In the early afternoon of Friday, July 7, when things were looking uncertain in Ashcroft, I grabbed a box and began filling it with items that were, to me, irreplaceable. Along with such things as passports, my son’s graduation photos, and one or two childhood mementoes, I pulled three wooden-bound books off a shelf in the study.
The guest books were kept in the three residences on a property my maternal grandparents, John and Glenna Grant, owned on the shore of Skaha Lake near Okanagan Falls, and visitors were encouraged to write in them. Grandma and Grandpa bought the property in the late 1950s, maintaining on it a summer residence, and two cabins for guests.
In addition to comments, the books are full of cuttings taped in there by my grandmother over the years (“Fun in the sun in the land of peaches and beaches!” reads one; another declares “There’s a warm welcome awaiting in Okanagan Falls!”; a third—cut from a napkin, it appears—reads “Everything stops for tea!”). There are pictures, as well. Here is one from June 1964, showing Grandpa and my father, both impossibly young, jauntily dressed in straw hats and swinging golf clubs; and here is another, also from 1964, showing Foster Hewitt and his wife Kay (“A better view than from ‘the gondola’. Thank you for a very pleasant 24 hours. Kay and Foster Hewitt” reads the entry).
I make my first appearance in an entry written in my mother’s unmistakable handwriting—which has not changed in five decades—in April, 1964: “Baby Barbara enjoyed her first trip and made herself right at home” (I was a little shy of four months old at the time, so don’t remember the visit).
It appears that I was not allowed to write in the guest books myself until August of 1971, when I tried out my new-found cursive handwriting skills. “Thank you for the happy holiday, Love, Barbara, xoxoxoxo” I wrote: somewhat painstakingly, I suspect, given that these few words take up a quarter of the page. The entry also gives telling evidence that I was destined to be a writer/editor; it shows that I initially spelled the word “happy” as “happay”, then proof-read it and crossed out the second “a”. “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Hacock,” I hear the doctor announce, back in December 1963; “you have an editor!”
My brother John’s (born May 1966) first entry is directly below: “Love, John. xxoo”. The printed letters take up another quarter of the page, tumbling as they do quite dramatically from top left to bottom right.
Each page brings back memories, whether it be in the form of pictures and cuttings, or in the inscriptions from those who stayed there. In April 1964 my paternal grandmother, Vivian Hacock, wrote, “I’ve enjoyed getting to know ‘the Grants’ these past few days, and a wonderful experience with John and Glenna as wee Barbara’s grandparents. I know why Bill fell in love with Heather; you’re lovely folks, and this is a beautiful part of the country. Thank you for everything.”
I think you can see why these books were of so much value to me that they were among the first things I reached for when I thought I might have to evacuate my home. Unimportant to anyone else, they mean the world to me. Other things can be replaced, but not these memories of people and a place I loved.