Monday, August 01, 2005

Up in Gravenhurst:
A Town Stuck in Neutral

A week prior to my visit up to Sudbury was Yona's visitors' day at Camp Shalom in Gravenhurst. Marty came up from the States to see Yona with me. The party was over: After the blistering, record-breaking heat and humidity, the skies opened up and spewed forth the wrath of the gods. We were under inches of water everywhere you could see.

In true Canadian spirit, no one cared. The 400 northbound lanes were packed with cottagers, their kids, ORVs and their two fours. There was a uniform noise coming from practically every car: the sound of Q107 blaring licks by every blazing triplet-playing guitarist known to mankind. And despite the terrifying road rage and crazy driving, everyone seemed pretty happy. An hour and a half after departing the Bathurst Manor Ancestral Home, there it was. Gravenhurst. I imagine it's like visiting one's grandmother's house.

I spent the summers of 1968 through 1977 up the road in Torrance at Camp Massad, which is now the Camp Crossroads. The Mennonites gentrified it, but it is still recognizable by us Massad orphans. They do get the occasional former Massadnik and they are pretty hospitable. Sometimes I am one of those trespassers.

Gravenhurst was where we spent our days off. It was always a hospitable place. We would go down to Gull Lake Park and then our dining options were pizza at Rombo's, a delicious slice of blueberry pie at Sloan's, maybe grab a beer at the Albion Hotel. Then maybe stop by the Kee to Bala and see what bands were playing. In true Muskoka time, these are still the options.

My reunions with Yona are always fabulous. She has such incredible energy when she first sees me. There's always a lot of screeching and a lot of jumping around. Yona gets into the act, too. After three minutes our shoes are filled with sand and we are filthy.

This day the grounds were nothing but water and mud. Nonetheless, we picked our spot and unfolded all the chairs. It was pointless to throw down a blanket. Instead, I draped the goodie-filled plastic bags over the armrests. Yona had a feast of her favourites. We had Gryfe's pizzas and bagels, strawberry yogourt with bitter chocolate shavings, gummy things from Johnvince, and three flavours of Kernels. The intention was to save much of it for the campers' afterparty in the cabin, but much of the crunchy stuff just wilted in the intense moisture of the air and the intermittent storms.

The weather did not put a damper on much. The program was performed in the rec hall of the camp. Yona was a star. When she screamed, the kids screamed. When she sang, they sang. She danced, they danced. She got an excellent report from counselors and also the specialists, particularly the drama specialist. She looked so happy. I was so grateful that at least for a stolen moment in time, once a year, she could have this carefree experience that will sustain when all other memories are gone.

Desserts were served, tea was taken. The kids were happy. We parents were ecstatic to see our friends and their kids, maybe catch up on a little gossip. At three in the afternoon, Marty and I departed. It took three gruelling hours crawling in the rain, the mist and among a lot of exhausted and drunken drivers to get back down to city limits.

As we passed through Orillia I had a flashback to last year, same trip, same spot. A sunny day, the end of another great visitors day at camp. The cellphone rang as we were in the middle of a bad zone. It was a doctor at a hospital in the west end. My mother was brought there by ambulance. She was having a bowel blockage. Phone cuts out. An hour later a message. He wanted to operate as soon as possible but wanted to be sure we approved, because the patient was not cooperating. Around King City I made contact. I told him to do nothing. He had not known she was a cancer patient at Mount Sinai downtown. We got down there at 5 p.m. My best friend Masha met me there. Before I went in to see her, we all stopped by the Second Cup for a coffee. Three Equals. A blend of skim and 2 percent milk.

Within an hour we had mum discharged and we drove her down to Mount Sinai where she was admitted. Marty and I got back to the house at 3 a.m. I was still in my khaki shorts and Merrell mocs. The house was eerily still. That was the first time I was convinced she was going to die. I was at the depths. I was debating graveside or funeral home. At 4 in the morning we took a spin to the 24-hour Dominion. I had a bowl of roasted red pepper soup, a cup of peppermint tea and went to bed. Funny the things you remember.

So it's been a very lonely summer without my mum. She gave me camp as a centerpiece in my life. Like all good greenies, she sent me away for the summer so that I could have a normal time. Now I do it for my own kids. Even when I am a million miles away, in addition to my mum, I always have Gravenhurst with me. It keeps me sane. I know it will do the same for my kids when they go out and have their own lives.

No comments: