Guyside: Old-school wasn’t always bad school

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Guyside, musings, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I don’t own a cottage — although I am quite happy to be invited to other people’s! When we started to get on top of our mortgage and cash flow, and something like a recreational property became an option, my partner and I opted for investing in our back yard instead, and we now call it the cottage.

She’s in charge of the garden and I lend brute strength and occasional good ideas; I’m in charge of drinks, food, and keeping the little patch of grass, the stonework, and anything else that needs maintenance maintained. We’re happy with our choice. We tell people “we can barely keep up with one house — what would we do with two?!

But … I grew up with a “cabin” (that’s what we called it, not a “cottage”, although sometimes it was “the bungalow”) a few miles from our house. What I remember from my childhood is roaming through the little patches of forest with an air rifle and plastic Viking figures that were in my mom’s bags of puffed wheat, setting up shooting galleries and practicing my aim, swimming in the clear salt water of the Bras d’Or Lake, playing with giant inner tubes that my dad got hold of from somewhere, bonfires with toasted marshmallows, and my dad working.

My mom worked when we were out there, but her work never seemed as hard to me as dad’s work. Mom worked on keeping us all fed and watered, on getting bug spray applied, at planting a few flowers here and there, at welcoming friends and family when they’d pull up. But dad… There was a marshy section of the property, and he worked to dry that out and clear it, seed it, and turn it into something you could walk on. Wheelbarrow loads of fill and soil. I first remember actually getting to the lake holding on to a rope that helped you down the fairly steep bank. Then there was a staircase, and then a nicer staircase. My dad would take a swim, but then he’d put on an old pair of sneakers and grab a pry bar and start moving rocks to make a bigger swimming area. When the grass needed to be cut, it wasn’t a ride-on mower, it was a push mower, its motor roaring, its wheels being adjusted to accommodate the rough terrain and stumps and rocks and roots. When it came time for the bonfire, it was he who built the fire, and it was he who would tend it with a long steel poker, making a place where the coals glowed for the best marshmallows.

He worked way harder than I’d be prepared to do at my age. And he did that after a week’s hot, sweaty work at a steel plant. His brother was another steel plant LeDrew — they almost all were — and when his emphysema got to be too much to let him work at his cottage, he stopped going rather than watch his children do what he saw as his job.

We live in an era of specialization and technology. I grew up helping my dad change our car’s oil and do basic maintenance. Much of what we did simply can’t be done on modern cars. Our back yard was landscaped by others. When our dishwasher broke recently (DISHWASHER, my dad would scoff, were he here…) I tried and failed to fix it. In came the specialist.

Our cabin didn’t have any pretensions. It didn’t even have plumbing. The beach wasn’t an endless expanse of honey-coloured sand. But I hope that my dad looked at it with the pride of someone who had used his muscles to make something. That’s what men like him did.

It’s difficult to muster a similar sense of pride over some glowing pixels. Sometimes, there was a nobility and a simplicity about how things were that I’d like to try to recapture now. How about you?

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