The Bush. That was the name of my family’s property north of Lanark, Ontario. I have fantasized about it for years, ever since my last visit there before I was 20 years old.
The property was across Widow Lake from where my dad’s mother grew up after indentured servitude in England. She was treated poorly and was an unhappy child. The citizens of the tiny town of Flower Station, Ontario, were good to her, and helped her run away by train when she was 16 years old. The unique beauty of her childhood surroundings stayed in her heart. My grandpa and my dad built a cottage in the area so that we could go there to create pleasant memories. The area was remote: 30 miles on dirt roads before a 3-mile driveway that included two horse gates. No electricity or running water. We had a sawdust house to store the big chunks of ice that my dad lugged into the cabin with huge tongs.
Along with the icebox, we had a wonderful wood stove with a hot-water cistern.
The whole front side of the cabin was screened, with drop-down windows that hooked to the ceiling. There was a big dinner table on the porch as well as a day bed and a card table.
The game of choice at the Bush was canasta. The kitchen and living area were all in one large, square room. Homemade double bunk beds were in the two bedrooms. My sister, Marilyn, and I were always in a top bunk where the laughter and aromas could drift into the open space above the doors.
The lake was beautiful and peaceful. There were no other cottages. Our drive into Flower Station was about four miles. There were two general stores, a combination church and school, a post office in a private home, and a railroad station. The train that ran from Calabogie to Renfrew passed on the opposite side of the lake twice a day. Hearing it roll toward Renfrew, we knew that it would drop the mail in Flower Station. The train’s stop at the station was the highlight of the day for the locals.
Marilyn and I were voluminous letter writers and were rewarded with packets of letters in return. We enjoyed sitting at the porch table writing to our friends, playing games and reading. We also had our own boat to row. It was built by our grandpa. He was a boat maker at Penn Yan Boat Co.in New York, but clearly didn’t have the full recipe for our boat. It was so overweighted at one end that we had to carry the biggest gas cans full of water at the other end. I distinctly recall rowing along the shore by myself filled with poignant memories and knowing that I would always be in love with the setting. I was singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” by the Four Freshmen. I was in college then and knew that changes were coming.
I’m back in that little boat surrounded by serenity whenever I hear that song — a carefree girl on the cusp of adulthood. I never went to the Bush again.
Carol Riley, Golden Valley