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Dennis Klimko: Vacation home creates a thousand memories

My daughter and son-in law call it their “tin castle.” It’s a 40-foot house trailer, sitting on blocks and overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Built in the 1970s, this aluminum beauty is equipped with two bedrooms, a full bath with the original turquoise tub and toilet and a kitchen with turquoise appliances. They have decorated their riverfront vacation cottage in ’70s Florida kitsch: pink and blue prints of birds and fish, boat and tiki-mask knickknacks, string lights of flamingos and palm trees. The place is a tchotchke-lover’s dream.

For the casual vacationing guest, my wife, Christine, and I included, this place takes some getting used to. With the exception of a new sofa bed, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the original owner purchased most of the furnishings. Almost everything is tired and threadbare and they plan to keep it that way. There is no time or desire to remodel and repairs are made only as needed. Every available nook and cranny is filled with baskets of toys, coloring books, craft kits, games and fishing gear.

Ongoing knitting projects grace tabletops and once-empty chairs. Piles of old magazines and paperbacks add to the colorful chaos that greets you at the door.

After the long drive from Buffalo, the grandkids pile out of the car, put on their bathing suits and head for the beach.

We follow with folding chairs, cold beer, snacks and sun tan lotion to sit in the sun, read and watch the occasional ocean-going freighter silently navigate the St. Lawrence Seaway. Antique classic runabouts slice through the river’s chop, their varnished mahogany hulls glistening in the sun. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

Over the years their “tin castle” has sprouted a large screened porch and a tiny covered patio big enough for two folding chairs. The porch walls and ceiling are covered with rolled bamboo curtains. There is a display of salt and pepper shakers that my mom and dad saved from their many travels in the ’50s and ’60s.

What it doesn’t have is cable. But when it rains, they do surrender to the entertainment gods with a cupboard full of VHS tapes picked up at yard sales and church bazaars. There is also a suitcase record player and a collection of LPs and 45s that never fail to bring back memories of high school in the ’60s.

As the sun sets the smell of burning charcoal is in the air. The trailer park fills with screaming kids, barking dogs and brooding teens complaining of nothing to do. Cocktails and bug spray are the order of the day as the grownups meet with old friends they haven’t seen since last year.

Christine and I are now both retired and I will admit the controlled chaos of a holiday weekend at the Thousand Islands can be overwhelming most of the time and downright annoying some of the time. But I’ve come to realize this place is not here for us. It is a place for kids to create memories of good times, exciting adventures, new friends, junk food, skinned knees and endless hours of swimming. It takes time and effort to create this special kind of place and I do believe they have created a masterpiece.

As we load up the car for the long drive home, I smile at a plaque that hangs in an inconspicuous, if almost forgotten, corner of the trailer. It reads: “If you’re lucky enough to live by the river, you’re lucky enough.”

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