Upon seeing the farm after so many years the first words out of my mouth were, “I remember it being much bigger!”
“You were much smaller when you spent childhood summers here”, was my husband’s response.
Yes, I had been smaller but there were certainly changes. The perimeter of the property has been slashed. The trans-Canada highway now cuts through the apple orchard behind the house. That night I watched the lights of the big transport trucks where once there were only fireflies lighting up the darkness. The barn is gone, its aged wood sold off as reclaimed wood for trendy furniture. The big vegetable garden is gone, too. No one has time anymore to preserve vegetables. The trees and bushes along the brook are thickly overgrown. There is no sign of the headstones in what was a small family cemetery.
The lilac tree, however, still stands as it has for decades. Beside it now is a large sign: La Gite des Lilas, Caplan, Quebec. It was at this B&B that I had made reservations for two nights.
My grandfather, George Hudson Willett, bought the farm in 1900 following his return from the Klondike Gold Rush. My grandmother, Isabella Maria Gilker, came here as a bride in 1901. Seven children were born and raised in the house, the youngest being my mother. This was where my grandmother died in 1933 when my mother was only fifteen.
My grandfather raised pigs and chickens along with beef and dairy cattle. His eldest son Keith became a butcher, slaughtering the animals and those of their neighbours. Father and son worked together until my grandfather’s death in 1961.
Various siblings left their city homes each summer to return to the farm with their families. The cousins spent sun-filled days playing in the barn, riding the hay wagon, catching brook trout, picking big juicy strawberries, and splashing in the jelly-fish infested waters of the Bay de Chaleur.
Little has changed inside today’s B&B. The four guest rooms were once the family bedrooms. A second bathroom has been added. The original bathroom (missing the large “footed” tub), the fifth bedroom, and a section of the hallway has been closed off to form a small suite. Vintage furniture and quilts evoke the end of 19th century when the house was first built. The tilting hardwood floors are testament to the two hundred years the house has stood overlooking the bay.
The upstairs was once warmed, through grates in the floor, by a huge wood stove in the kitchen. My cousins and I would huddle by these openings straining our ears to hear the adults’ conversation long after we should have been in bed. Today the house is heated by electricity and all the rooms are comfortably warm. Guests are free to watch television with the owners in the “parlor” and are served breakfast in the dining room.
The kitchen has undergone the most change. Gone is the big wood stove. Gone are the chairs and the long table where my aunt would serve a full noon meal to any number of farm hands. Gone are the two cots where my uncle and grandfather napped before returning to the fields. Gone is summer kitchen off to the side where each day the milk was separated from the cream. The summer kitchen is now the owners’ bedroom.
As I drifted to sleep each night in a bedroom where I had once slept as a child, memories emerged, memories all but forgotten. Layers of summers unfold in my mind to be enjoyed once again in the telling.
My husband was an appreciative listener.
Today my own grandchildren are collecting summer memories at a lake in the Laurentions. I had a farm, they have a cottage, but both embody the enduring history of family.