Septuagenarians on the Road #4

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASee Septuagenarians on the Road #3 for the first part. (https://115journals.com/2013/09/11/septuagenarians-on-the-road-3/)

We wake up on the third floor of Auberge Ayres Cliff on the third day of our road trip. I go downstairs to see if the restaurant is open. It is not. Back up that wooden Everest!

Since we are booked into the Auberge Ripplecove, we have to pack up our things yet again, and Georgia has a plan for getting them downstairs.

We take turns using the shower and my cereal bowl. Georgia’s nosh is All Bran and mine is gluten-free granola. Our ice packs have melted and so has the ice and in keeping with its historic charm, the old auberge has neither ice machine, vending machine or coffee maker. No problem, we know a great little place to have breakfast in Coaticook.

I heard people working in the second floor office while I was reconnoitering, but saw no one. Georgia goes to top of the stairs and pushes her bag off the top step.  I hear it thump, thump, bump and crash. Silence. She heaves down the second one. It is not until I start to bump my wheeled suitcase down the top step, that a man shows up on the second floor and gallantly sweeps her bags up. Another sprints up the stairs to carry mine down. See, all we had to do was ask.

The guy carrying mine is likely the proprietor, whereas hers has been working outside on the deck. He speaks English well and by the time, I have carried down the remaining odds and sods, Georgia and he are deep in conversation about the town. Communication is proving to be a challenge, so this is welcome.

We debate about who will drive. As usual, Georgia wants to drive early when she is fresh.

“Which way do you intend to go,?” I ask. She points back the way we came.

“I’m driving,” I announce.

I pull a u-turn right there on Main St. and head around the corner on 141. I have these maps in my head or so I believe, and indeed, they fail me only once and then for only 6 miles. As we drive, I explain that basically there is a wide fertile valley where dairy farms flourish and on either side there is a two lane black top. When we were young our father took the left hand road to get to Sawyerville where we had moved in 1941, but the mail van took the right hand route. I travelled in the mail van with my mother that winter and noted the ‘exotically different towns’, St. Isadore, St. Malo, Paquetteville. We were on a mission to reveal to my Nanny that a baby was “expected”. My 5 year-old self made little sense of this, but I was very glad to go back to Hereford. I stubbornly refused to understand what was “expected” until that fateful first day of school when Georgia inconveniently arrived. (See https://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)

In less than half an hour we are Coaticook. (This is an Abenaki word as is Massawippi, which means big, deep water.)

Coaticook is an agricultural town, the centre for production of milk products, especially butter, but it also boasts an industrial park largely devoted to farm and construction equipment. And it boasts a covered bridge as well as a round barn. It seems that every time we go there, a major road is under construction. This time it is Child St. In trying to park on the opposite side of the street I came in on, I get entangled in the detour, which kindly offers us a tour of parts of the town we have never seen before. Finally, we disembark at that parking spot we have been aiming for for 20 minutes, walk half a block and arrive at the Croissant Chaude.

I order my usual gluten/ milk/ bacon- free breakfast – ham and home fries, while Georgia enjoys a fresh-from-the-oven muffin with butter and jam. There is one French couple, clutching a map and looking for advice and two women speaking English, very loudly, with interesting personal detail. Then in comes a couple in their early 50s, speaking with an Australian accent. It is not long before Georgia has struck up a cross-the-room conversation and we have learned that they have ridden motor bikes from Las Vegas up through Colorado and on to Chicago. There they switched to a car and, like us, they are siblings. Georgia reminds them that the longest relationship most people have is with a sibling.

Hey, two conversations in one day!

After breakfast, we turn south on 147 and begin the final leg of our journey home. Since I am still driving, Georgia has the leisure to observe that the infrequent houses we are passing have the largest, greenest, weed-free lawns she has ever seen. Prosperity and ride-em lawnmowers, I suspect. Our grandfather’s dooryard stayed short and smelled of what I learned much later was camomile. Even later, I learned that camomile lawns were all the rage in Elizabethan England. As you walk over them, crushing the little yellow flower balls, the perfume rises. Surely my harried grandparents did not actually plant it.

We skirt what we called Wallace Pond with its cottages and youth camp, pass a haulage company bearing my last name, catch sight of the Line -the wide treeless cut up through the woods that marks the dividing line between Canada and the United States, round a corner and find ourselves in front of the church.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAHere there will be silent conversations.

I park the car south of the church where the church hall used to be and the wagon sheds where the horses sheltered and munched from their bag of oats while we children skidded the wax onto the hardwood floor and the fiddles tuned up and the women hauled chicken pies out of the oven. I suppose this liveliness vanished long before the hall did. I was in it last in the mid 80s, having brought my father down from Ontario for his cousin’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. When it was pulled down, its lovely wood panelling sold for scrap, I do not know.

