Monday, April 7, 2014

Going Back on Memories

Last September I shared a post about a summer road trip my sister, Bonnie and I took to a family reunion in Ontario. Since we were driving past our birth town, we decided to drive through the town and see if we could find the houses we lived in decades earlier. As it would be the first time we'd been back at the same time, we wanted to compare our memories and see if what we remembered was the truth or merely our imagination as we'd been told.

We had lived in 5 houses from Geraldton and Jonesville by the time I was seven and no, I won't take you through them all here. Actually we'd passed the Jonesville house and reached the local Dairy Dip before we realized it. I have always called those summer stand-outside-at-the-window-and-order ice cream shops the Dairy Dip because it of the Geraldton one of my childhood. But oh, it was in rough shape. Boarded up and neglected, it was an ominous start to our drive down memory lane.

Dairy Dip Closed for Business, Aug 2013, Geraldton, Ontario

As we found each house, Bonnie and I we spent a long time staring, remembering, and sharing.

Our paternal grandma's house was the last stop on our tour. It was special for several reasons, one being that as children, our step-father would drive the 4 hour trip from Thunder Bay back to Geraldton to visit his mother every Easter. And because Grandma was Ukrainian, we feasted on pedaheh, kielbasa, holubtsi and Paska which Grandma cooked on a woodstove at the back of the house.

Grandma's house had the look and feel of a general store - inside and out. The front room was huge with a oil stove, fridge, and large table in the corner nearest the kitchen. A single cot served as sofa between the table and a TV which drove me crazy due to a huge magnifying screen that made the images fuzzy. Nothing else was in the room other than a scattering of chairs and a couple doors to rooms my unmarried uncles kept.

Bill and Maggie Safroniuk residence until 1970, Geraldton, Ontario

By contrast, where downstairs was utilitarian, Grandma's private quarters upstairs was lace doilies laying across the chesterfield arms and back as if to preserve the fabric from dirty hands and greasy hair. Grandma used doilies on the end tables too, each one with a centered crystal ornament or candy dish. Upstairs was impeccable. My brother and I spent the whole summer of 1968 at Grandma's house and I felt so special because - as the only girl in the house - Grandma allowed me to sleep upstairs with her. She passed away in 1970 and it was my first experience with the death of someone close to me. The last time I saw Grandma's house was when I took the photo above. Last summer when Bonnie and I drove past a modern bungalow in the spot Grandma's house once stood.

Before we left Geraldton however, there was one more thing I needed to see. I've always had this memory of splashing in a pool of slippery rocks. The whole swimming pool - a wading pool really - set among huge boulders where you could sit and dangle your feet in the water, or sit in a private pool between them. I remember my foot wedging between two boulders once during that summer of '68 although a hard tug pulled it out. But it seemed so dangerous, could it have been real, or just my imagination?

Bonnie vaguely remembered it. Her memory was more of getting her dress ripped climbing over the fence to get to the pool than memories of the pool itself. We decided to put our minds at rest and do some exploring.

Since I remembered biking from Grandma's house southward, keeping to the east edge of town, that's where we started. You can follow along, just start at the yellow pin and head south.

North end of Geraldton, Ontario showing search for Rotary Park

In the foreground you can see where we headed east, but then had to turn around when we ended up in a farm yard. We doubled back a block continuing south. That road ended and we turned west for a block before heading south again, sure we'd missed it somehow but deciding to go as far as we could before giving up. We were searching for a pool(s) with a bunch of boulders. Even with the trees, it should have been able to spot. And in case you're wondering, it didn't cross our minds to use my iPhone to check.

South end of Geraldton, Ontario showing Rotary Park

And there it was - at the end of the street, on the southern end of town - in Jonesville. This next photo took my breath away on sight because even if the equipment is modern, the tilting sign isn't. How many times did I walk under it back then? Because unlike Bonnie, I don't remember climbing over the fence so I must have gone through the gate.

Rotary Park Playground,  Geraldton, Ontario, Aug 2013, taken by Anita Mae Draper

We drove past the playground, craning our necks to see our memories materialize. And then in silence, we gazed upon this scene:

Rotary Park, Geraldton, Ontario as photographed Aug 2013 by Anita Mae Draper

In today's world where we protect our children with elbow and knee pads and tell them not to run on cement and play or climb rocks, it seems inconceivable that part our childhood playground was a bunch of slippery boulders. But here was the proof that it had existed. If only we had a picture of it before the town had filled it in.

