It’s late on a weekday night in winter, that is not winter enough, in a country now far removed. The late night silence disturbed only by the tick tock of The Grandfather Clock, the heart of a home past, a reminder of a memories far away.
I write, looking at some of the last scenic photos taken around my family’s former holiday home, the one constant in my life that I called home through all my travels. My parents sold it about three years ago and I still grieve from it’s loss.
The Chalet in l’Estérel, Quebec is the foundation for many of my fondest memories. The home was constructed by my parents shortly after I was born. A year round family retreat: spring, summer, autumn, and my favourite – winter. It was beautiful and peaceful no matter the season or weather. It was home.
Winter at Xmas time was the highlight of my year, when there would be piles of snow all around, the smell of wood smoke from a large and warm hearth intermixed with those coming from a kitchen that demonstrated all the skill and love my mum could show. My brother and I would spend hours tobogganing down the hill immediately in front the house, often threatening to careen into the family car parked below. If it weren’t for the road and the house opposite us, we could have tobogganed all the way down to the frozen lake.
After passing the day outside in the snow, the pair of us would enter with our rosy cheeks, hang our wet clothes near the fire my dad had prepared, and warm ourselves. Later after our hot baths and in our pjs, David and I would play with our toy cars in front of the fire or watch my mum, Jovette, my dad, Peter, and my aunt, Mado, play scrabble or cribbage.
Often David and I would be awake very early, before our parents. We would sit in front on the huge bay window overlooking Lac Masson (near by Ste. Marguerite and surroundings), beside the heat vents, wrapped in wool blankets and play with our Lego collection and/or other toys.
Sometimes, he and I would take all the (old) sofa cushions, pillows, and wool blankets and make a snug little fort we could sit in. Mum would often have Pillsbury raspberry or blueberry turnover mix at hand, which I’d prepare for David and myself. My parents and aunt would rise and sit in the master bedroom having their breakfast of coffee and buttered raisin toast, watch the morning news, and talk. No rush to the day.
When we weren’t tobogganing or digging tunnels through frozen mounds of ploughed snow, we were out skiing, often in -20C weather: Yvan Coutu, Chantecler, Mont Gabriel (hotel), Grey Rocks, Mont Tremblant. My father started teaching me snow-plough turns when I was three on what seamed a gigantic slope at Yvan Coutu (long since closed and reduced to tooth picks). Later when I was older and more confident, he’d take me on my first T-bar and eventually my first chair lift. David and I loved to ski.
There would be walks to Hôtel L’Estérel only about two kilometres away, to collect the post. David and I would climb up and down some of the large rocks or boulders in summer as we made our way. Sometimes, when mum needed a break, Dad would take us for lunch in the hotel’s cafeteria: hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, salt & vinegar French fries, comfort food that kids love. When we were older, we’d go to the hotel to play pool, pinball, and video games. Dad would watch mostly or read the paper, while David and I amused ourselves.
Early spring, typically around Easter, was just another chance to ski some more. On sunny occasions my mother would prepare a picnic on the roof of the house. With all the snow piled high from clearing the roof, one could easily climb up onto it. (David and I even tobogganed off it.) Mum would place a thick woolly rug down in the sun where my brother, myself, dad, mum, and my aunt who regularly stayed with us would all sit. We’d munch on bread, cheese, hot meat pie, and such. Just a simple lunch out in the cool spring air, despite the fact that there was still about a metre of snow on the ground, in April (or May even).
Summers were hot and humid. The forest around the Chalet lush and green; full of pine, spruce, birch, oak, ferns, and assorted flowers I never learned the names of. I’d sometimes wander in and explore, day dreaming of some adventure. There were some wild raspberry bushes on one side of the house I’d collect for mum. David and I would often attend summer camp and learn to swim in the cold fresh water lake. Outings to the Alpine Inn where locals could part take of the pool and restaurant. Mum and my aunt would lounge in the sun, while the pair of us would swim, learn to play pool and mini golf. In winter the Alpine Inn offered cross-country ski trails over their golf course and surrounding woods.
And then there were the thunderstorms; long torrential, loud, and dramatic, complete with regular power cuts. I remember the back patio door would often be open and we could hear the thrum of the rain fall on the trees, fallen leaves, patio, and roof. The occasional flash and clap of thunder were both blinding and deafening. As a child it used to scare me sometimes, but later I found it comforting. It was just part of the tradition that was l’Estérel.
The drive up the Autoroute des Laurentides from Montreal in the autumn would be a collage of yellows, oranges, and reds spread over the hills; the change of seasons in clear evidence and the promise of a winter once more. During and shortly after university, I’d drive up for a regular Judo tournament I’d attend in October and stay at the Chalet with my team mates.
Once again in winter, when I’d be with the family for Xmas, my parents would order cords of wood for the fireplace. It would be delivered and dumped in the snow at the base of the stairs. Each day for exercise in the morning, I’d run up and down in heavy snow boots for about 20 minutes, carrying a log in each hand to the wood pile by the patio in the back until there was no more pile at the base of the stairs.
Or if there was enough snow piled high on the roof, I’d climb up and spend about an hour each day until done, cleaning off the snow. How I’d sweat underneath my layers of clothing walking up and down the slope of the roof. What might be a chore for others, was fun exercise for me and way to enjoy the scenery around our holiday home. One could see all around the lake and homes decorated in coloured lights. I’d listen to the silence of the surrounding country side; beyond my breath that would form frost on my eye brows and hair.
So many memories. Now it belongs to another family, from Avignon, France I was told. I hope for their family it brings as many fond memories as it did for mine.
All that I have now are photos, several paintings, and The Grandfather Clock given to me by my parents, that ticks away time past and the distance memories.