~~ for Lynn S ~~
While staring holes into the sea-foam patterns slipping away in the ferry’s wake, my father’s arm gently draped across my small, skinny shoulders, I felt for the first time a melancholy, a sadness, a yearning that I’ll never forget.
I was eight during that sunny August of 1972, and my family was returning home to the BC mainland after several days at the venerable old Shawnigan Lake Country Club on Vancouver Island.
Consisting of a four-level, seventy-room, double-winged Tudor mansion plus a litter of other buildings set on twenty gently rolling acres on the sandy shore of a small lake, the Club had been the site of happy family vacations since the 1920s.
It was delightfully aged and decorated in classic English style, with polished brass, dark lacquered wood furniture, small stained-glass windows, creaky wooden floors and plush, floral, wall-to-wall carpeting.
There were tennis courts and a small golf course, plus oddities such as an aging, low-ceilinged, donut-shaped indoor pool featuring two wooden bridges and plastic-sheeted windows.
In the upstairs restaurant were a gently-humming ice machine, rickety tables and a candy counter offering your heart’s desires for five and ten cents apiece. I discovered the joy of Shirley Temples there.
Leading towards a couple of boathouses on a T-shaped lakeside dock – where four generations of children learned to swim, sail, and waterski – was a long, white timbered walkway with brightly-coloured plastic lanterns hanging every few metres from archway beams.
I remember warm breezes, a sandy shore, beachside grasses, and the cawing of crows in stately arbutus trees.
Freed from their parents, kids from multiple families would run around in little packs, devouring candy during barefoot adventures.
Sometimes we were naughty. I remember when a few of us young hellions thought it great fun to lay red licorice on the hot rocks in the dry sauna. And occasionally we’d toss ice cubes at the adults, ducking for cover behind patio furniture while they enjoyed post-tennis cocktails, appetizers, or dinner on the large deck overlooking the lake.
Often on those warm, lazy summer evenings, the sunset would bathe the grounds in gold – and it was on just such an enchanting evening, after being scolded for hurling a few ice cubes, that I spied her from the deck.
Suntanned and six, with long blonde hair that trailed her as she chased the older girls along the sandy shore, Lynn immediately captured my innocent, eight-year-old gaze.
Not one to miss an opportunity, I ran to the candy bar, traded a nickel for a Pep-Chew, and bolted down to the beach. Lynn had caught up to the other girls, and the group had paused to poke sticks into the tall lakeside grasses.
I was about 50 feet away from (and closing rapidly in on) the object of my desire when my flip-flops caught on a small rock. Less than a second later I was lying flat on my face in the muck, the Pep-Chew still clutched in my right hand.
A half-dozen girls turned towards me, pointed, and laughed. Then they all ran back to the clubhouse while I slowly stood up, covered from head to foot in brown ooze.
Undaunted, I ran back after them, eventually catching up back on the big deck where, in front of about about a dozen amused adults, I presented Lynn with a dripping wet chocolate bar.
At that point I realized that in addition to long blond hair, Lynn had beautiful blue eyes… and they met mine for about five seconds while I just stood there, my mouth slightly open, frozen with fear.
She turned the bar over in her little hands a couple of times, tearing open the wrapper.
“Lynn, do you have anything to say to Paul?”, her Mom said. “Thank you Paul for the chocolate bar”, Lynn quickly replied. My body relaxed and I remember thinking that prior to that point, she probably hadn’t even noticed me.
And then, while the adults beamed at this sweet little display of childhood romance, Lynn and I devoured the chocolate bar.
Alas, the next morning my family would be leaving to return home. But Lynn and I made good use of our precious time together. We walked and talked about “important” things, we held hands (a first for me, besides my Mom and sister) and – naturally – my parents engaged a little more closely with hers.
Just before my Dad shepherded his three kids into our big old “wood”-sided station wagon, Lynn said “Paul, I want you to come to our room.” So I followed her there where, leaning into it with both hands, she closed the old wooden door.
For the first time, we were alone in a very quiet room.
“I have a present for you. When you are back at home and you miss me, you can look at this.”
She handed me a tiny red plastic sword, the kind you use for spearing pieces of fruit in cocktails.
“And I have something else for you.”
Then she stepped towards me, took my head in her hands, and kissed me on the lips for about two terrifying seconds. Our lips met rather awkwardly, but I remember that she smelled nice.
I was stunned. My heart skipped a beat, and I stumbled my words, eventually muttering “Wow… uh… thanks!”
Then she said “Let’s hug for a minute.” And we lightly embraced while I tried to figure out what on Earth had just happened.
About 15 minutes later we left the Club.
It was a long, lonely ferry ride back to Vancouver. I remember standing at the back of the ship, gazing at the wake and feeling very sad.
And I treasured that little red plastic sword for a long, long time.
Almost 20 years later my wife and I – newly married in June of 1990 – were traveling through the Shawnigan Lake area and I decided to show her the site of many of my most wonderful childhood memories.
When we arrived at the property, we recognized nothing. The mansion, the golf course, the tennis courts, the swimming pool, the docks – everything was gone. Sadly, in the 1980s the Club had been sold to an overseas-based developer who promptly demolished all the buildings, levelled the property, removed most of the old arbutus trees and built retirement condos.
But I was determined to take my beloved on a walk down memory lane, so I didn’t let my shock interfere with my storytelling of colourful characters, multi-family parties, shenanigans and tribal adventures as we strolled the newly-seeded lawns.
And silently (out of respect for my new bride), searching in vain for a sense of déja vu, I recalled that sweet August afternoon when Lynn and I shared our very first kiss.