Every year, we would go on a summer vacation to "the cottage". Our long, or though it seemed, 45 minute journey to Lake Erie was an adventure in itself. Our family probably influenced the local policy on seatbelt legislation because at that time it was merely "recommended". We pushed the envelope on many occasions! Auntie Barb had an old classic '63 Pontiac. It was royal blue, loaded with chrome, electric windows and a very big steering wheel. We all felt like royalty driving in that machine, which comfortably fit three adults in the front seat with the twins on their laps and six other bratty kids in the back- with the promise of a good old fashioned fight over the window seats! I wasn't a lap kid. Although I was one of the youngest, I was big for my age and usually had Susie sitting on my knee. We'd share secrets along the way. One unfortunate day, Susie (who wasn't on my knee for this particular trip) managed to get dragged by the car as she held on for dear life. After much commotion, we pulled her back to safety and continued on our way after Auntie Barb inspected her knee.
We'd arrive at the cottage which was at the end of the gravel lane. It wasn't huge but it was perfect for all of us. The cottage backed onto a big, scary corn field. This was the perfect setting for ghostly tales at the campfire. We believed there lived a native tribe in the centre of that corn field and we were sure we heard them drumming at night, as they performed their own campfire "rituals".
Bed-time was a favourite. We'd usually line up (3 to a bed) and tickle eachother's backs and then rotate while someone in the room narrated a ghost story sending shivers down our spines, then into the blankets we'd go, peeking out every so often to see the moonlight shining through the window. Aside from the odd prank, we usually slept well because we knew what tomorrow would bring- the beach! We needed all the rest we could get!
Morning would come and we'd be off to the beach as soon as we gobbled down cereal and juice. Sometimes we'd even have pancakes! Usually we would proclaim our independence by riding our bikes to the beach. Only the select few got to ride in Auntie Barb's car with all of the adults and beach gear piled high. Towels, sand buckets, first aid kit, snacks and a cooler.
Auntie Barb and Uncle Joe always housed a vast collection of bicycles- mostly older ones that weren't very cool but each year, they added new ones to the collection. Sparkly, banana seat bikes and some even had baskets on them. I remember falling in love with a purple one and a black five speed. The rules were that we never rode with no hands, we were mindful of the on-coming traffic, we used our hand signals but most of all, we had to take turns on the "cool" bikes.
My day came! It was my turn on the cool, black, sleek looking five speed! I got so excited, I lost sight of all of the rules and just peddled away to my own drum. There I was showing off to the car that slowly passed as I waved and continued riding with no hands, grinning from ear to ear. The brake lights of the car suddenly went bright red. The car came to a halt! There was Auntie Barb getting out of the car with her hands on her hips. She meant business. It suddenly dawned on me what I had done. I plead no contest, turned the bike around and headed back to the cottage. My cycling privileges were suspended for the day and I would have to wait days now before it was my turn to ride that favourite bicycle again. I blew it!
There was never a dull moment at the cottage. I felt so lucky to have all of these cousins to play with! We had enough kids to have one very competitive baseball game almost every night. It would usually get pretty heated when Carrie Ann or Robbie were losing. They were sore losers! I think one day a baseball went through a bedroom window if I am not mistaken. We'd also play bocci ball, badminton, hide and seek and board games. In the evenings, we'd watch our favourite movies like "Grease" or we'd entertain the adults with our own musical performances. Poor Robbie- the only boy out of 8 of us! He put up with so much of our "sissiness".
Although rainy days meant we couldn't go to the beach, they still had their special moments. I loved sitting on the sun porch playing monopoly, colouring, telling stories, braiding eachother's hair, listening to the rain falling on the roof and the smell of Auntie Barb's sauce simmering on the stove.
We always ate very well too! Auntie Barb, Auntie Jen and Mom would sit at the kitchen table having "adult talk" as they made dozens upon dozens of home-made meatballs. We'd sit as a very large family on the sun porch and eat a delicious meal together at the end of our day and share much laughter. I cannot imagine how much work it must have been for those women who loved us enough to give us this summer holiday with eachother. I never remember them relaxing like we did. They always seemed to be cleaning, cooking or supervising us as we played.
Uncle Joe would make small appearances to fix and repair this and that or to bring up more supplies. He didn't say very much but his presence was enough. We respected him and knew better not to misbehave! I often wondered "where did he go" as he drove off and I even felt bad that there wasn't enough room for him to sleep in his own bed. I am sure he was happy to leave the chaos! I don't think we thanked them enough, he and Auntie Barb. They never expected anything in return. Auntie Barb was the activity coordinator, the referee, the disciplinary, the first aid personnel, the cook, the lifeguard, the cheerleader, the kid at heart. She was always fair. Though she could play hard ball when required, it was always for good reason- whether for safety reasons or just plain old justice for the underdog. She taught us good lessons and we took them with us into adulthood. Except for Carrie Ann- she still refuses to pay for ice-cream!
The winding road home was always bittersweet. We'd sit silently and wave good-bye to our favourite beach until next year.