Thursday, January 10, 2013

Repost:Sepia Saturday 159 - On Itchiness


For the "best of Sepia Saturday" compilation celebrating the 200th post I'm re-posting my memories of happy days spent at Grand Beach, Manitoba, Canada. 

  
"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.
The only relief remedy we had in those days was a paste made of baking soda and water then slathered over the bites. I can remember the odd feeling of the paste as it dried. It was astringent and probably served to divert our attention momentarily from the itch to the puckering.

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.


Normal routine was forgotten on these holidays as we spent hours paddling around in the water, building sand castles, playing with a beach ball and burying anyone who would allow us the honor. At lunch we'd sometimes get chips in a paper bag, soaked with vinegar and liberally dosed with salt. No one cared about greasy fingers or faces - we'd run into the water (no two hour wait) and splash it all off.

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.


Some itches are easier to scratch than others. After college, I moved out of the insect cloud to mosquito-free California. No more sitting around counting bites! Now my metaphorical "itchy"footed condition is the one I've dedicated my lifetime trying to alleviate. The only temporary relief I've found so far is the sound of those beautiful words, music to my ears, "Let's Go!".
Grand Beach today (same view as the photo of the girls above)



For more beach stories, perhaps less irritating, scratch your way over to Sepia Saturday



















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32 comments:

  1. A masterpiece! Every detail a masterpiece. I remember summers full of mosquito bites too -- badges of honor.

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  2. During my hippie phase I had a temporary camp out near Lake Louise, B.C. Skeeters the sides of hummingbirds would invade the teepee and mine our appendages like turkey basters. I hear Minnesota is bad but I don't think anything could be worse than Banff.

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  3. I enjoyed reading this whole piece, which seemed like a great story. I tend to blog like a newspaper, mainly commenting on the photos...but you wove yours into the story.

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  4. A delightful story conjuring up great images.

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  5. What delightful memories you have given us the privilege of sharing. That beach is much more crowded today.
    We plan our trips over to Michigan each year to try and avoid the mosquito season as they always seem to have an adverse effect on my wife. I've had to wear a beekeepers outfit on more than one occasion when cutting the grass.

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  6. If someone would have asked me whether I would be able to write a story about itchiness, I would have said no. But now I see it is possible! And how! Great post, thanks.

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  7. I remember mosquito bites and beaches, but not together. When I was young, the bites were treated with calamine lotion. Later, they were just ignored.

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  8. This is such a well written piece Helen - full of little details of memories and anecdotes. I did enjoy it. We get mosquitoes here in Lanzarote, but having said that I haven't seen one all year. In fact I've had worse bites in England than I have here. Mind you if I saw one the size of that one in your first picture I'd seriously think of hiding!

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  9. I love this post times a million. I always remember Grandma putting baking soda on my bug bites, and now I know exactly why she did it. Thank you for writing it all out.

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  10. I love love love these posts! The memories, the insights. Your thoughts. I love that you write these so I can save them and pass them down to the kids and grandkids! Thank you so much for sharing these snippets of the past.

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  11. I love love love these posts! The memories, the insights. Your thoughts. I love that you write these so I can save them and pass them down to the kids and grandkids! Thank you so much for sharing these snippets of the past.

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    Replies
    1. I don't know why I'm unknown!

      (Kim)

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  12. Wonderful memories of your happy childhood. Enjoyed it very much. Similar to mine without mosquitoes. Not spoilt but happy with lots of freedom. In comparison to the Helicopter mums today; (Mothers always hovering like a H.over their children.)

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  13. This was such a delight to read. Your memories of your childhood experiences at Grand Beach are like a magic carpet, taking us back in time. Beautifully written - thank you.

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  14. Helen, what wonderful stories! I can just see you two on the porch, in the water, eating all of that fun food. We have mosquito in Oregon, but nothing like you are describing. When you mentioned the baking soda past, it brought back memories of stepping on bees and putting that concoction on the sting, after removing the stinger. At least the bees gave their life and make us honey. Mosquito are just no darn good.

    Too bad that they never rebuilt the dance pavilion.

    Kathy M.

