This year at the family cottage furnished by earlier generations we have found considerable satisfaction in getting rid of old foam pads and installing actual innerspring mattresses on guest beds. We have replaced rickety discolored plastic deck chairs with sleek and comfortable silver folding ones. But it was another story with a number of our camp staples.
Take towels. On a lake in Ontario, a heavy beach towel is not a good swimming towel. You want something thin enough to dry fast. We “swim” lots of times a day here, sort of the way Scandinavians regularly dive into cold water after a sauna. It’s the most refreshing feeling in the world. We don’t spend hours at it, but we want to grab a thin towel and use it repeatedly. Try looking for a thin towel these days. Modern towels just are not made that way. It takes an old towel. Towel robes are the same. They are lovely and luxuriant these days, heavy and thick. What I need here is a robe that dries quickly between swims. I need a robe that I can hang along the cottage wall, one short enough not to drag on the ground. So I use my mother’s old towel robe, holes and all, and a sturdy old thin towel.
Then there is the kitchen. Have you tried to buy a thin aluminum kettle these days? We have a gorgeous new thick kettle here, but it doesn’t get much use. We need a kettle not only for cooking but for boiling a lot of water, which without electricity is how we purify it. It’s pristine Georgian Bay water, yes, but you never know when the last otter swam by the intake hose. So, we boil. But that nice thick new kettle will not hold a gallon or two of water. And what it does hold won’t boil anytime soon. So we still use the kettle that was here in ’57 when my parents bought the camp. The entire outside of the kettle is black, I guess because it hung directly over a fire at some point, but we keep the inside clean as a whistle. You can boil corn in it, or make spaghetti sauce for a big crew, or boil water. It’s nice old aluminum, both sturdy and thin. So it’s ready in time for dinner. Then there is the thin wooden spoon I still use. My grandmother and mother made homemade bread with it too. New wooden spoons come thick and clunky, seemingly more for looks than use. So I love using the old one. It makes me wonder how seniors like me can stop worrying about externals and focus on using the thin sturdy parts of ourselves.
Outboard motors are bigger these days too. Nothing thin about them—nor about the bill when you hit a rock with one, as I did recently. One comment I heard made it almost worth it. “A man doesn’t know what trouble is, until he gets himself a woman or an outboard motor,” remarked an old-timer. Admittedly, at our camp in lovely Georgian Bay, neither men nor women really know much trouble. But I miss the days when I could repair our old 10 horsepower motor myself, just by changing the thin little sheer pin.