When my mom and her siblings were children, they believed that my grandfather was Superman. Jim Doyle was a hard-working man in thick glasses who took life very seriously. But the moment he walked through the battered screen door of the cottage at Kettle Point beach, the starched shirts, pressed trousers and polished shoes vanished, and in their place: plaid shirts, wrinkled shorts and bare feet. To his young children’s innocent eyes, the instant transformation was nothing less than magical. His superhero status seemed indisputable. Plus, he told them it was so. And you just didn’t question anything my Poppa said.
As a child, growing up on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, I found it easy to believe in magic also. Poppa told the most enchanting tales. One star-filled evening, as I sat perched upon his knee, he explained that, a very long time ago, an exceptional honour had been bestowed upon him and, from that moment on, he’d become a guardian of Kettle Point beach. I saw no reason to doubt him. And so it was.
Absolutely delighted with my newfound sense of entitlement, I became a little tyrant. In my defence, I was only five years old, but there you have it:
“This is my Poppa’s Beach. So, if you don’t do what I wanna do, then you’re gonna have to go home,” I’d shout, blonde pigtails bobbing, tiny fingers wagging. A heavy foot stomp just for emphasis. My wide-eyed playmates were rendered speechless with no choice but to concede. Remember, they were only five, as well. They loved the beach. No one wanted to go home.
Nana and I spent most weekdays at the cottage together while Mom stayed alone in the city to study, content to bask in the peace left in my wake. Every morning, we rose early to walk along the beach and watch the pale sunrise. Nana would pick up a newspaper from the beach store, always leaving a few coins at the top of the pile for Betty, while I ran along the water’s edge and tossed stale breadcrumbs for shrieking seagulls. Later, we’d pick wild raspberries for jam or curl up on the sun porch to read, side by side; take a picnic lunch on the beach, a good long swim, an afternoon nap. We always woke up slow and stayed up late. Night-time was for star-gazing and lightning bugs, corn roasts on the open fire and Aesop’s fables—I absolutely loved “The Tortoise and the Hare.” In fact, it’s still my favourite.
Poppa worked all week in the heat and lived for those lazy summer weekends. After dinner, we’d walk to Betty’s store for ice cream, and then leisurely stroll down to the Point. Skipping ahead, my sticky fingers collected bits of coloured sea glass, pale pink shells, and thin, black shale to paint on rainy days. I always filled that bright yellow bucket to the top while Nana and Poppa strolled behind me, holding hands.
As the sun set over the horizon, we’d stand side by side and watch the glistening water roll over the backs of these majestic spheres—kettle rocks. Nana told me they were magical. Poppa said that nobody knew for sure how they were formed but, explaining their significance in terms of spirit rather than science, he added, “Kettles are one of the natural wonders of the world. They are believed to be sacred by some, so they’re protected on this reservation. Nobody’s allowed to remove or destroy them. God willing, they’ll be here for your own grandchildren to enjoy.”
A few years later, Nana got sick. Really, truly, devastatingly sick. And in order to care for the love of his life, to keep her at home as she left this world, Poppa had to sell the cottage. He didn’t hesitate. I haven’t been back since.
Poppa’s much older now. Stooped in stature, he no longer wears suits, and his once agile mind has become weakened with dementia. He’s forgotten the enchanted tales of my childhood, the ones that made me believe in magic. I still believe. But something deep inside of me changes as I watch as my grandfather’s life fade before my eyes, and finally realize that time is my superhero’s only kryptonite. My kids haven’t been to “Poppa’s Beach” yet, nor have they seen kettles at the Point. But I still tell them that he was Superman. And they know better than to question what I say.
(I wrote this story about my grandfather. In November 2014, he passed away, so I wanted to share this in honour of him. I take great comfort in the knowledge that nothing remained unsaid between us, he knew how much I loved him, how grateful I was to have him in my life. Rest in peace, Poppa. I love you forever. Love, A.)
*This post first appeared on Living the Dream blog*