It's funny when you haven't been back to a place in quite some time. You really don't know what to expect upon your return. Will it have changed in your absence? Will it seem smaller than when you were a kid? Will it even be the same place you remember? I was flooded with these questions, along with some mixed feelings about going back to that one place I didn't think I'd ever be able to get back to.
My brother and I spent a lot of time growing up in the summers at the cottage that belonged to my buddy Dunner's family. We'd go up for a week at a time, every summer, and it was the same blissful routine every time. Our dads would party their faces off every night (Dunner's dad had been my dad's best man in my parents' wedding), and in the mornings, all of the boys would pile into the van and head into the Town of Kearney to return the empties (all 48 of them), and purchase another round of liquid provisions for that night's festivities (another 48 cold ones). We'd buy a couple bags of ice, and then Dunner, my brother and I would hit up the town snack bar for an order of fries and a single can of Pepsi (of the 280 ml variety), which we'd slug back with three straws, our dad's timing us and pretending that this little three-way-split was a competition and not just a means of saving a $1.50 for two more drinks.
As simple as it sounds, those weeks spent up at the Dunn's family cottage were the only vacation we ever needed in those early years. And those hours spent in town, hanging around the snack bar and the beer store with our dads, were the undisputed highlights of our summer, and I wouldn't have traded them for all of the Disneyland vacations in the world.
When you're a kid, you don't know any better, and you just assume that that place and those times will always be there. But when we were twelve or thirteen years old, Dunner's grandmother sold the cottage, Dunner's parents split up, and I hadn't been back to Kearney since.
This weekend, we were up at the Clearview Cottages for my brother's, my buddy B*Rad's, and my buddy Dooner's birthday bash. It was just about the exact kind of gong show you would expect, with the usual amounts of debauchery, funneling, and bonfire ballyhoo. But the Clearview Cottages are only a hop skip and a jump from Kearney, so early Saturday morning, Ronnie, Dunner and I, along with Little Buddy for good measure, decided to take a trip down memory lane.
I was a little apprehensive on the drive over, and I remember asking Dunner if he thought the place would have changed. It was my ultimate nightmare to think that this little town of 700 people - an outpost for Algonquin Park - could have grown in the past 15 years the way other Ontario towns had. If there was a Wal-Mart or a Tim Horton's, I was pretty sure I was going to drown myself in the Magnetawan River.
It was with relief and joy then, that I saw as we rolled into town that virtually nothing had changed. All of the same stores were there, and even though some of the names had changed (the Kearney Snack Bar was now the Kearney Harbour Bistro), the place still felt the same. The only discernable differencew were the fact that they were building a row of townhouse timeshares along one end of the lake (to the universal chagrin of everyone in town), and that the retaining wall on the main street corner that used to be adorned with the words: PINK FLOYD - THE WALL ; was no longer in existence. For fifteen year's worth of progress, that ain't bad.
Dunner, Ronnie and I went into the snack bar and ordered one can of pop, three straws. We sat outside at the same picnic table we'd sat at as kids, and drank the soda in unisyn as Little Buddy timed us. I won't lie to you: it was weird. And it was uncomfortable... And the high school kids eating at the snack bar thought we were gay and on crack (when I explained our reasons; a long overdue trip down memory lane; they invited us to a big house party later that night). But it was good for a laugh.
Just like our dads had done years before, we walked over to the beer store and stocked up for the night's festivities. I bought a couple of bags of ice at the General Store, and we drove back out of town the same way we'd come in.
I'm not sure what the point of this post is, but I guess it's good to know that in a world that seems to be changing so fast and so often, it's good to know that sometimes you can go back to a place where things have managed to stay the same, and because of it, you can feel like a kid all over again, even if only for a brief, self-conscious, incredibly hungover moment.
The first thing I ever wrote was based on a weekend that never happened at The Kearney Regatta. I was 16 years old when I wrote it. You can read it HERE.
UPDATE: Photographic evidence found of the 3 Straws / 1 Can incident!