Missing Fort Frances

I am missing Fort Frances. Maybe not so much the “now” of Fort Frances as the “was” of Fort Frances, not that “was” is better, but simply more familiar to me. When I take a mental snapshot of the Fort Frances I know in my memory, images flash left, right and centre, in no particular order. The Post Office has its steep “marble” steps I climb to find Box 76 and Barry Cox is always behind the counter, smiling his wonderful smile from way up high, as if he might have been the Friendly Giant at one time. The Dairy Queen is in the East End on the way to The Point and I can buy a really big ice cream cone, with a swirl on its top for 25 cents. And I mean really really big, so big that I usually settle for the 15-cent cone and leave the monster-sized cone for my brother and his hollow leg. I go to the Royal Theatre and watch my very first movie on the big screen. It is Disney’s Babes in Toyland and I am six years old. The seats are red, and the theatre is dark and has a magical air about it, the lights dimming to let me know something very special is about to happen.
I know that is true for all of us who called Fort Frances and the surrounding area home while we were growing up. We have our own precious photo albums of what was, and we can conjure up the images with tremendous ease. As I sat and visited my personal Fort Frances photobook in my mind, it got me thinking.
I hear the angst in what people say and do as of late, while we struggle to find the right path. I read Walt Whitman and John Keats who found comfort, from depression and recovery from illness, in the natural world, in the forest, and with the flowers and while pondering the moon. Fort Frances has a bounty of natural beauty, of lakes and rivers, of rocks and trees. I was so fortunate to grow up on the Rainy River, as it hurried by my childhood farm. Rainy Lake and the multitude of other bodies of water that surround our area are something I don’t think many ever take for granted. The beauty is restorative and comforting. I can hear the paddle dip into the dark cool water. I can hear the zing in the cast from fishing rods and the plunk when the lure hits the water. I can hear my childhood voice squeal with delight as I run down the path from my aunt’s cabin on Reef Point to the sandy beach, a Styrofoam duck belted around my waist, imagining on that particular day I could really swim, which I couldn’t. I am lining up for French fries at The Point. I am excited to be big enough to walk to the end of the Government Dock without an adult escort. I am enough of a swimmer to make it to the three-foot dock, feeling as though I just climbed Mount Everest. I don’t think I was ever a good enough swimmer to make it to the seven-foot dock.
What a tremendously happy circumstance that allowed me the privilege of growing up in the Rainy River District. It is a salve in a time like this. So, on my morning walk, when I crest the hill and look down over Falls Lake, it will not be Falls Lake that I see, but rather Rainy Lake and sometimes it becomes Rainy River and I find myself transported “home”.