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Summers at cottage were glorious times

Having spent the past 10 summers chauffeuring my son to baseball, hockey, soccer and golf camps, I vowed to make this year different. After a 10-year respite from our summer cottage, I'm overdue -- I need "cottage time."

I fondly recall how my summer vacations growing up were so simple, settled and relaxing. I cherish my 30 summers spent at our cottage in Bay Beach, Ont. My parents chose to sell it in 2000. But from fourth grade to early adulthood, that is how my three sisters and I spent our summers.

On Memorial weekend we began the preparation. We'd stock the cupboards with soup, cereal and mac and cheese. We'd make the beds and "air out" the cottage from the aroma of mothballs, which my mother insisted on in the off-season. Whatever the weather, we headed to the beach for the Memorial Day Dare -- a brave attempt to dip into Lake Erie's chilly 55-degree water. My mother objected, stating it was "too cold," but we dove in anyway. We laughed, shivered and were thrilled with our achievement.

Come June, the last day of school meant we could pack our Oldsmobile and cross the bridge for the entire summer -- absolutely no turning back until Labor Day! The trunk was full: three suitcases, a laundry basket full of linens, a large bag of groceries and dad's work attire for his 35-minute commute to downtown Buffalo.

Our daily routine began with a good Canadian breakfast: eggs, Canadian bacon and very yellow buttered toast. Our 19-inch black and white TV, complete with foiled "rabbit ears," allowed us to see four local channels; how nice was that? My parents were asked by Irv Weinstein: "Do you know where your children are?" (Yes, they're walking home with Loganberrys and Crystal Beach suckers!)

My mother cleaned up after breakfast, and swept the sand off the floor -- a chronic condition in all cottages. Then we'd gather our beach gear and grab our towels off the clothesline, which had dried overnight from the Lake Erie breeze. Sometimes we'd pack a lunch, but most days we returned so the youngest could take a nap.

Weekends came alive, with thousands of beach seekers and Crystal Beach tourists. Erie Road was packed with convertibles, bikinis and beach guests hugging Canadian beer bottles. The beach was blanketed with towels, bathing suits and Coppertone.

For the Fourth of July, we invited our relatives to join us for a cookout of hot dogs and hamburgers and games of kickball, Jarts and running around with our cousins. In the evening, we turned on the yard floodlights and played "shadow" -- an endless game of tag that left us sleeping like a log.

The Crystal Beach fireworks display was always a highlight. We'd walk to the beach with a blanket to pick the perfect spot and anxiously await the first big bang -- a colorful display over the water. Our days were pretty routine -- beach, play, sleep, repeat. On rainy days, we played Barbies, Monopoly, cards and listened to albums on our front porch.

By August you could feel the air change. The lake got cooler, and you knew summer was coming to an end. The sadness lingered. But by midwinter, a warmth would return as I imagined my joyous summer days ahead at the cottage.

My son will turn 15 this summer and I'd like him to experience something more traditional and memorable. So this July, I will attempt to pass on to my son and my husband all that it means to have a vacation at the cottage.

Susan Neubert, of Amherst, cherishes the summers spent at her family's cottage in Bay Beach, Ont.

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