By Bonnie Baxter – Thunder Bay, Ont.
It was more than just a mere bundle of boards fastened together to form a wooden patio. Our cottage deck was not only an extension of the cottage, but also of our lives. To any passerby, it may have seemed quite ordinary. With its cedar-stained, weather-worn timber, it emerged out about 20-feet to engulf a tree.
The sturdy railing that bordered it on three sides also served as a resting place for curious squirrels and old coffee cups. It was pleasantly shaded by the large tree it surrounded and two small pines on each side. This connection gave it qualities of both nature and society.
In the faint sunny front corner, there was a round patio table covered with bright yellow mactac and often patterned by fallen acorns and old leaves. Several lawn chairs with frayed straps were folded together waiting for their company. A little wind chime hung over an outside window and tinkled in the gentle breeze.
On the opposite side of the deck stood a little green, pot-shaped barbecue, supported by three tiny legs and covered with a plastic jacket. Its clothing made it appear seldom used, however the frequent smell of sizzling steaks and charbroiled hamburgers made its usage known. I can still picture the glowing auburn coals that tenderly browned the marshmallows after dinner.
‘Welcome mat to others’
The deck had been built by my mother. Like everything she created, it possessed a special touch of warmth. It was an extension of our home and served as a large welcome mat to others, however, most of the time it was our special place.
I remember waking on fresh August mornings to the nutty aroma of freshly perked coffee. Once out of bed, I would be greeted with a tender morning hug from my mother. As usual, she had already been up for some time, puttering about or reading out on the deck.
Gathering the cream and sugar set, a few spoons, and our two favourite cups, we would escape onto our wooden haven. I would wipe off the morning dew and fallen pine needles that had accumulated overnight and expose the table’s bright yellow top. Mother unfolded two nylon thrones.
It was like a fancy French cafe all to our own, just mother and myself sharing time together that I so seldom knew. The tingling of our spoons, the squirrels chattering, and chirping of the birds all donated a pleasant harmony to echo our conversation. Soon the sun would emerge like a giant chandelier and light our tables. Its golden rays would reflect through the light blonde locks of my mother’s hair and bring out her fine delicate features.
I considered our deck to be part of the wilderness as well as part of the cottage. Its purpose was partly intended and known, but more often, it became a place to come into touch with the truthfulness of living.
Tears of laughter
An old screen door provided the passageway between our inner thoughts and the exterior world. No matter how softly one closed it, it would shut with a startling bang, asserting the separation.
In the late afternoon, cold wine coolers, slices of cheese, cold cuts, crunchy dill pickles, and fresh rye bread transformed the morning cafe into a European deli. It was now a time for relaxing and a place for tired feet.
My aunt and uncle, who were like parents to me, also enjoyed this company. In the kitchen, my aunt and I would often prepare the food. Mother relaxed and read the daily paper. Once out on the deck, our afternoon ritual would begin.
We would chat about most everything, nothing in specific, but in any case we usually ended up in tears of laughter. The declining sun would freckle with clouds and expose itself only in frequent episodes. A breeze still breathed through the chimes and teased the delicate copper mobiles.
Conversation would continue right down to the last uneaten pickle. Then it would be time to go in. Chased by the evening’s chill, we would hustle to clear the table and hurry inside to light a fire and cuddle up for a cozy evening. The old screen door would slam behind us and latched into place until the arrival of a new day.