Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Vacation

Well, I still haven't done anything with the massive piles of laundry sitting around the kitchen, but I have managed to clean up the garden. We all have our priorities, right? While mine might involve having clean laundry, they don't extend to actually doing anything about it, especially when the garden is so obviously IN NEED.

At least, that's how I was attempting to explain it to Richard last night. Fortunately, he is well aware of my lack of interest regarding housework so he nodded enablingly. But now the kids have no underwear. Which means I will have to Do Something Soon. Sigh.

But I digress!

Our two weeks up in the wilds of Vancouver Island was so fun I almost forgot to angst about my garden (and whether the watering system was working properly) the whole time. Which turned out to be a good thing because the front yard timer developed a weird whine and had to be turned off, before the neighbours lost their hearing, only three days after we left. Then the people who were checking the mail turned it back on again, whereupon our neighbour turned it off again, and so forth and so on. And the whole time one of the vents leaked continuously. Poor Neighbour. Poor confused House Checker. Poor Sheila and her no doubt Horribly Inflated Water Bill. Thanks ever so much, Lee Valley.

But I digress!

It was fun being near a hot sandy beach for so long. We have beaches around here, but they aren't right across the street, where the kids can head off on their own with a band of other holiday kids, and get up to mischief I can only guess at. Actually, considering that I (and the parents of all these other holiday kids) spent my summers here too, I have some pretty good guesses: racing down the sliding and somewhat dangerous sand cliffs, carving vaguely rude words in the highest of the sand cliffs (which in my day extended to words like BUM), eating every Freezie every adult in every house they visit offers them, and trying to stay up past 11 pm each and every night. And for the older kids: watching really dumb movies in the back yard on a giant inflatable screen someone brought up with them, sleeping on the beach, staying up all night, riding bikes to the candy store for yet more sugary junk (to quote Robert Munsch), bugging their adults to take them to the local swim hole, and looking very cool the whole time. Then there's us adults. We sit around in each other's houses after the heat of the day is past, drinking and laughing and telling silly stories about our other lives, lives that exist back in the towns and cities where we live. Sometimes we reminisce about the things we got up to during our summers together here. Sometimes we reminisce about the people who used to live in this beach town, the Americans and Brits and East Coasters who made our childhood memories so full of scandal and fascination and humour.

I think of Pam, the slightly batty English woman who lived next door to my grandmother. She had two dogs, Sally and JJ, and a plastic parrot named Polly. She treated Polly as if he were alive, and I never really knew if she was serious, although the fact that she liked to eat dog food along with her dogs ("It's very good, you know") should have tipped me off. One summer she gave me Polly to take home with me, and I endured several months of alarming dreams where he chased me around, screaming "I miss Pam!" until I finally hid him in a closet. She had a grippingly interesting house, filled with things I imagined my own mum would have been horrified by: a stuffed ferret that sat on the kitchen table at all times (gasp), buckets of costume jewellry, and a large bed in a room just for Sally and JJ (double gasp). And she smoked like a chimney (everyone seemed to back then). To my 11 year old mind this was the height of cool adulthood.

Then there was Vicki Goudge. She'd married a much older man, a fact that had all the local ladies whispering "gold digger" most of the time, well, when they weren't whispering "bottle blonde." She'd had 4 skinny blonde boys in quick succession, after which she considered that she'd "done her duty" (a cryptic remark I didn't understand until much later). She too smoked like a chimney, and if I was particularly lucky she'd send me to the store to buy Black Cat cigarettes. Then I could saunter back to her house, carrying - gasp - a pack of cigarettes and pretending they were mine. Vicki spent most of her afternoons drinking gin and tonics, smoking Black Cats, and dissing the older ladies she knew were dissing her, all the while lying on a lounge chair in her carport. I'd sit on a stool next to her, listening to her talk, and passing her various things: a lighter, the local newspaper, her drink, those fragrant Black Cats, and feel wonderfully, delightfully decadent.

Of course, there was my own grandmother. She was from East London and had an accent to prove it. An accent she never lost, despite living the last 50 years of her life in Canada. I spent most of my summers with her and she was a far more accommodating guardian than my parents were. I could wander for hours, as long as I came back for lunch. I could come back reeking of the beach grass we were constantly trying to smoke and she would say nothing. And, best of all, she often let me have a teenie tiny glass of sherry with her every morning at 11am. I would make plans to live with her when I grew up, plans which usually involved smoking Black Cats and drinking a lot of sherry. It's a wonder I never grew up to be a smoker. Or an alcoholic.

And now here we are, another generation of beach families. We keep our family houses (now off their wells and septic fields and onto city mains, something that would have horrified my grandmother), some more dilapidated than others, and we cling to our summer traditions (marshmallow-roasting fires on beaches and in back yards), even though local fire codes and city regulations now forbid them. We converge upon the local Farmer's Markets, bringing our lattés and city newspapers and internet connections, and relive our favourite childhood memories. It makes for a perfect vacation.

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