Copyright is held by the author.

MY FAMILY is the third generation to have the Fulbright cabin on the south shore of Dry Lake. Right at the end of Trapper’s Bay.

We’d spend our summers there — from the day after school’s out to the day before school’s in. And then occasional days after that until just after the first serious freeze-up.

Our Thanksgivings have always been held there. Everyone who’s able gathers to celebrate stuff. Birthdays, anniversaries, marriages, divorces, school graduations, the birth of Selma’s annual litter — mongrels all. Our family lumps everything into one gathering —”to save the Fulbright’s all the bullshit of this and that throughout the damn year,” according to Gumpa Senior — our family’s curmudgeon extraordinaire. Now only a memory because Senior’s up there in the clouds or wherever will have him, bitching loudly about what he liked to call “the whole god-damn ball of wax.”

Senior’s daddy Frank ran a winter trap line around Dry Lake’s south shore back when the only road in was dirt and gravel, hacked out of the bush for three point five miles from Rural Route 21 running from Moseley in the east to Triumph in the west.

Frank’d work as a sales clerk in Eaton’s down in the city, Monday to noon on Fridays. He’d hop into his old beater right from work, and make the four-hour trek to the trap line where he had a tent, an old wooden rowboat, and a drying shed for the furs. Mink, beaver, rabbit, the occasional wolf, and the even more occasional martin – anything that moved on four legs was fair game for Frank’s traps. He wasn’t one to care much about “them god damn city slicker rules about what I can hunt.” Come sundown on Sundays, he’d trek back to the city, arriving just in time to punch in at 6 a.m.

Family legend has it that Frank made arrangements with his boss at Eaton’s to shower and shave in the locker room, washing away the smell of the dead animals and wood smoke. In winter, Frank would go part-time at the department store so he could spend more time tending to his trap line. He’d drive to a pull-off along Route 21 and snowshoe the rest of the way into Dry Lake.

In the winter of ‘44, he began harvesting timber, rough cutting it into planks, and building an all-season shelter. No more living in a tent for him. Once he had the necessary four walls and a reasonable roof, Frank began adding a bit here, a larger bit there. In a few years, he had what most would call a cabin. Frank’s wife Rita — my great-grandma — would take their kids up for the summer, her husband coming up on weekends.

And thus, a family summer tradition was born. Passed down through two more generations.

And this is where my story really begins.

The summer I was twelve, almost thirteen, there was a mystery to solve at our place on Dry Lake. Stuff started disappearing. Silver-plated fishing lures. A bright red spin top. Yellow pencils. Twine by the yard. Fresh cedar shavings from beside the whittling stump. My sister’s favourite hand mirror. And then, food. Apples, nuts, half a banana, cookies left out by mistake, orange slices. One time, OK maybe it was a couple of times, an entire family-size bag of potato chips. You get the picture.

We had our suspicions but had no real proof.

My sister was more freaked out about the disappearances than me. I was more interested in Eliza across the bay, a summer-long guest of the Fitzpatrick’s. Fifteen years old with not much to do but lie on the dock in her black one-piece, read trashy romance novels, and write bad poetry in her journal.

I made a habit of paddling our old Peterborough canoe to the east shore, then along just in front of the Fitzpatrick’s dock whenever Eliza was sunning there. By then, I’d have my shirt off so she could see my teenage muscles rippling with every stroke of the paddle. I’d wave. She’d wave. Sometimes, she’d slowly stand up, stretch long and easy like a cat, then wave. Oh, boy, that always made my long paddle worth it.

We never said a word to each other the entire summer. But a thirteen-year-old hormonally powered boy doesn’t need real words as long as he has imagination. Oh, the conversations we had! Eliza was my first true love. On Fitzpatrick’s dock. In the sunshine. In that sleek but deliciously rounded black one-piece. Writing me passionate and sexually explicit love poetry in her small journal with the stiff red cardboard cover.

But, to get back to the mystery.

From the day my fresh waffles started disappearing, I decided to get serious about solving the mystery.

Mom would always be up by six. She had her routines at Dry Lake. Make some coffee and head down to our small dock just as the sun rose above the eastern shoreline. The dock always quietly creaked up and down under her weight.

She’d smoke one, sometimes two, cigarettes, blowing the smoke above her head. Sometimes, if the morning air was still, she’d blow rings within rings which would lift, expand, break apart, and disappear. I often wondered what she thought about in those private times out on the dock.

Her life wasn’t easy married to my Dad, a tough, no-nonsense ironworker from the smoky mills in Hamilton. She’d reluctantly married into the Fulbright clan. Some would always say she “married down,” but a baby waits for no man or woman, so a quickie civil ceremony was arranged at Hamilton City Hall. I appeared seven months later. Instant family. And a “summer house” on Dry Lake as a wedding gift.