Bonnie Safroniuk Bremnes reminiscing at Rotary Park, Geraldton, Ontario, Aug 2013

Here's a brief 58 second video of Geraldton Rotary Park I taped while standing on the same spot as Bonnie is in the above photo. I basically say the same as written above too, but try to impart the feeling of being there.

When I returned from our trip, I spent some time searching for a photo of the Geraldton Rotary Park taken in the 60's when it was my favorite recreational outlet. Especially during the summer of '68. I was thrilled when I found a photo on the Geraldton 50th site.

Rotary Park, Geraldton, Ontario, courtesy of Geraldton 50th committee

And that's it. Bonnie and I spent nearly 2 hrs driving around Geraldton and I'm so very glad we did because we now have closure on a difficult part of our lives. Talk about mixed feelings.

Your turn... if you could go back and explore somewhere you once lived or passed through, where would it be? 
Or... what special Easter foods do you remember from your childhood?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their 4 kids. She writes cowboy stories set in the Old West, and Edwardian stories set in the East.  Anita Mae  semi-finaled in the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest, and finaled in the Daphne du Maurier, Fool for Love, Duel on the Delta and the Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests.  Anita Mae's short story, Riding on a Christmas Wish is published in A Christmas Cup of Cheer, Guideposts Books, October 2013.  Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at


  1. Fun idea, Anita. My place I'd like to explore is the neighborhood I lived in when we lived in Japan. I've always wanted to go back and see if it lived up to my memories. My favorite Easter food is deviled eggs. Without a doubt.

    1. Interesting, Suzie, especially in light of the earthquake and tsunami.

      I love deviled eggs too. We have a 'movement' here to change the name to Heavenly Eggs as well as changing Pot Luck to Pot Blessing.

      Do you have rumblings of name changes like that in your area?

  2. Ha ha! We did go back. When we moved two years ago we moved back to our hometown, where we both went to K-12, and where I went to college, etc. Pretty much anywhere in the valley you have a view of Mt. Sopris, and even now, after 2 years, coming back to that view makes me weepy. A lot of things have changed, even just during the 15 years we were gone, but that mountain stays the same. Thank goodness. (There was a petition a few years back to rename it "John Denver Peak." So glad that fell through. :) Here's what it looks like:

    1. Oh yeah, favorite Easter food? JELLY BEANS. Especially the black ones, which can now be purchased separately.

    2. Mt. Sopris is very majestic, Niki. I can see how it would affect your emotions. How you do you pronounce it? Sop-ris as cutting wood? Or So-pris as in sewing?

      Black jellybeans? Hmm, I love 'em too, but have to limit myself to a few every few days.

      Thanks for sharing. :)

    3. It's So-pris, as in sewing. Named after an early explorer to the area.

      And ditto! Thanks!

  3. Anita, I've never heard of calling them Heavenly eggs, but I like it! You know what else I like? This is new to me: crumbling up bacon bits in the Heavenly egg mixture. That right there should qualify it for a name change.

    Re Japan, we had many earthquakes when I lived there. Our house was almost destroyed in the last one they had when we lived there, and there was no more housing so they sent us back to Washington.

    1. My goodness, earthquakes and mudslides seem to be your lot. Makes me wonder how close you were to Mount St. Helen's.

    2. We're not close to Mount St. Helen's. You have to go way south of Seattle to catch a glimpse of it.

  4. Wow, Anita. How wonderful that you and Bonnie had a chance to do this. I'm hoping to hit a few spots in PA that I recall. My mom and I drove around one day on our way home from Cincinnati (years ago) to look for a particular cemetery but we never found it. I'll need a couple days after a lot of research. I would love to visit that part of PA where part of my family was from -- a place we used to visit every summer. Otherwise, I lived in the same house I grew up in until I was in my mid forties~

    thanks for sharing. Sorry you had internet troubles again... ugh!

  5. And speaking of the internet Deb, your research should be much easier now when you decide at look for that cemetery.

    My first stop has always been to check the Find-a-Grave site. Best case scenario is that they have a photo of the grave you're looking for. Or they may have info but no pic, or info about the cemetery and driving instructions.

    The problem with Find-a -Grave is that they were just bought by which means you'll need to be a member to search now, or use one of their free weekends. (Or know a member who will search for you.)

    I think BillionGraves may still be free.

    Many state genealogy sites have done the research for you. Payment may or may not be required.

    However, there are many concurred citizen's groups who volunteer their time & resources and give away the info as a public service.

    However you do it, you're wise to do the research first. It sure saves gas money, etc.

  6. That should be concerned citizen's groups vice concurred.

    Auto-spell is guessing again.


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