"Stop scratching." my mother said emphatically. "You're just going to make those bites worse!"
My itchy sister Eilleen and me exchanged looks. Mother's attention meant that serious scratching had to be reserved for after bedtime, when, hidden from her view under the covers, we could claw to our heart's content. "Eaten alive" as the saying went, we'd scratch until we bled.
Nothing in my experience is quite as itchy as a bite delivered by the legendary Manitoba mosquito at Grand Beach. Referred to sarcastically as the provincial bird of Manitoba, there's a statue erected in it's honor nearby in Komarno, Manitoba. Komarno means mosquito in Ukrainian. Mosquitoes are a serious matter up north; the chief entomologist for the city of Winnipeg is called the "Mosquito Wizard" and he's reputedly paid only slightly less than the mayor.
|Photo from roadsideamerican.com of mosquito statue, Komarno, Manitoba.|
Funny when you're a kid, you just accept your surroundings as a fact of life. I actually thought it was fun to sit on our stoop, counting the scabbed-over bites on my legs! Who knew there were places in the world where you could actually walk around in the summer and not be swarmed by mosquitoes? For me, the torture of itching and the joys of warm weather went together hand in hand.
While mosquitoes were the worst of the lot, there was plenty more entomological fun to be had with the sticky-footed fishflies we pulled off the telephone poles and screen doors; and the annual invasion of dragonflies which fed off the fishflies.
This photo of my sister and me, circa 1948 at Grand Beach, Manitoba, Canada, shows us strolling merrily along the shore. Eilleen has her red bathing cap fastened to her swimming suit strap. We were blissfully without sunglasses, sun screen, water wings, insect repellent or too much adult supervision, happily ignorant of the risks of such an unprotected stroll. We even had a break from the daily agony of the Cod Liver Oil dose, the idea being that we were storing up sufficient Vitamin D with all the sunshine. Mom, throwing caution to the wind, let us skip "Beef, Iron and Wine" the other foul tasting dietary supplement we were forced to take because we were too skinny.
Just the girls, we spent two glorious weeks at the rented Walt's cottage. My father stayed in the city and took the "Daddy train" up on the weekends. With no Dad around, proper meals weren't necessary and Mom made our food into terrific fun: fried eggs for dinner; spam sandwiches sitting on the rocks lakeside; toast cooked on the wood stove and exotica such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinner, which remained a special treat of my sisters for her entire life. Even bedtime was fun as mother made us go to sleep when the lamp lighter came around with his tall ladder to light the coal oil street lamps. We loved to watch this and sat by the window waiting for his arrival. Once the inside lights went out, our serious scratching started. In the background, always, there were mosquitoes buzzing.
|Dance Pavilion Grand Beach from gov.mb.ca archive|
There was a famous dance pavilion on the boardwalk, the anchor attraction at the beach; some claim it was the largest dance hall in the commonwealth at one time. I have vague memories of going there in the evening with my Mom and sister on those endless northern summer evenings, the light in June lasting until 10 pm. Mother would dance in the cavernous hall with anybody who asked - I'm sure she enjoyed the male attention and it was all part of the vacation from her normal life. Burned to the ground in 1950, it was never re-built and the beach was never quite the same.
I was deliriously happy on those holidays, maybe as happy as I've ever been. The resort was built by the railway and there was excellent train service all summer. I would have been 5 or so in my first memory of going to the train station. My sister and I held hands tightly, shadowing my mother who was preoccupied with the business of our suitcase and the tickets. In those days we didn't own a car and world exploration was limited to the single block up and down our street. As you can imagine that first train trip was unbelievably exciting, full of new and different experiences. Between the swaying cars, we watched the train tracks speeding by underneath; drank out of triangular folding paper cups from a spigot in the wall; lurched along the aisles peering at the other passengers; nestled into the plush seats and watched the scenery rushing by. Of all my travels since, those one-hour rides may have been the most thrilling of all, infecting me forever with the travel bug.
|Grand Beach today (same view as the photo of the girls above)|