Mom would make a plate of six waffles, smother it in syrup brought up in gallon jugs from the city, set it out on the long table, and call at me: “Your waffles are up, Ritchie. Rise and shine. The day’s half gone.”

Some days that’d work and I’d crawl out of bed, wrap myself in a sheet, and dig in. Most days, however, I’d leave the waffles getting cold until later in the morning. For breakfast, the only thing better than hot waffles is cold waffles.

By early July, Mom’d figured out I had a thing for Eliza over at the Fitzpatrick’s. I suspect my sister told her but she denies it, even to this day.

 “I think I see that girl out on the Fitzpatrick’s dock,” she’d yell at me. That got me going the first few times, but I knew from watching Eliza through binoculars that she never made it onto the dock until close to noon. Like me, Eliza was a late riser. I often wondered what it would be like to be lying beside her when Mom would call out about the waffles.

After Mom set my waffles onto the table, she’d go about her chores elsewhere in the cottage or outside in the veggie garden she was struggling with between our back door and the outhouse. My sister, who really loved to garden, was always out there with her. My plate of steaming waffles and syrup was left unprotected. They began disappearing, day after day.

The Fulbright cottage always remained rough-built. It was another of those family traditions held sacred by the men of the Fulbright clan. If you have to fix or make something at the family home on Dry Lake, build it quick, build it rough, build it to last. It didn’t matter if boards were a tad short, a bit too thick. “Don’t worry over it too much, Ritchie,” my Dad would always say. “This is Dry Lake, my boy. It ain’t Forest Hill. That board’s good enough.”

So, I’m understating it to tell you that the place had a few spaces in the walls, floor, and ceiling. Great for letting in mosquitos, stink bugs, and some of the largest, meanest-looking spiders you’ll ever come across in cottage country. When you combine those holes with a plate of delicious waffles smothered in the sweetest maple syrup — well, it spells nothing but an opportunity for a mother red squirrel and her brood of four little ones.

We called her Hoppy. She hopped like a rabbit but climbed trees. At Dry Lake, almost everything is not what it seems. Hoppy was raising her hungry little family inside a large cavity in the fork of the ancient spruce between our cottage and the dock. She’d sit on a solid branch that stretched out toward the window above our sink. From her perch, she could easily look right into our place. She didn’t miss a thing.

So it was that Hoppy didn’t miss my waffles. Her nose told her a pile of stuff in there was worth investigating. It was an easy jump from the end of the bouncing limb to a hole beneath the shingles, along the attic rafter to one of those ‘good enough’ holes in the ceiling above the bedroom door, down the wall ending in a longish but not impossible leap onto the table. One cautious hop, pause, then another cautious hop, pause, and then dig in. Hoppy made short work of those waffles. She’d eat some, then save some for her kids, retrace her hops back to the nest, drop off chunks of the waffle to the squealing little ones, and then return quickly to the waffles. She’d repeat this each and every day that I didn’t beat her to those waffles first.

Now that I knew how she was getting into our place, I could’ve quickly boarded up the holes. But the Fulbright home on Dry Lake is more holes than solid board, so what was the point?

That summer, Hoppy and I made a deal. “Some mornings, it’s yours; other mornings, it’s mine.” Early bird gets the worm and all that stuff.

I knew that Eliza would love the story of Hoppy and the waffles. She’d surely write a poem about it and read it to me over the dying embers of our campfire on a deserted beach over on Shudder Lake. Only in my dreams. I never told her. A poem was never written. Another opportunity lost.

Oh, there’s one other thing.

I’m sure you’ve been wondering about this little “Fulbright Fact” right from when you started reading my story: how can a lake be called Dry Lake? I mean, almost by definition, aren’t all lakes in Ontario full of water? Lots of water?

Family legend has it that when the first Fulbright discovered the lake in 1940, he and Jack Daniel’s were very close friends. One day, while under the spell of Jack, great-grandpa Frank chopped off a big toe when he should’ve chopped a chunk of wood. He nearly bled to death but packed the injury with tree moss, poured liberal amounts of Jack on the wound, and swore he’d never touch a drop again. When he was sober, he called the water all around him, Dry Lake.

At least, that’s what family legend says happened.


Image of Don Herald

Perhaps it’s his lengthy career in social work and organizational consulting, but Don delights in taking note of common life events that twist unexpectedly or the intriguing personalities he sometimes encounters in his daily activities. These observations provide the inspiration for many of the situations and characters that eventually appear in his stories. Don’s short fiction, flash and poetry are being published online in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. He is a co-founder and active Writers’ Group of Peterborough member.  Don’s published stories website: