b Papa Dog's Blog: Loon Echo

Papa Dog's Blog

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Monday, September 06, 2004

Loon Echo

I talked to my sister the other day, my annual call for her wedding anniversary – 29 years, which is a lot longer than some people I know have been alive. I asked her, because I’d been wondering, if she knew whether or not the cottage was still standing. It’s not, more’s the pity. This was the site of our childhood summers – all the ones I remember, anyway – built by Grandpa Feunoir and his brothers with rock from the hillside and wood from who knows where. It was a ramshackle affair with dodgy plumbing and a whimsical floor plan, but it was also a place of enchantment for four kids from the city and the endlessly revolving passel of cousins and friends who joined us there. There were frogs to catch and chipmunks to feed and a lake to swim in and a dense copse of crab-apple trees to provide impenetrable shelter during hide and seek. The kitchen table was where we played cribbage and gin and pinochle in the daytime and bridge on into the night. There was a tiny little black and white TV that provided very fuzzy reception of the three available channels, which somehow made the midnight showings of The Night Stalker all the scarier.

There was the sound of the loons that would come bouncing off Lake Mississippi, and that’s where the cottage got its name – “Loon Echo,” etched on a little piece of wood at a bend in the road, with an arrow pointing the way. Sometimes we’d roast marshmallows on a fire outdoors, with pungent green coils doing little to keep mosquitoes at bay. I’d sleep on a cot in the enclosed porch, listening to moths batting against the screens of the open storm windows. I’d forgotten all this. I rarely think of it. But talking with my sister, things came back, things I didn’t realise I hadn’t remembered. Like “the stand.” That was the grocery on the highway through Carleton Place. It was actually called “The Falcon,” but for some reason Dad called it “the stand,” so we all did too. For years, that’s what I’d think of when I’d see a copy of the Stephen King book of the same name, but it had been so long that I actually had to ask my sister what it was we had called that place.

There was the old folks’ home, where old men would sit in lawn chairs looking at the road, waiting for cars to pass so they’d have someone to wave at. There was the “S” bend, which meant we were almost there. “Michael’s Cove,” so named in commemoration of the time Grandpa Feunoir had to pull over and let Cousin Mike deliver himself of his carsickness.

Or the party line! The first year we had a phone there, we shared the line with who knows how many people around the lake. Our ring, I think, was a long and a short, but frequently someone else would pick up anyway. And the mailman! He’d come in a pickup from town. I’d listen for the sound of him coming up the dirt road because I’d always be expecting a padded mailer full of comics ordered from Max Seeley of Sherbrooke, Quebec…the nearest retailer to be found in the classified pages of Marvel comics.

It was there that Grandma Feunoir told us about Jenny Greenteeth and gave me a horror of seaweed that abides to this day. And it was there that I learned what marijuana was in the incense-scented boathouse that was my older brother’s private domain. I played baseball – yes, me, I did, really – and badminton and maybe even a little football, though I think we just threw the thing back and forth. I fished, yes, once or twice. I got a pike with a bit of bologna from the sandwich my mom had given me for lunch. I collected little tiny snail shells for a while, but that didn’t last too long because I quickly amassed all the available colours and variations. Grandma Feunoir had put a few pennants up on the walls, souvenir banners from different towns she’d visited, and I turned the thing into a mania, getting one from every hamlet we passed through on our trip across Canada in ’73. I papered the walls with triangular tributes to Medicine Hat and Tatamagouche and Rivière-du-Loup.

I brought Ambrose out there one summer to draw the Spider-Man epic I had written, but it was slow going because he kept staying up all night reading kung fu novels* and then falling asleep in his breakfast cereal in the morning. We went on “bottle hikes” – another of my dad’s coinages – where we collected cans and bottles from the ditches so that he could turn them in for cash at the recycling depot. I don’t recall ever getting a share of the proceeds. It was a rite of passage amongst the older kids to eventually swim to the island, a certified adult pacing the way in a rowboat. We moved west when I was twelve, so I never had the chance to try that.

I plan to go back there in a few years, when Baby Dog is four or five and I can show her the places I lived when I was young and maybe a few of the things I did. Four or five will be a good age for that, I think – old enough that she’ll remember it later, but not yet old enough that she’ll roll her eyes the whole time. I expect to have a bit of a Gertrude Stein “there’s no there there” experience, but I think it has to be done.

When my sister went back and found that the cottage had been torn down and a new structure built on the old foundation, she cried. An in-law, not the world’s most sensitive soul, said, “But isn’t it a much nicer building now?” Maybe so, maybe so. But it’s not the place where we were kids.
* I don’t actually remember what he stayed up late doing, but I’m sure he’ll correct me.


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