actually I pictured someone a bit younger and sexier. Oops, bye, have a good day!)

“How do you get over writer’s block?” (I have a deadline.)

“Where do you get your ideas?” (I’m getting one now – I feel like Billy Joel’s The Piano Man …)

It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the owner gives me a smile, because he knows that it’s me they’ve come here to see, to laugh about life for a while.

And the restaurant has the feel of a carnival, and the microphone smells like a beer, (because it actually is a beer – I’m just pretending it’s a microphone),

And they sit in their nooks and buy all my books, and say “Man what are you doing here?”

“Mr. Ross,” the waitress is shaking my arm, waking me from my daze. “Mr. Ross! Everybody has left; it’s time to go home.”

SIDEBAR

Cottage Daze Lists the Good the Bad and the Ugly of Doing a Reading at a busy downtown restaurant!

The Good

3. A beer microphone.
2. Patrons drinking many pints of local brew – laugh at all my stories, including the sad ones.
1. My 93 year-old Aunt from Whitby shows up to hear my stories, and I didn’t know she was coming – Doesn’t even heckle me!

The Bad

3. Had to shout to be heard – but, thankfully, have been well tutored in voice projection by my darling wife during face to face lessons.
2. Food Fight! Child at closest table flings food at me during reading.
1. My own family sits in the back and chirps me, while at the same time leaving me with the lunch bill!

The Ugly

1. I steal fries off plates when waitresses drift to close – then read with mouth full!

A special thanks to the staff of The Old Station House in downtown Bracebridge!

Remember When

“Remember when the sound of little feet, was the music we danced to week to week.” (Alan Jackson)

What I will call the ‘quiet season’ is upon us, as our kids are back to school.  For us, that means we are down to one left at home – the other three are off in different directions.  It is just my wife and me at the cottage this weekend.  I remember when we looked forward to getting some alone time here.  Years ago when we were surviving the hustle and bustle of a particularly wild and chaotic week at our island escape with the whole clan, we would look into the future with envy.  “It will be nice when we can have the place just to ourselves,” we would say.  “It will be so peaceful.”

 

Well, those days are here.  The kids have grown up – they grew up so fast that we almost missed it.  Now, even in the summer, they don’t make it to the cottage as much.  They no longer enjoy the uninhibited freedom of youth; the reality of grown-up life is upon them.  They have to work through the summer to make enough money for the next school year.  Now they are off again to university.  So, my wife and I sit with our morning coffee, amongst the peace and quiet of a cottage morning.

“Remember when?” we will say, first one of us and then the other.

“Remember when,” I reminisce, “your oldest daughter, (they were always my wife’s kids when they were misbehaving or careless), fell on that rock when she was running through the water.” She had casually commented that she had cut her leg, when in fact her shin was slashed so badly I almost passed out looking at it.  She needed a major stitch job.  A beauty mark we call it now.

“Remember when,” responds my spouse, “the girls would spend the whole afternoon snorkelling off the shoal on the point in search of treasure.  Oh, the trinkets and fishing lures they used to find.”

Remember when they stumbled over that wasp nest while playing in the forest.  It was like a cartoon, the kids came screaming and running towards the cabin with a swarm of angry wasps hot in pursuit.  Remember when our son built that raft out of logs and rope.  We thought it would never float, but there he was, like Huck Finn, paddling his homemade raft around the bay.  Remember when the cousins came for a visit and we would practically never see the kids, except when they were hungry.  They would have their own games, and their imaginations ran wild.  All we would hear from them was hollering and laughter, and every once in a while we would catch glimpses of them running through the woods like ghosts.

Remember when Grandpa and Grandma would join us. No matter how hard the children tried, Grandma would always trick them and be first into the lake for a swim.  Remember when we would sit around the bonfire in the evening and Grandpa would pull out his harmonica.  Or we would play a board game, something we only did at the cottage when the family was all together, and everybody, young and old, looked forward to it.

In the boathouse my wife has arranged a collage of old sepia-toned black and white photos set on colourful pallet frames.  The photos are all cottage scenes, snaps of the kids having fun, laughing and smiling in the midst of all sorts of cottage activity.  Many of the photos were taken years ago, when the children were much younger – well, I guess we all were.  I often stop and pause in front of the pictures; they bring a smile to my face.

My wife and I sit here on the dock as another cottage season speeds away, and share the memories.  We look at each other, laugh and say, “Remember when?”

Into the Blue

“Remember when we said when we turned grey, when the children grow up and move away; We won’t be sad, we’ll be glad, for all the life we’ve had – and we’ll remember when.”