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So I took up Garret’s offer. On a sunny Friday right after work, with my SUV packed, I drove out of Toronto heading east, then north along Regional Highway 62 with lush forest on both sides. The fishing gear I borrowed from my cousin was in the back along with a small suitcase, rubber boots, a raincoat and other items I thought might come in handy. After three hours of driving I was nearing my destination. I turned onto a tertiary highway, then up a gravel road for another thirty minutes.
This track was narrow and rough. It was a slow journey. My GPS announced I was in the middle of the woods where no road existed. I would never have found it if not for the map Garret had drawn for me. Thankfully I met no vehicles coming in the opposite direction. There were no homes along the way. The sun was still up and I had half a tank of gas so I wasn’t too concerned. Still I was happy to see the faded “Fitzpatrick Family” sign nailed to a post indicating I had reached my goal.
I parked near three other SUVs. The red Land Rover next to my vehicle looked new.
Garret ran out to greet me. “Hey Pete, glad you made it.” An overweight German Sheppard, its snout gray with age, followed behind him.
The warm welcome seemed odd to me. It was as if we had not seen each other in years, yet only a few hours earlier we had been sitting in the same office. Perhaps it was the country air affecting him. He shook my hand enthusiastically then put his arm around my shoulder. At work Garret always wore well-tailored navy or black suits. He seemed a different man standing next to a sugar maple. He was wearing jeans, a John Deere baseball cap and a long-sleeved plaid shirt. I hardly recognized him. He mistook my confusion for fear.
“Don’t worry, it’s been years since a black bear set foot around here. Come up to the cottage and I’ll introduce you.”
The rambling two-storey house was a project that had been built over generations. There were two distinct additions to the first structure both much larger than the original. The place was more the size of a small hotel than a backwoods cottage. Some two hundred yards from the front steps was the lake, blue and serene, surrounded by trees. The shore was fashioned from sand and pebbles. Canoes and kayaks were propped against a large shed. A golden eagle circled above the water. I felt I’d stepped into a picture postcard.
Two women came down the steps.
“This is my mother, Mable, and my sister Trudy,” Garret said. “Meet Pete.”
Trudy had brown hair cut short, blue eyes and high cheekbones. She appeared lean and fit. She was very attractive. It was hard for me not to stare.
The two women shook my hand. I was led to the entrance and shown the dining room where a feast was waiting along with other members of the family.
“This is Pete everyone,” Mable said. She began listing off the names of the people standing or sitting around the table. Garret’s father, Bill, came over. He tapped my arm while the others only nodded hello. A small girl running around the oak paneled room appeared to belong to Garret’s brother Stewart and his wife. The child ignored me. Garret’s wife and twin teenage sons were also there. Altogether there were, by my counting, a total of eleven people including me. But there was no shortage of food.
“Sit, sit over there Pete,” Garret said. “Between Stewart and Trudy. That way you’ll be near the pickles.”
The little girl giggled.
Being placed next to Garret’s pretty sister got my mind doing loops. Could it be I’m supposed to be fishing for Trudy? Perhaps I was to be the catch? Would Garret do that, set me up like that? The idea seemed too outlandish to take seriously so I let it slip.
It was a large meal. The table groaned with food. A mountain of fresh fish, potatoes, salad, and a large chocolate cake was washed down with beer and soda pop.
I expected to be questioned about my background, where I was raised, where I went to school and such. But everyone was polite. The talk hovered around baseball, the weather and the book of poetry Bill just had published.
“You know, Dad has made a mark on the cultural life of this family. He’s a published author.”
“No, please don’t ask me to recite any of those poems Stewart.” Bill’s face reddened. “You know you could always buy the book.”
The remark was followed by laughter all around.
“More cake, Pete?” Trudy said.