Our first - and most important - point of interest was the home of Cranson and Beulah Hallman, Dad's folks. The two story red farmhouse holds so many memories for me as a child, and plenty more for Dad and Aunt Shirley. Everything was sold a bunch of years ago, a German family purchased it and turned it into a strawberry farm. So much has changed: more trees, different places for the gardens, untended barns, lots more landscaping.
One of the owners graciously gave us a tour of the farmhouse - it was a sad event. What was once a home full of warmth and hard work, of friendship and feasts is now a dirty shadow of its former self. It was neat to remember what the rooms used to look like, where furniture used to be. Jeremy showed Maria where we used to put on Smurf plays in the TV room. Jeremy also reminded us of when Shirley would dress up as Santa Claus and magically appear in the parlor. It was weird how Aunt Shirley always got a headache Christmas afternoon - she was never around when St. Nick showed up.
We wandered around the grounds for awhile, talking to another owner for a bit. The owners graciously let the kids go and pick a few strawberries! And then Dad went and bought a carton! This was after Faye urged the kids to pick up big rocks from the farm as keepsakes. While scarfing ripe strawberries, Tara pointed out to my boys the barn roof where me and my brothers climbed up on after a huge snow blizzard. Matt climbed up to the peak - at least a fifty feet up! I think Jerm went with him - at least higher then Ben and I. Jerm disagrees. Tara believes Jerm over me! Anyway, we'd climb up, and then slide down. After a bunch of turns we discovered that some of the nailheads sticking up had shredded the bottom of our snowpants. We knew we were so busted. Trudging back to the farmhouse, we wondered what our fate would be. Mom gasped. Dad laughed!
From the farmhouse we piled into the vans and headed towards the Roseville Cemetery next to an old Mennonite stone church. Included there among some of the original Hallmans that had settled in this region of Kitchener was Dad's Aunt Olive and Aunt Myrtle. So were some of Dad's high school buddies. It was obviously a bit of a reflective time for him. From there Dad took us to Cranson's homestead where he was born. Uncle Morgan inherited the house and had a small farm implement business there. Across the road was a large plot of land where the first Hallmans had settled. A neat moment to hear Dad retell some of our family lore.
Further down the road was the home where Dad and Shirley was born - legend has it they entered the world on the kitchen table! Upon pulling into the drive, someone who works at the old farm (it's used for office space and a retreat center now) followed us in, and then showed Dad around. Dad then took Jerm, Tara and I to see the largest walnut tree in the world, and the flat boulder imbedded in the ground where he would smash walnuts as a child. When he showed us the woods out back, he told us how as a little tyke he was out there alone in the early spring kicking logs. One dislodged and rolled onto his foot, trapping him. Fortunately a farmhand was within yelling distance, he saved Dad and carried the sniffling little boy home!
Plans were for lunch in New Dundee, but all three eating establishments were closed on Monday. Too bad for them! After an emergency potty break at the Esso station, we headed out to the New Dundee Cemetery where Cranson and Beulah are buried. Next to them is the tomb of Cranson's first wife Ellie. We also saw the tomb of Uncle Russell and Aunt Eva - they hosted many wonderful Christmas feasts. Tradition included a game of snooker and billiards! They had the coolest house - a secret stairway from their bedroom to the kitchen! Brilliant! Eva - also the name of my neice (Jerm & Maria's oldest), was quite the landscaper. When we stopped by their home later, we remembered how beautiful the land was when it wasn't winter - mature shade trees, tall evergreens, blooming flowers mounded in long stretches, and little pots of colorful annuals placed in clever nooks. And that big green barn! It was a leisurely, meandering drive through the townships of Dad and Shirley's childhood.
To top it all off, we lunched at Tim Hortons - tasty sandwiches and of course mouth-melting donuts. Then off to Canadian Tire - which has become a wannabe Wal-mart + Dicks + Tirebarn. Kind of weird. We were looking for Canada t-shirts. No luck. Off to Wal-mart. More candy, no t-shirts. Old Navy? Yup - some neat stuff on sale, but not everything we were looking for. One last stop - Zehr's at the old Hiway Market. When I was a kid, there was a two-story market there - grocery on the bottom, merchandise up top. As a kid, the only merchandise I cared about was toys, and at age six and seven, the only toys I cared about was Legos. At Hiway Market, they had an enormous display, an oversized diorama of space lego scenes. Me and my brothers would gaze and dream and be inspired. Everything is changed now. But Zehr's grocery has remodeled everything - it's what I grew up with in Port Elgin. And what mattered most now was stocking up on nostalgic foods: Ketchup flavored and Dillpickle flavored potato chips, Mr. Maple cookies, Shreddies cereal, and Tim Horton coffee. Tara went through the candy aisle: Aero pieces (and mint flavored too!), Coffee Crisp morsels, and Smarties!
For dinner Dad tried to find a charcoal grill place, but we couldn't find it. So instead we tried Turtle Jacks - it was just down from our hotel. Great atmosphere and fantastic food (thick fries with white vinegar on the side!). The service was great and it was relaxing to hang out and talk. With stuffed bellies and bags of junkfood, we waddled back to our rooms. The kids wanted to go swimming a bit before a bedtime, but I was too full to play in the pool. It's vacation - too much good food combined with lots of driving around. Fortunately the hotel has a nice fitness center. Tomorrow we can run the streets of Port Elgin and along the beach!