perm_identity Always the Lake in the Summer for Me

by Derek Alger

Published in Issue No. 184 ~ September, 2012

When I was in my thirties my father would question my mother, with a combination of bewilderment and criticism, about why I didn’t go to Club Med on vacation. He never understood why I preferred to go to the cottage up at the lake in Ontario, where my mother stayed throughout the summer, and I would start each morning writing on the outside deck overlooking the water, in the comfort, at least for the day, that time was on my side in terms of what I hoped to accomplish…


Part of my father’s complaint about the lack of my desire to mingle with vibrant, interesting singles, from his perspective, on a Club Med vacation was due to his resentment that his four children felt closer to our mother. Another possibility, of course, was his urge to live vicariously through his children, whom he sometimes viewed as human objects, unable to appreciate our individual personalities and interests.  And since, as far as I know, he never took off for Club Med, perhaps he regretted never having gone, and therefore, thought I should, but who knows?


Growing up, I always felt confronted with a lot of confusion between what one did and what one should do, with the “should do” usually coming from my father, as if there was a right or a wrong under all circumstances. Since my father was a renowned psychiatrist, more confusion inevitably resulted because the grown up world regarded him as a professional expert when it came to human behavior, which included feelings and motivations. It was never that simple, though. The experts could claim I was in denial, or charge me with being overly rebellious,

but much of what my father concluded concerning how I should navigate in the day-to-day pedestrian world was completely preposterous, mainly suggestions, suggestions derived from abstract theory rather than practical advice based on real world experience.


His advice on how I should assert myself and tell people how I truly felt, while sounding logical at first, would have gotten me beaten up on the playground or immediately fired by most of the bosses I’ve had over the years. I don’t think my father ever recognized that some things are so obvious, nothing need be said, and in other situations, one must choose the appropriate moment to act in order to achieve the desired result.


The lake in Ontario represented continuity in my life.  My sister and I were first taken there by our parents when I was about four, before my brother and my other sister were even born. My youngest sister was born the summer I was six, and Aunt Nancy, my mother’s younger sister, stayed at the cottage while my father drove my mother down to Toronto, about a two and a half hour drive, to give birth to Penny.


Our cottage was at Grandview Lodge, where the majority of the guests came from Pittsburgh, and the Cleveland area, and of course, Toronto. Penny was dubbed the Grandview baby, the first ever born while a family was on vacation at the lodge, which was owned by the Darker family, Cecil and Mildred. Mildred was the serious one, the one who handled the finances since the lodge was passed down to her from her parents, while Cecil gave rise to a legend of tales and stories due to his cranky, idiosyncratic behavior. He was a tall, naturally grouchy man, whose face showed the premature wrinkles of an older man, with neck flaps resembling a rooster. Cecil was the type of guy who looked angry even when he was smiling, and he was justifiably known as maybe the cheapest person who ever lived, or at least the most parsimonious person anyone at the lodge had ever met.


My parents decided to have a party at the cottage to celebrate Penny’s birth, to which maybe fifty or so guests were invited, including the Darkers, with Cecil basking in the glory that somehow the arrival of Penny couldn’t have happened if he and Mildred didn’t own the lodge. Laughter and jovial spirits spilled out of the cottage on to the beach before the straight wooden dock running out into the lake, and the drinks were flowing. Cecil, in an uncharacteristic move of awareness of others, noticed my father was running out of ice so he asked my father if he would like another bag, to which my father agreed with appreciation. Cecil took off down the gravel road, running down by five or so cottages to the right and thick woods to the left, before it swerved off and around away from the lake to the main lodge building. Ten minutes or so later, Cecil, wearing his trademark red shirt, arrived back at the cottage and handed the bag of ice to my grateful father. Then, true to character, Cecil extended his right arm, palm open, and said to my father, “That will be seventy-five cents.”


Apparently, Cecil liked me, but I had no idea of that until I was in my twenties and Cecil was near the end of his life. I do remember carousing as a teen at the lake, starting when I was about sixteen, chasing after various waitresses who worked at the lodge, a few of whom I was convinced were going to be the love of my life. Of course, Cecil didn’t make this easy. Part of his routine was to patrol the grounds of the lodge to ensure all was quiet and no one was out and about coming up on midnight. He had been seen walking with a shotgun, and the word was, and as such, was believed, that Cecil was ready, willing, and able to let off a scattering blast at anyone skulking about past a reasonable hour at the family lodge. Cecil’s cranky, gruff nature helped the rumor become belief, and it wasn’t until I barely escaped his notice one night while trying to make it back from the main waitress’ cabin to the one where my family was staying, that I observed the shotgun he was touting was in actually a broom. Still, broom or shotgun, one didn’t want to bump into Cecil at the wrong moment, fear of him from childhood running deep.


