Hard to say goodbye

Time marches on.
We get more and more familiar with this statement as we age, and on some days time marches with heavy boots right across our chest.
Landmarks are something that keep us connected to the past—and perhaps those of us who have wandered away need those landmarks even moreso to keep Fort Frances firmly designated as “home.”
We haven’t changed and aged along with Fort Frances so when we come home for a visit, we often are shocked to see the familiar landmarks altered or replaced or simply gone.
We want the same trees lining Second Street East. We want the Post Office to look as grand as when our little legs climbed those steps. We even want the faces on the people we greet to be the same.
That’s not possible, but try explaining that to our yearning heart.
I read Duane Hicks’ article about the plans to remove the Government Dock, or what remains of the dock will be demolished this year, and I almost cried out.
My adult brain explains to me that the dock is not safe, the cost of restoring it is formidable, and the dock has no relevance in the future vision of Fort Frances. But the child in me clutches my stomach and wishes it were not so.
In my childhood, and the childhoods of many, the Government Dock at Pither’s Point Park was the symbol of all things summer. The dock stood guard while picnics happened on the beach, while children learned to swim, and while water-skiing performers zoomed round and round in the bay.
You had to be a certain age and size, and have achieved a certain skill level as a swimmer, to walk down the Government Dock to its end—an end that seemed miles away when I was little.
And dreaming of being big enough to walk on my own without having to hold someone’s hand; to be a grown-up person standing tall at the end of the dock gazing out at the lake and its massive expanse.
Being a farm kid, swimming lessons weren’t part of my summer activities so I had to wait until the rules softened; until I got bigger (though I was very slow to do so).
I watched the kids swim to the “Three Foot Dock” and wished I could go, too. I imagined moving through the water like a mermaid out to the “Five Foot Dock” and beyond.
I ached for that kind of freedom and swimming off the Government Dock was almost too big to imagine. Eventually, I was allowed and I had arrived at some checkpoint that demonstrated I was growing up.
I met friends at the end of the Government Dock in the summers. We stretched out on our towels and imagined our futures and discussed our challenges, and sometimes we swam and dove off the new diving board.
I watched friends pass advanced swimming tests and cheered them on from the catwalk.
I was parked in my car, with my sleeping toddler next to me, at the Government Dock in June of 1981 when I heard on the news that Terry Fox had died; that his valiant battle had come to an end.
The leaves were bursting from the trees in the park and I realized in that moment that time, indeed, was marching on.
The Government Dock was mighty; its wooden frame seemed like it would never crumble, such a thought unfathomable. Alas, nothing lasts forever—despite our hope; despite our clinging to a memory.
“Don’t go,” I want to shout. “Don’t leave me.”
She was grand; it truly was a wonderful era. I’m so glad to have been part of it.
wendistewart@live.ca

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