Georgia is the first to see that Uncle S. has died. His name joined his wife’s on the gravestone not long after we were here four years ago. Georgia is bitterly aggrieved that no one let us know. But, really, who is left that knows how to get in touch with us? Only our cousin R., 11 years older than me, but even he doesn’t answer my emails. Probably  an uncle and aunt my own age are still living in the States, but we don’t know each others’ addresses.

We visit each gravestone and leave flowers for our Nanny and our Aunt Mae. The wind purrs through the pines that stand at the edge of the church yard above Indian River. Nanny and I took off our shoes the last time I visited her -she was 87- and went wading in the cold mountain stream. And one of my best memories is of a church picnic a little farther up in a pine grove. After we had eaten, the women washed the dishes in the river. A well informed 4 year-old, I was aghast. “Don’t worry, Joy,” Maude sang out.” We’ll scald them off when we get home.”

We cross the bridge and point the car up the dirt road that leads to Cannon Hill. (Sometimes, we children called it McCannon.) It winds steeply up through the woods. I know that a good trout stream is dropping down through the trees beside us, for my father took me fishing there. I also know that wood spirits live there, brownies perhaps, rather malevolent little beings, quite unlike the fairies that lived in the corners of the hayfield and came in rainbow colours. Neither had the magnificence of the angels that I saw twice when I was little and once when I was 42. I don’t believe any of this really, but, on the other hand, I know it to be true.

Here on the right is the farm I remember living on, although both barn and house have long since been rebuilt. What used to be a hayfield is pasture now and there are cows there. Then we are back into woods. Soon we will come to the Swamp, the part we children didn’t care for. I want the road just to go on and on. I don’t want to sail out into open and see the house where Nanny lived alone until she was well over 90. There it is now, with a long well groomed side yard planted with small fruit trees. Much of the white siding is still missing as an insulating upgrade proceeds slowly. I prefer to remember the gleaming white siding and the neat, little screened porch. We turn right, pass in front of the house and continue on up into the wilderness that lies below the mountain. We are making a pilgrimage past Aunt Mae’s tiny house. The road is much better than it used to be because somebody with influence and money has built a house out back of beyond. A very nice house, quite a cut above Aunt Mae’s.

On the way out, we stop near where Nanny’s first house stood, the one that burned down- well, the second one burned down too actually. By ‘down’, I mean utterly, to the cellar hole. I want to walk but mine is apparently a minority opinion. We press on, waving at the men loading a pickup in Nanny’s yard. Yes, one is probably Aunt Mae’s grandson, but we don’t feel up to the explanations. Our cousin R. has just had his driveway paved. It is covered in fresh tar and roped off. No sign of his huge white SUV.. Now we are higher between open fields, past the new forest that covers our grandfather’s fields.

He  had a stone boat, a sledge into which he threw the heavy rocks he dug out of his fields. The horses would drag the contraption over to the stone pile around the big spruce tree or one of the other half dozen that he and his long dead predecessors had broken their backs building and he would heave them off. Sic transit and all that. A rich American bought the land and planted it in trees.

At the highest point, we stop to take pictures of the mountain vista.

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SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThen we drive down a truly scarey incline past our Uncle S’s house, one of those that make you think you vehicle will tip end over end, Then we are on the road that once changed places with the brook during a flood and we drove on the stream bed for weeks. (It was war time and we didn’t vote for the party in power,)

We cross the border at Beecher Falls, discovering that the agent on duty can fill us in about Cousin R. who seems to alive and kicking. We stop for lunch at Nanny’s favourite restaurant, the Spa in Canaan where I have fresh Maine lobster.

the SpaHereford was in Quebec and Canada, but we drew our identity from the States, from Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, from New England. Every New Year’s Eve, we gathered in the hall for an oyster supper. We even spoke with New England accent. LIke most immigrants, I got rid of mine asap but when Nanny said “Spa”, I thought she meant “Spar”.

As we attempt to cross back into Canada at the Hereford crossing, the Canadian agent keeps questioning us closely. Georgia tells him we crossed at Beecher Falls an hour ago and ate lunch and that we are now returning to Ayres Cliff. I repeat the same story. He keeps glancing at the luggage filled hatchback. “So you are coming from New Brunswick?” he says. Well, no, we are coming from Ayres Cliff and going to Ayres Cliff. “Then why do you have your bags?” he asks in exasperation. Because we are changing hotels? I offer as if seeking his approval. “Ahhh” and he waves us through.

