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Sabbatical, 2004
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Diary of an Inheritance, continued...

(This is the fourth segment of a diary recording the two week vacation in July 2001, when Heather and I entered into my inheritance – accepting, and beginning to transform, a dilapidated and mouse-infested shack, deep in the Québec woods.)

Day 9

Sunday, July 15, 2001

We were late for church because of the dog.  And because of a confusion of boats.

I must say, though, we are sleeping better.  Feeling quite well rested I got up this morning and dressed in church-appropriate stuff.  Ross had taken his boat when he went to his cottage at the end last night’s Scrabble game, so I figured I would walk over to Tim’s cottage and use one of the two Fisher-Price boats.

But they were not there.  Diana and their guests had gone into Ottawa the night before, and had required both little boats to cross the lake.  Staying overnight in Ottawa, they hadn’t thought there would be any problem leaving both boats at the landing until their return.

So I set out down the lakeshore path to Ross’, to see if my long-suffering brother-in-law would lend us a boat with which to go to church.

Half way there, I heard a rush of canine feet on the trail behind me, and then Socrates passed me, and proceeded to lead me to my destination – sniffing at every log and stump as if this were his daily routine.

However, when Ross agreed to lend his boat, and I got in, Socrates said “No boats for me!” and bolted into the forest.

All the way back to our dock to pick up Heather, I could see him running along the shore, every now and then stopping to look out at me and whimper.

“That’s good,” I thought, “He’ll be back at the cabin, and we can lock him up for the duration of our time in church!”

But it was not to be.  Once ashore I looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

What should we do, leave him, and hope he wouldn’t stray far?

We decided to take the chance, and pushed off for the parking lot landing.  With luck we could arrive at church at least during the opening hymn.

But as we neared the centre of the lake Socrates appeared on my brother’s dock, and set up a loud and continuous howl.

Okay, we’ll go over there, and take him with us to church.

No such luck.  As we got to Tim’s dock, he kept up the noise, but backed into the bush.  I wasn’t about to have a rough and tumble chase through the woods in my non-cottage clothes trying to catch a howling dog.

Tim came down to the water just then, and kindly offered to lead the dog back to our cabin and shut him in.  We thanked him, turned the boat around, and headed off.

We could still hear the mournful howl as we got into our car at the parking lot.Holy Trinity Church, Hawkesbury, Ontario And we arrived at Holy Trinity halfway through the sermon.

The folks at Holy Trinity have decided to do some renovating of their exquisite stone church, so worship today was held in the hall.  It was nice to see the room quite full, but in the midst of the sermon, four or five people had to get up, find some more stacking chairs, and squeeze us in.  Our arrival was thus quite a commotion.  Thank you Socrates.

No dawdling in town after church today!  We picked up some bottled water, a Globe & Mail, got some beer from a roadside “depanneur” (the Québec word for “convenience store”) and headed back to the lake and the roof.

We found Socrates safely in the cabin, and Ross on the roof, doing the final prep before starting to install the roofing.

I quickly changed and joined him.  First the aluminum eaves’ edging went on, then the entire roof was covered with “ice and water shield,” over which we nailed down a complete covering of tar paper.

The work was steady, and exacting, but most satisfying.  Ross was quick, tireless, and accurate.  Timothy joined us, and we ended the afternoon with three hammers driving home the roofing nails.

We are now rain-proof.  No shingles are on as yet, but if it should rain we will be dry.

Heather prepared a delicious supper, which we workers wolfed down, then Ross went home, his annual vacation at an end.  I don’t know what I would have done without this most excellent brother-in-law.

Shingles won’t be put on tomorrow, because another trip to Montreal has been planned – we’re to buy a fridge, pick up some lighting from IKEA, and return some of last week’s purchases which aren’t suitable.

There’s a fire in the stove, effective roofing over our heads, and it isn’t raining.  Bed will be very good tonight.

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Day 10

Monday, July 16, 2001

I didn’t go to Montreal.

The fridge we were to get is small enough to fit in the back of our car, but not if three people go to Montreal.  Diana wanted to go, and the weather was so beautiful I thought I should stay at the lake and begin the roof.

However, I had bought the wrong size of roofing nails (they were too long – poking through to the inside ceiling when we tacked down the tar paper), so by borrowing Tim and Diana’s car, I thought I could to run quickly into Grenville and Hawkesbury, get the nails and do one or two other errands, then start on the roof.

If you know Tim, you might be surprised to know that he has a car.  In Winnipeg he only drives bicycles and an ancient “moped.”  However, in the late 1980s, as Mom’s health and wits began to fail her, she began to look to Tim to do some of the cottage driving when they were both up here together.  Although he had always vilified cars as expensive and polluting devices, Tim knew that Mom needed this help, so in his 40s he got a driver’s licence and began to drive Mom’s little 1983 Nissan on cottage errands.

Eventually Mom signed the vehicle over to him, and the great cyclist became a reluctant car owner.  However, this vehicle has never seen Tim’s home in Winnipeg.  It is kept in Quebec, stored at a nearby farm, and driven only in July and August.

It is a 1983 vehicle, nearly twenty years old.