A great group of folks came to the lodge every summer, most arriving on Saturday before dinner, always roast beef in the dining room, and staying through variety night, where skits and such were put on by the guests and staff, on Friday night before packing up and leaving after a quick breakfast the following morning. Some families stayed for two weeks, but not all that many, while my family, perhaps because my parents were Canadian and my mother first stayed at the lake when she was a little girl, spent the entire summer at the lodge, arriving at the beginning of July and always leaving the Sunday evening before Labor Day, with my parents taking turns driving all through the night back to New Jersey, and before that, New York City, with the four of us kids in the back of the station wagon lying on rubber mattresses, which we preferred using in the water as we frolicked about instead of managing some sleep on the 500-plus mile trip.


The main event at the lodge every Saturday night was the bingo game called by Cecil, who would sit at a small table in a wooden chair, a bin with numbered balls before him which he would crank a couple times before it stopped and he reached in and pulled one out. It wasn’t an extravagant affair by any means, prizes usually including chocolate bars, or a set of coffee cups, or a stuffed animal of some sort.

Bingo cards cost a quarter, and Cecil would call out as people entered the rec hall, “Cards here, twenty-five cents, three for a dollar.” Fortunately, in all my years at the lodge, I only witnessed one poor guy fork over a dollar for three cards, smiling about what a great bargain he thought he had pulled over on Cecil.


Nobody really went to play bingo for the sake of bingo, but more to watch Cecil perform his usual antics, delivering certain stock phrases for particular numbers.

For example, O 66 was always preceded by “Clickety, click.” You probably would have to be there to appreciate it, but the room would join Cecil in unison the moment Cecil started, and you would hear a chorus bursting out, “Clickety, Clickety, Click, 0 66.” Another of Cecil’s favorites was B 4, to which he would remark, “B 4. Behind. That’s not a number, it’s a figure.” Corny stuff, but it was all taken in good fun, and calling bingo was perhaps the only time Cecil seemed anything near happy.


My dual background, summers in Canada, where all my relatives lived, and the school year in the United States, where I was born, helped me to become an observer, feeling comfortable with a variety of groups, but always feeling I was never a full card carrying member of any specific group. I spent five successive Julys, from the ages of 11 to 15, at a boys’ camp deep in the woods and lake country of Ontario where I was the only American, but it never made a difference, I was able to just be me and become friends with guys from all over the Province, and even a few from Quebec. The same at the lodge, I had a number of friends from all over, Canadian and American, but we always picked up each summer in mid-sentence as if we had seen each other the day before. We thought in terms of individuals, with Cleveland or Pittsburgh, or Toronto, or Rochester, or anyone’s hometown, merely serving as part of the backdrop and having no great overall significance. In fact, there was one sentence, with a concentration on three words, we used to all say, amused by the way each word was pronounced, how an accent from a particular specific geographical area could cause a phrase to sound so different. The simple sentence was “Let’s go out in the boat,” which to a reader won’t come across too strange, but when one brother and sister we were friends with pronounced that sentence, it inevitably came out as, “Let’s go out and about.”  No big deal, or great revelation, just something we would laugh about as kids.


When I was born I had dual citizenship because your nationality went by your father’s citizenship and where you were born. I was born in San Francisco, so I was automatically an American citizen, but my father was Canadian at the time, and as such, he registered my birth in Ottawa and I became a Canadian citizen as well. The same was true for my sister, the one a year younger than me, the exact same situation. The way the law was in those days we were considered dual citizens until the age of 21, and then, we would be forced to choose one or the other.


My youngest sister, the Grandview baby, had the reverse situation, since she was born in Toronto, she was considered Canadian, and since my father was an American citizen by then, so was she. My brother, who is situated age wise between my two sisters, was the only one who didn’t have Canadian citizenship from the beginning, being born in New York City with an American father.


Of course, not that I was paying attention, but there have been a number of law changes concerning dual citizenship with Canada and the United States, since I was born. As it stands now, of my parents’ four children, I’m the only one who no longer has Canadian citizenship. One law change allowed for the mother’s citizenship at the time of one’s birth to count, so my brother now has dual citizenship because my mother retained her Canadian citizenship, and he was able to successfully apply for Canadian citizenship, while also remaining an American.


The main reason I don’t have Canadian citizenship at the moment was because I wasn’t prepared to wage an all out campaign against the indifferent and arbitrary bureaucratic forces of Customs and the Canadian Consulate’s office, though I actually did go to the one in Manhattan and filled out the appropriate paperwork, but ultimately was rejected when I received a form letter from Ottawa informing me

I was missing certain required, specific documentation, such as my parents’ marriage certificate, which exists somewhere, but I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to pursue resolving such a nightmare entanglement at this time.


The one true advantage of Canadian citizenship over American, learned from my parents, pertained to traveling in Europe. When my parents went to different countries, my mother was casually waved through across the border after showing her Canadian passport, whereas my father, the American, was always forced to answer a litany of questions, routine, but time consuming. Perhaps that’s why I never went, or had the inkling, to go to Club Med, but then again, I’m a fresh water lake guy who never particularly liked salt water, and somehow don’t think I ever will.