In the early 80s, seat belts were not a thing. As kids, we got full reign of the back seat of my Grandpa’s Buick. Full reign may be exaggerated. The truth is, that car was packed to the brim for our summer treks to the cottage.
My Nana could have won an award for packing the contents needed to make a home out of our 400 square foot, wood sided cottage for the week into the back of a sedan. My sister and I didn’t mind. We lounged on the yellow pink and blue daisy floral bedding which was perfectly flat packed on top of coolers and suitcases. Nowadays, this set up would be illegal for driving, but it’s all the rage on Instagram for those digital nomads who are living out of cars and vans.
In the early 80s, the highway 11 corridor had lots of stops. There were lots of burger joints and ice cream trucks parked at rest stops and gas stations. But we did not stop. No siree. My grandparents left Toronto at 7am and drove straight to Muskoka. We were arriving at the cottage by 9am to be sure we got a FULL day’s start to kick off our summer holiday.
I have a sensory memory of landing at the lake. As soon as our car turned off the highway, the road changed, the car ride started to get loud along the old asphalt road, and then my stomach would do its flip as we came around the tight corners, winding our way around farm fields and eventually down the steep hill to the lake.
“Look, it’s the lake! It’s the lake!” My sister would cry as though she’d never seen water. I could smell water. I could smell the sand even, and the muddiness of damp ground and fresh pine in the air. If you’ve landed in Muskoka on a summer morning and taken a deep breath, you know this scent.
My senses still remember opening the cottage. There was just enough dust, just enough dampness and wood smell from the inside of a pine lined, cedarwood floored cabin to make you feel like you were inside a cozy blanket box. This cottage was like my hope chest.
We were a short, barefoot sprint away from the water’s edge. As soon as we made our beds. We made a beeline for it. Spending the day in the lake was heaven. Watching the stars come out and having a fire and songs with my grandpa was the bee’s knees. Even sleeping on the old, firm beds felt strangely familiar. In hindsight, I think I really just wanted that dedicated time to do nothing, but feel everything. As an adult, I still have a small collection of the old corning ware dishes and my favourite Hull pottery coffee mugs. I cling to those simple memories as a salve for the daily grind in my adult life.
Today, it’s difficult to rekindle this kind of nostalgia. In fact, most cottage resorts mirror hotel stays, and cottages have gotten gorgeously modern and smell like home instead of away. It’s why I love landing at Duff’s. The cozy cottages are just like my grandparents. And the sprawling green grass to the water’s edge makes me feel like a kid again – the one racing to be the first to dive in.
Summer can’t come fast enough.