Tim very willingly let me borrow it, only asking in return that I run it through a car wash for him.  So I rowed across the lake to set out on my few brief errands.

On the first try, the motor barely turned over, and didn’t start.  A couple more attempts, however, and it did.

On the local roads, however, the car swayed so much I thought a wheel was loose, so I stopped and found that there was almost no air in one of the tires.

That was fixed after I managed to limp to a highway gas station.

I was at Canadian Tire, having finished my second errand, when the car refused to start altogether.

Canadian Tire is a reasonably good place to have a car break down.  Help is close at hand.  However, the staff had to squeeze me into their busy schedule, and it was 45 minutes before they could look at it, and declare the battery defunct.

Tim has a phone at his cottage, so I called him, and learned that the battery was at least 10 years old, maybe older, so he agreed that I should have a new one put in, and he would repay me.

After another hour, I was able to resume my errands, and return to the cottage.

It was after four p.m.  I was hot, and tired, and grumpy, and didn’t feel like going up on the roof, so I sat with Tim for a while on our great granite sitting rock, enjoying a beer.  Heather and Diana phoned to say they were staying in Montreal for dinner at Ross and Barbara’s, so I made myself some food, and spent the evening with a good book.

Waiting to have Tim’s car repaired wasn’t the only reason my “brief errands” took all day.  Just before leaving, another cottager, Kenny Hodge, whom I have known since the early 1950s, called me over just before I set out.  He’s a retired technical school teacher, talented and knowledgeable about all things to do with buildings and repairs, and has taken an interest in our restoration of Mom’s old cottage.  He had come over briefly on Sunday evening to say hello, and was almost immediately under the house examining the defunct water system for me.

This morning he and his wife invited me in for a coffee, and we had an “after all these years” visit, plus some very helpful technical conversation about plumbing, telephones, and general tips about the way things work.  Before long we had taken his boat back to my cottage, and were dismantling the water system.  We almost got it working.  It will need to be bolted down properly, and some new pipe fitted, but it won’t have to be replaced.

But I was very much delayed in starting those “brief errands” which ended up being a car-repair mission.

So no roof was done today.

Heather has returned with a fridge (it has been left in the car until I can bring it over in the boat tomorrow), new cutlery, some bedroom reading lamps, new pillows, some scotch, and a book I had been wanting to read.  Even before these treasures were unpacked, I had installed the lamps, and the end of our day will be spent reading in bed.

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Day 11

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Well, the final layer of roofing is now well underway!

No early starts in this cottage, however.  We had read in bed until after 1 a.m., so breakfast didn’t start until 8:30, and then there was the matter of getting the delightfully tiny, efficient new fridge over the lake.

But by 11:00 a.m. I was on the roof.
  1. Open the packets of shingles, and fling a handful at a time up onto the roof (sure beats trying to heist fiercely heavy packets up the ladder!)
  2. Carry hammer, nails, measuring tape, tar, shingle cutter up the ladder;
  3. Sweep the dirt, twigs and leaves off the tar paper (amazing what a forest can deposit on a clean roof overnight!)
  4. Put tar around the opening where the hydro pole comes through the roof;
  5. Patch a few minor rips and abrasions in the tar paper.
  6. Seal down and double rainproof the lower lip of the roof with tar;
  7. Read instructions on the shingle package (amazingly detailed!)
  8. Measure, cut, lay out the first course.
  9. Measure again;
  10. Place the first shingle, and nail it down.  Voila! The final layer has begun.

I laboured away, slowly, painstakingly, for several hours.  At first much of the work was in the shade of the forest, but as the sun rose higher, the patch of roof on which I was working began to grow really hot.  And I was hungry.  But I wanted to finish a corner, because once those shingles were set in place, the rest would go quickly.  So I toiled on, not even going down the ladder to get a hat, or sunscreen for my exposed skin.

At about 3:00 p.m., just as I finished what I set out to do, I heard a boat pull up at the dock.  Looking down from the roof, I saw Kenny Hodge, in a huge sun hat, unloading a big toolbox on to the dock.

“I’ve come to help you put on your roof!” he said.

“Ken, thank you so much!  But, really, please don’t trouble yourself.”

“No problem!  I’d like to do it.  Anyway, when I shook your hand yesterday, I said to myself, ‘These are the hands of someone who is not used to physical labour.  He’s going to need all the help he can get!’  So, let’s get going!  We’ll have the whole thing done by evening.”

For me, this was a horrible moment.  Kenny is very knowledgeable, and an offer like this is wonderfully generous, but I felt angry – as if my roofing triumph was being snatched away!

Then it got worse.

Kenny rounded the corner behind the house, popped up the ladder, took one look at my perfect handiwork, and pronounced,

“Can’t have that!  Too much overhang.  Gotta take it all down.  Won’t take a minute,”

...and out came his crowbar.

Well, I stalled, and I talked – but before long he had me convinced and I capitulated.  We both ripped my work apart and started fresh.  The roof is better for it.

We worked for three hours, and Tim joined us and hammered away as well for an hour or more, and great progress was made.

I think tomorrow it will be done.

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Continued.... click here for next segment.