Directions to Nostalgia

(Part 3 of my response to this week’s List Lesson challenge) 

1. Let’s start with highway 401,
A concrete maze of too many lanes.
Take the turn-off for 400 and drive north,
Towards Barrie.
Barrie always seemed a ghost town,
A lingering, faceless place
In my imagination;
I never could quite picture it.
On the way, you will pass Canada’s Wonderland,
With bright roller coasters and an improbably placed mountain,
And the rolling green farmland,
And Holland Marsh,
A landmark, a signal you’re on your way north,
With its shock of black soil
Stretching away from the road,
As houses become fewer and further between.

2. Keep going. It’s going to take a while.
At almost 90 km, the 400 veers off,
The road you’re on becomes highway 11:
Stay on it.
Webers is up there, somewhere, along the way,
A famous roadside burger stand -turned corporation.
Years ago, it was a shack with a few grills, fresh fries and good milkshakes,
An old CN tower bridge spanned the highway,
Inviting all those southbound cars
To spill their passengers across to the other side.
Now they have a website, and sell to Loblaws.

At some point, my mom would get car sick
And so would the cats,
And maybe me,
But my dad just wanted to get there,
So we kept on going.
Driving with my grandparents, we’d play “I Spy,”
With my parents, I’d listen to them talking
And then I’d put my head back and sleep.

3. At Bracebridge
(I remember writing a poem as the car slipped through Bracebridge once)
Turn left onto highway 118.
Years ago, there was a McDonald’s on the corner;
Probably still is.
If you go this way, you’ll skirt Lake Muskoka
And pass through Port Carling.
When I was little, Port Carling was a small town
With an IGA and a Home Hardware
And the butcher, Morley Stephens (he’s still there).
He had ponies in his back field by the river
And wild gooseberries.
And there was that inn with a restaurant
That served drinks in Mason jars; novel!
Now it’s a bustling tourist centre.

4. If you don’t take the 118,
Go straight through Bracebridge,
Take the 11 north some more to the 141,
Then turn left.
This way, you pass through the smaller town of Rosseau.
At its heart: the old fashioned General Store,
A white clapboard building with a slamming screen door
And wooden planked floors, creaking since the 1800s.
There was a bakery, too;
Wilma, the red-haired baker started baking
The best baked goods on the planet
At 3 am.
The only thing better were the G&G Gas Bar butter tarts.
They won first place one summer
I think
When a guy travelled the province doing a taste-test.
I thought at the time that was a pretty good job.

5. Look, there’s the waterfall,
Just before you get to Morgan Bay Road,
Over there on your right.
Mom used to love walking along it.
She’d walk the mile or so from the cottage –
Rain or shine or mosquito clouded-day –
Just to poke around the waterfall.
Sometimes she’d take my grandma or my great aunt.
Mostly I was too young to go…
I wonder what they talked about?
Once they came back with purloined wild violets
And planted them all around our property.

6. Drive past the waterfall.
Morgan Bay Road is on your left.
A tawny, golden sub-soil coloured dirt road.
Our place is less than a mile in, on the right,
At the corner.
There it is,
Down the driveway,
That log cabin,
Disassembled in Quebec and rebuilt here,
On this tiny speck of land,
On a hill,
Facing down to the cold, dark waters of Lake Rosseau.

If you look closely, you will see a swing in the tree,
An early makeshift table outside
where we ate before the cottage was finished.
And there are the rocks that slope into the lake;
No sandy beaches here!
Remember the hours of swimming
And waterskiing
And rescuing Dad when the sailboat tipped over?
This is the rowboat we used
To catch frogs in the swamp,
To take the dog on the lake,
To look for beavers and loons
And to lie in at night, with the stars overhead.

Downstairs is my room,
Where the sun rose early,
Shining into my face each morning,
And the books I read,
Silently hoping no one would find me
And tell me to do something else instead.

Breathe in the crisp air,
The forest,
The flowers,
The breeze off the lake,
The smell inside –
Of pine and wool
And something good cooking –
The dampness of basement
And old, dusty books.
It’s ok,
Close your eyes,
And breathe in nostalgia.

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