The year Sherm and I got married, 1956, was the last time the Canadiana, known as The Crystal Beach Boat, brought passengers to the huge dock at the amusement park. As far back as I can remember, it came almost parallel to our house and then turned to make the approach, letting out a huge burping bellow that still echoes in my ears. Twice a day we heard that sound no matter where we were, swimming, eating hot dogs, building sand castles, playing horse shoes, it marked midday and evening. I just googled and found out that it could hold 3500 passengers and I believe it, a huge steam boat—now cut up for scrap.
I never once took a ride on it—as we always drove across the Peace Bridge, but I loved it as part of my summer childhood.
Summers at the beach were full of sights and sounds never encountered in the city. Opening the cottage at the end of May, walking into the quiet, waiting rooms smelling faintly of mildew, opening up a Nancy Drew Mystery that had been left behind, to find its pages a bit doughy and damp. But windows wide, fresh sheets, and my mom’s bursting energy soon had it sweet smelling again. Waking up in the mornings with a sense of excitement, throwing on some shorts, and running down the huge cement stairway directly onto the beach. What a thrill! Cool sand between my toes, the lake rippling toward me on a calm day.
Before my parents bought that house right on the lake, we had rented the Cora Mae Dale on a back road, next to the Ledermans, and near the Lichtmans, and other Jewish families. But soon, when I was 5 or so, we joined the Robins, the Barneys, the Stoveroffs, on a strip called Bay Beach, adjoining Crystal Beach. The entire bay from the public beach at the amusement park and giant dock, made a gentle curve all the way out to Point Abino. As you moved along toward the point, the homes became bigger and the owners all belonged to an exclusive Canoe Club, a large building sitting on a dock about a mile from our house. But the entire arc of beach felt like my domain. I could walk it, swim along its shore, head to the public beach and hot dog stand, get my French fires in a paper cone and sprinkle salt and vinegar on it. I, at 9 years even had access to a rowboat with a small Mercury motor during the day. My dad took it out about 2 miles every evening to fish and doze. But during the morning before it became too crowded with swimmers and other boats, I could roam that little arc all by myself. No wonder I love the morning.
Two doors down from us lived a widow and her two daughters from New Jersey. They had been coming to the lake forever, probably with the dad, whose absence was palpable. But there they were every summer and I found a friend and fellow adventurer in Marian Cooley. She was 3 years older, but that seemed not to matter. Every morning I’d jump across our
neighbors’ stairs, cross the Cooley lawn and call Ohhhhhhhh Mareeeaannnnnnn. She would join me and off we would go to catch minnows in glass milk bottles, make castles, or, as on this special day, take a long long walk to Point Abino. I think I was 10 and she was 13 and we were curious about what was on the OTHER SIDE of that point. We didn’t tell anyone where we were going, we just started walking along the back road one day.
When we reached the part we could see from our houses, we kept on going and somehow found ourselves among huge sand dunes that we climbed as only kids can climb. Up up up. At the top, Marian got there first and just stood looking out like a statue, hand shielding the sun from her eyes. I huffed and puffed up behind her and looked. The next bay lay before us, studded with more sand dunes and a huge empty beach. We looked to our right and saw our populated bay, bristling with homes and docks, but to the left, just a gentle beach backed by dunes. After a few minutes of awe and wonder, we debated going further, but having traveled 3 miles out and UP, and having told no one, we thought we’d be wise to start back. But first we raced and rolled down this dune, climbed back up, and flew again—repeated until we dropped. Then we turned back.
No one was the wiser.