A very special family vacation

By  Lisa Petsche
  • September 26, 2008
They say you can’t go back and revisit the past, but that’s exactly what we did last month. My family went back to the Muskoka resort where we first vacationed decades ago.

My parents had stumbled across the place after years of vacationing at housekeeping cottages. It cost more, but it was a real treat not to have to pack groceries, bedding and towels for six, along with each family member’s personal items, and try to cram them all into the car. And how wonderful it was to have someone else preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals and organizing activities. It was truly a time of relaxation and fun.
Over the years, various family members have spent time there, continuing the tradition. My parents vowed that when (not if) they won the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes   they'd take the whole family there for a vacation.

This year, which marks their 50th wedding anniversary, they took fate into their own hands. Having all the family together at our favourite getaway spot would be the perfect way to celebrate, they decided.

It was no easy feat to accommodate the needs and schedules of 21 family members (including 11 grandchildren ages one to 21) from as far away as Florida. But with input from everyone, Mom and Dad organized a four-day group vacation for early September, when the resort is less populated but the weather's still mild.

The grandkids eagerly counted down the days and saved up money for an enroute stop at the famous Highway 11 candy shop, as well as for souvenirs and horse racing (to be explained).

Our accommodations were a mix of cottages and suites. The main lodge houses a big lounge, rustic dining room, recreation room and swimming pool.

Given our timing (post-Labour Day and pre-Cavalcade of Colour), we practically had the amenities to ourselves.

Although there have been enhancements over the years, such as an outdoor patio, indoor pool and several luxury suites, overall the place hasn't changed much. The lodge remains cozy, with its Muskoka stone fireplace, eclectic furnishings, cribbage-board coffee table, well-worn piano and shelves of books. The collection of classic board games is also still there, as are the photo albums. (My sisters and I were amused to find ourselves in one of them; we were right around the ages our kids are now.)

Known for its hospitality, the resort is family owned and smaller than many others in the area. The atmosphere is intimate, casual and, best of all, low-tech. There are no TVs in the guest accommodations or the lounge, and no wireless Internet service. The environment fosters socialization and old-fashioned recreation.

For the delicious, home-cooked meals, we ate at two long tables in the dining room, varying the seating arrangements.

During the day we swam in the lake  – containing huge, inflatable water slides and trampolines, played shuffleboard and tennis and went hiking, fishing, kayaking and pedal boating. After dark, and when it rained, we played ping pong, swam in the pool, played the piano, cards and board games in the lounge and sat around talking.

Although the seasonal recreational program  – with scheduled activities every morning, afternoon and evening  – had ended, the owners obligingly prepared us a campfire one evening and facilitated the legendary horse racing game another. The latter is played in the lounge with a specially marked carpet runner, six colourful wooden horses and a pair of dice, placing 25-cent bets.

In short, it was a wonderful long weekend of interaction  – late into the evening for some of us  – with lots of laughter and memorable moments.

At our last meal together, Mom urged us to  "Treasure the memories, keep the love alive and pass it on. "

For my parents, that special vacation was the fulfilment of a decades-old dream and a time of giving thanks for 50 years of family life. It was an early Thanksgiving gift for all of us.

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