PLEASE CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENJOY FULL DETAIL.

to be continued -one more time

Septuagenarians on the Road: #3

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASo Georgia and I decided to take a sentimental journey, back to our roots. We started out on her birthday, the day after Labour Day (See https://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)

We didn’t make the decision lightly. We divided hip stiffness into the mileage and arrived at a two day trip. We reserved a hotel room at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston Ontario, which we thought was half way from Toronto to Ayres Cliff, Quebec. We were wrong. It was more like a third of the way there, but when we got to KIngson, we realized that factoring in the fatigue of packing and hefting bags made it a good choice.

When asked if we need help with our bags, my macho sister says no. Being older, I know better. Imagine the most awkward grocery cart you have ever tried to steer, turn it into a luggage cart, top-heavy with a hanging bar, add a tiny elevator and thick pile on the hall carpet.

Still it is a beautiful room that looks out over the ferry docks and one of the six squat, round Martello towers that guarded Upper Canada from the American invaders.

Martello Tower, KingstonWe stayed in a similar room 4 years ago when we last made this trip. The place is not much changed. The question is are we?

We rest. Resting will be a recurring theme in this blog post as it is in our lives. I would say ‘in the lives of septuagenarians in general’, but Blake (see http://115journals.com/2012/05/26/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-1/ and https://115journals.com/2012/05/27/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-2/ ) doesn’t rest much. Resting like Archemedes’ lever makes all things possible.

Then it is time to pop the cork on the Veuve Cliquot. It is a birthday after all.

It seems wise to find a restaurant within walking distance, so we search through the available literature and come up with Olivia, an Italian restaurant two short blocks away. As it turns out there is live jazz from the Dave Barton trio with Amanda Balysy on vocals. Amanda has a retro look, blouse and skirt out of the 50s and songs to match. So the ambience is delightful. The day’s special of wild boar sausage seems too demanding for my digestion and I willfully ignore the black cod and order risotto. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I know I have been wrong. I’m used to risotto at Marcellos in Toronto where they don’t even add cheese. This dish is swimming in cheese and oil. But the optimism of the moment prevails and I take the risk.

As evening falls, the Kingston City Hall across the square becomes ever more beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kingston_City_Hall_Andrew_pmk.JPG). Its limestone glows silver and its lovely dome stands etched against the sky. After dinner, we sit in the park at the water’s edge and enjoy its beauty.

Kingston_City_Hall__#3All in all, the day has gone well, we think. Georgia settles down to watch Netflix on my Mac Air Book and I lie down to sleep. To no avail. Yes, I am tired enough to sleep, but my body has other ideas. I am aching all over. The pillows labelled soft are so soft, I feel smothered. The ones labelled hard hurt my head but don’t support my neck. But most of all I blame the risotto. Years ago, in this same town, I spent the night sitting on the bathroom floor reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.I might have been better to spend this night there as well.

I’ve had considerable experience with insomnia – who hasn’t at this age?- and developed strategies to deal with it. In between bathroom trips, I try them all. First, I roll up a bath towel and put it under my long neck, a softer version of the wooden Japanese head rest. I do my three part deep breathing exercise over and over. I take a sleep aid. I put in my ear buds and hit the white noise App on my iPhone. Even the continuous swish of heavy rain doesn’t send me off. By now, Georgia is soundly asleep, or so it seems for she is very softly snoring. At what seems like 2 a.m, but is actually much earlier, I get up to do tai chi exercises in the dark. That seems to calm my system down. Then just as I begin to slip into sleep, someone hammers on the door next to us and calls out in a aggrieved voice, “Come on Michael, I forgot my key.” Apparently that is just the ticket. I am gone. I don’t even wake up when Georgia spends an hour reading at 3 a.m. Of course, in the morning, she maintains not only that I had kept her awake, but also that I was groaning. Perhaps she is right.

So unrefreshed, we find our way to the complimentary breakfast with a view of the water. I am unenthusiastic about eating but I need to take on fuel. Fortunately, Georgia is able to enjoy the free meal, which we have earned by being members of the Canadian Automobile Association.

There is one more little hiccup. I neglected to bring down our parking stub. There is no attendant. Fortunately, someone from the bar across the street yells out instructions on what button to push to contact the office and my car is finally released. That is one drawback to this particular hotel. We call them parking Nazis.

So we set out on the second lap of our journey and a very long lap it turns out to be. It begins with a Google Map gaff -you have surely experienced at least one of those. Instructions are to head north on Princess St, which is, as luck would have it, one way, going south. We do what we can and find ourselves crossing bridges we’ve never seen before and confronting signs to west bound 401. We reason that east bound 401 has to be in approximately the same place, but the west bound signs proliferate and get larger. Just a little kick of adrenaline from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Once we have achieved the elusive east bound highway, we feel as if it can only get easier.

The newly renovated ONroute service centres are a plus, clean and up-to-date. You can take your own lunch in and eat it at the tables or make one up from Tim Hortons and Subway or Burger King. I carry in my rice crackers and home-made salad dressing, and manage to scrounge up salad and chicken to go with them. We take turns driving, trading off every hour or so. Some time after lunch, we cross the provincial border into Quebec. I recall that there used to be a lovely stone building in the old style, which served as an information centre. A few of those stones seemed to have been recycled into the service centre that has replaced it. I line up at the counter to ask the same question as everyone else. Google had told me to take exit 29 to new highway 30, but the maps show no bridge there. What gives? The bilingual receptionist has the interesting skill of being able to write on a map upside down and she assures me that there is now a bridge, which will cost me $1.50 to cross. If you have ever had to drive into the city Montreal to cross the St. Lawrence River on the Champlain Bridge, you may understand what a cause for rejoicing that is. As we discover the bridge is really two bridges, the first one low to the water and the second soaring up over the widest part of the river to let the ships pass up the St Lawrence Seaway.

So we skirt Montreal in that low level river land, which is fertile but also being eaten up by industry as time passes. Now all signs are exclusively in French. Sud and nord are simple enough and easy to figure out as south and north. Est and ouest are trickier. I keep reciting “est” as a clue to finding the right exit to #15, which will take us toward Sherbrooke. “Traveaux” is pretty clear, including as it does miles of orange cones and on occasion, actual workers and machines. The sign that orders us to respect the security zone or so it seems, puzzles me, until I realize that I am to pull out into the left lane when I see someone stopped on the shoulder. Then there is an urgent LED sign that absolutely eludes me. I can not catch even one word. We fly by oblivious.

Like all Canadian children, I have studied French, in my case until I was in grade 12. Moreover, I have a brother who lives in Belgium and speaks French most of the time. I have spent long holidays there and in France. I just finished watching Spiral on Netflix, a made-in-France police drama, with  sub-titles, it must be said. I’m more than willing to give it my all, but really! Nothing but French. The stop signs say “Arret”. Even in Europe, they say “Stop”. When I am flying along at 110 km, I could use a little help.

We can just glimpse Mount Royal over the river on the horizon. Then a solitary mountain rises from the plain, a volcanic cone. The country grows more rural. The road begins to rise and curve and finally, we begin to see the soul-soothing mountains of our childhood, the northern-most Appalachians.

By the time, we round the corner into Ayres Cliff, we have been on the road for six hours. I seem to think I know where the Auberge Ayres Cliff is and I am not wrong, although I hadn’t realized it was right in the middle of town, a quiet tourist town of one main street and side streets leading down to Lake Massawippi. I stayed somewhere near here 16 years ago, but it takes me a full 24 hours to realize it was the same place and when I do, I seriously wonder if senility has crept up on me. It is a hard place to forget. It is said to be 200 years old and while that may not be an exact number, it is certainly very old. (www.aubergeayrescliff)

It has a huge patio at the side, full of expensive wicker seating and those outdoor heaters and little canvas-covered nooks, all on wooden decking. It also has seating on the veranda. We check in at the bar where some of the locals are having lively conversations. I’d like to join them, but we have to go up to see our room. Up is the operative word. We are the only guests, but we have booked two adjoining rooms, which are on the third floor. The second flight of stairs is made up of a large number of steps -each one 14 inches high.

The rooms are furnished with a double bed each, with good mattresses and dressers in a VIctorian style. And a  fan. There are no chairs. There certainly is no television set. No mention is made of this but apparently we were warned on the website. I give Georgia the room that has a more or less level floor, it being her birthday, and allot myself the one that slopes so dramatically that it takes all my tai chi balance to walk across it.

And yes, we want to have our bags brought up, a task that falls to the slim bartender/receptionist/ farmer’s daughter and a guy who gets up from dinner with his family to help her.

It is clear that we would not have got much sleep if we had come a few days before, on Labour Day weekend, but summer is over, the temperature has fallen, the tourists have left.

True to their hype, they have an excellent Angus beef fillet mignon. After dinner and the long slog back up the stairs, I get Georgia set up on the internet to watch Netflix: she is well into season 5 of Weeds and well fed with simple food, I fall fast asleep in my Alice in Wonderland room.

to be continued