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  15. I just love the way you write, Helen. Not only is it always fun to read but it conjures up nostalgic memories of my own past. In this story- mosquitoes and lamplighters. Lamplighters in Chicago?? We lived in a new neighborhood that must have been built on the streets of an old one and it had the old street lights. Someone would come every night with a little ladder and light the lamps. We loved to watch them. We didn't love the mosquitoes, though. One of the many wonderful things about Calif. is the (almost) absence of mosquitoes.
    Barbara

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  16. My favorite post so far today. You have taken us along for a fun vacation with you.

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  17. This is one of your best posts yet. So well written and from the amount of comments, a post that everyone could relate to. I know I did. Reminded me of our days on Lake Michigan and that awful smelling stuff called 6-12 that was supposed to scare away mosquitoes. Still got the bites along with the awful smell!
    Nancy

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  18. Helen, I am new to your blog, but this post will make a follower out of me. Well written and so much fun to read. Thanks

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  19. You write so well Helen.Your Lovely childhood shines through.Yes,Beaches conjure up peaceful memory.
    Coincedently ,{& wildly off-topic)i was reading about moquito's today {HERE}.They even have them deep in the tunnels of the London Undergroud System (I lived in London for 4 years & never knew!)They have been there so long ,and are so well established, that they have become a distinct & different species.So......if you ever come to London,dont forget to pack some baking sodabefore you depart!

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  20. My link doesnt work?let me try again---> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Underground_mosquito

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  21. What a wonderfully written story you've shared with us lucky readers! Those summer holidays sounded so fun...well, except for those pesky mosquitoes.

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  22. I can't think of many things that illustrate what Sepia Saturday is all about better than this. The old photos act as a creative springboard and you deliver so well. Great writing : memories wrapped up in fine words and old images.

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  23. I enjoyed your story full of details and memories. Thanks for sharing.

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  24. What a lovely fun filled and interesting post. They tease us around Minnesota that our state bird is the mosquito! Great photos!

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  25. Your wonderfully written story has so much meaning for me, because my grandfather spent time at Grand Beach with his group of young friends around 1920, which I've written about in my Photo-Sleuth article, Summer holidays at Grand Beach, based on a series of old photographs. There's only so much you can extract from photographs, though, and your SS contribution brings to my mind the great fun - not to mention lte night scratching - they must have had there nearly three decades earlier. The Dancing Pavilion which you talk about, and at which they must have spent hours in the evenings, is clearly visible in one of the photos. Thank you.

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  26. Although there is probably a gap in our ages, Helen, you have taken me right back to some common experience. The mosquito is something I have hated all my life. The worst is, I think, when you are lying in bed in a summer cabin, and there is one in the room. You want to sleep, but you get that infernal buzzing in your ear and have to turn on the light and track the blasted thing down and put out ITS lights! Funny too, how you often don't know you have been bitten, until you reach down and casually rub a spot on your leg and ignite the mad itching! I could go on with my diatribe, but instead, I will turn to your descriptions of the wonderful feasts you had on your summer holidays. Yes! We had the spam and the fried eggs and that unbelievable Kraft-concoction with the day-glo orange cheese powder, and yes, even today an occasional craving can occur at the most unlikely of moments.

    Thanks for the memories, Helen. This was a great trip!

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  27. We also had canned potatoes. Did you ever have those? So weird.

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  28. What a great piece. Made me remember both summers at my uncle's cottage where we weren't attacked by mosquitoes that I can remember and having chicken pox which was when we used the baking powder as an anti-itch remedy.

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  29. Wonderful piece. I like the slogan I saw once on a t-shirt: The Mosquito (or Black Fly) = The Defender of the Wilderness.

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  30. I live in South Florida where mosquitoes are the size of small birds and they have always been attracted to me like bees to honey so the huge mosquito in the photo was quite terrifying to me! Even now I always scream at my husband that there must be something in the yard with standing water breeding w mosquitoes because there will be one mosquito in the house stalking me!

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  31. The picture of the two girls belies the lack of adult supervision:
    Who took the picture? Your mom, most likely...
    But she must have been in a relaxed mood too!!
    :)~
    Loved that mosquitoes are described as the "Bird" of Manitoba.
    Trains always made me sick but I've always enjoyed the idea of "going somewhere".
    :)~
    HUGZ

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