It’s just after 7:30 pm Saturday evening, July 2 and I’m at my cottage, one of my favourite places on earth, sharing time and space with my son, his girlfriend and three other close friends of his that have over the years become part of our extended family.
The weather this long weekend has been gorgeous—sunny and warm with a light breeze from the water that keeps the mosquitoes at bay. Even now, as evening shadows stretch across the lawn and at a time of day when flying insects usually take over the landscape to drive sun-warmed, sunburned cottagers back into their summer retreats, the breeze has stayed constant enough to keep the swarms away.
This is the evening to take advantage of the weather and remain outside. My son and his friends measured out the forty-foot distance required between the two metal stakes they pounded into the lawn and are playing lively rounds of horseshoes, a game that according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica is thought to have been played since the Roman invasion of Britain, when Roman officers, who traditionally played ‘Quoits’ but came to Britain without the necessary throwing rings, used u-shaped horseshoes as pitching objects instead. Peasants in medieval Britain (roughly defined as being between the years 1066-1485), are also believed to have played the game of horseshoes, and the game was brought to North America in the late sixteenth century with the arrival of English settlers.
My son, his girlfriend and two other friends are playing the game—two players per team, while the fifth member of their merry band acts as scorekeeper, sitting on a plastic lawn chair on the sidelines with a pencil and a pad of paper, waiting for the players to shout out their feats of horseshoe pitching skill. The fact that she is the common-law partner of one of the players does not escape the notice of the opposing team and the teammates wonder aloud about her ability to remain objectivie, but in the long run they decide she must be trusted (she was, after all, the only scorekeeper available). Besides, Mona (the basset hound of the common law couple in question) volunteered to howl or bark if her score-keeper tried to manipulate the results, and basset hounds are surely honest canines…
I’m on my deck, swaying back and forth on my garden swing, click-clacking on my laptop, listening to the good-natured bantering happening on the lawn to the right of me. We haven’t eaten supper yet, but there will be time for that when the sky turns dark and the games end. For now, it is nice to hear the laughter of adults enjoying time together.
When my children were little we spent entire summers at our cottage. They loved summers here, swimming every day in the cool water of the Northumberland Strait, riding their bikes along the dirt roads between the rows of cottages, playing games of tag and sardines and one particular game (that I think they invented) they called “Twice Around the House”, a game enjoyed by children as young as three and by teenagers as old as eighteen.
Life was relaxed at the beach. Beginning early every morning the ‘beach’ kids visited back and forth between cottages; on any given day I could have up to eight children at my lunch table for peanut butter and marshmallow-creme sandwiches known as fluffernutters or for macaroni and cheese, or I could have no children appear, not even my own two, depending on whose cottage was closest when the pangs of midday hunger struck the group. Mothers knew each other at our beach, and we gladly served snacks and drinks and lunches to the children who arrived at our doors on any given day, knowing that the next day it would be another mother’s turn to feed the hungry hordes. As far as I know, no one mother felt taken advantage of; somehow we knew it would all even out by summer’s end, and in my opinion, it did.
Suppers were not usually communal: children returned to their respective cottages when the smells of meat being grilled outdoors wafted through the salty air and whetted their appetites again. Besides, the children knew that as soon as the meal was finished and the dishes washed and dried they could once again join their cousins and friends for early evening swims or bike rides or games of hide-and-seek. They also knew that at the end of the day they would be called home again for the night-time rituals of baths and bed and much-needed sleep.
Life is very different at my cottage now; my adult children are much too big to be told when to go to bed, and I usually disappear to my room long before they douse the fire in the fire-pit and head inside. I’m sure tonight will be no exception.
But for now, I’m enjoying the company of these young people; the evening would be even better if my daughter and her boyfriend could be here, but this is still a good weekend, and I breathe it in.
By the way, Mona the basset hound did howl and bark during the horseshoe games, but she wasn’t taken seriously, so she stopped. Now we’ll never know what, if anything, she was trying to report.
Maybe that’s best.