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When the last bell rang we were out of Leaside

When I was a child fathers worked 9-5 and read the Globe and Mail, mothers worked in the home  making everything we needed appear like magic, and children spent summers at the cottage or at camp.

On the last day of the year at Rolph Road Elementary School we sweltered in classrooms not built for summer use and watched the clock. At recess autograph books were signed (I made you look, I made you stare, I made the barber cut your hair) and addresses were exchanged with promises to write.

The bell rang and I was free!  After an endless wait of an hour father was home, the car was stuffed with necessities and we headed north.

Leaside became a far away land as radio and television reception was limited to CKLY Lindsay featuring the noon obituaries and snowy Barrie CKVR TV.

Father left each Sunday evening for home and returned on Friday night with the Loblaws items on mother’s shopping list.  Fresh food in farm country was rare.

Rolph Road friendships carried on by mail at five cents a letter. Missives travelled between Muskoka, Severn River, Lake Simcoe and the Kawarthas.  We discovered each other beyond the restraints of school.  As a gravel road lakefront cottager I marvelled reading about Lake Simcoe cottages built in rows on paved streets.

The only bell I heard all summer was the fire bell the night the resident drunk burned down his cottage. Shirts and shorts that were a bit big in June soon became too small and the annual cousin-to-cousin hand–me–downs began.

I could read for hours without being asked if my homework was done. I could develop and test my standards for myself and not worry about failing someone else’s. I believe most cottage kids, if asked what they were like at a particular age, would flash back to a cottage memory.

Mention of the CNE signaled that the end was near. The first day back at Rolph, tanned and taller, we wore new proper and practical school wardrobes. Except for Myra Nicholson, whose mother gave her a clothing budget to buy what she wanted.  Even for Myra it was skirts only.

Our clothes immediately altered the way we moved and sat. We lined up, kept quiet, sat in rows and folded our hands on the desk.

Much has changed. With two career parents, my youngest cottage cousins only come up on weekends and spend the weekdays at a series of camps that reflect expectations as much as talent (hockey, riding, soccer).  At the cottage they are watched by nannies.

My hard Rolph desk plus the skirt and leather shoes felt inflexible and restrictive. Was it the garments or was it the awareness that another year of tight rules, era values and expectations had started?  In the words of fellow cottage kid Neil Young,

There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind
I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.