This story is about a relationship that started on an Island in the Caribbean and blossomed into a full blown love affair in the Thousand Islands. It is about the love of both a woman and a place.
The story started when my friend Ed and I decided to take a vacation at an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas. After missing our flight and arriving late to a sold-out resort, we eventually settled in. Once we had our “get into jail free cards,” aka unlimited drink passes, we quickly adapted to the laid back island lifestyle of tropical breezes and rum punch. On our third night, Ed and I were enjoying our buffet dinner when he said those eight magical words; “Check out the girl in the red skirt.” I looked up from my bowl of Conch Chowder and saw a group of attractive young ladies at the buffet line. But the one in the red skirt was indeed especially attractive.
We later saw the group of young buffet line ladies at the resort night club. Unbelievably, I was introduced to my future wife. Yup; the girl in the red skirt. Her name was Sue. Sue and I spent many enjoyable hours talking and getting to know one another over many drinks and resort activities. The week flew by and eventually the time came to part ways. Sue and I exchanged phone numbers, said our goodbyes and returned home, she to America and me to Canada.
I was very pleasantly surprised when Sue called me the following week. We spent countless hours running up long distance bills over the next few months. Eventually, Sue and I began seeing one another. She was living in Rochester, NY and I lived in a small Ontario town called Brighton. We would meet roughly half way, spending weekends camping at Keewaydin State Park and exploring the Thousand Islands.
Fast forward a few years; Sue and I married and started our family. When our first son was expected, we decided a cottage in the Thousand Islands would be good Idea. Eventually, we found a small place with potential, on a postage size lot that we could afford. It was located in the quaint cottage community called Goose Bay, just a short distance down river from Alexandria Bay, NY. We closed on the cottage in the spring of 1989. That year we celebrated Mason’s first Birthday at the cottage. This would be the first of many special occasions we would share in the islands.
We soon had a second son named Myles. The boys played endlessly outdoors. Riding bikes, fishing, exploring the woods, and getting four wheeler rides from Fred. Fred was the self-proclaimed Mayor of Goose Bay and all-round great guy. Mason became very adept at frog catching and frog keeping. Myles, on the other hand, developed into a skillful snake catcher. He would proudly rush to show his mother each successful catch. Unfortunately for him, and to my great amusement, Sue is deathly afraid of snakes and would run away from him screaming. This response eventually became known as the snake dance and would become a cottage tradition for many years.
Over the years, we would invite friends and family to spend time with us at the cottage. We would crowd more guests than we had room to fit into our tiny place, share many good times and lots of laughs together. There were even a few cottage improvement projects tackled with the help of unwitting friends. (Come up to the cottage, it will be fun, he said!) All this has made for great memories.
Of the all the memories, there are a few that stand out. One was the time Sue decided a boat would be a great way to enjoy the islands even more. So she goes out and just buys herself a boat. No discussion, she just buys the damn thing. After I finally got over the initial shock and surprise, we spent many hours in our seventeen foot MFG Tri-hull, exploring the River and islands. The kids and our “dumb as a bag of hammers” Basset Hound named Oxford developed a love of boating aboard what eventually was named the “SS Minnow”. You know, as in “a three hour cruise” fame. Fortunately, we did not get stranded on any Islands. The boat did enable us to experience the islands from a completely different perspective though. In hindsight, Sue’s decision to buy a boat, which we could not afford at the time, was a good one.
One of our frequent cottage guests were our very good friends Vinny and Linda. They enjoyed their time at the cottage so much that they eventually bought what I thought was a teardown cottage, two doors down. Vinny clearly saw something in the place I didn’t. Instead of tearing down the dilapidated structure, he fixed it up into a very sturdy and comfortable place that has become known as the Hill Top Café. This is where we congregate for morning coffee and enjoy the view of Goose Bay and the River, from their hill top perch.
In 2000, our cottage neighbors decided the drive from their home in New Jersey had become too much. Bill asked if we would be interested in buying their cottage. After giving his proposal long and careful consideration – for thirty seconds – we said “Hell ya!” Their cottage was palatial compared to ours. It was still what you might call rustic, but it had a bunkie for the boys, a storage shed for our junk, and a lot more land. The “a lot more land” meant parking for guests and a place to keep the boat. Up to that point, guest had to park down the road at the public boat launch and the boat was kept at a storage yard.
Sue’s sister and her husband bought our original cottage. With our friends Vinny and Linda, Sue’s sister Laurie and her crew, Goose Bay became a frequent gathering place for friends and extended family. Pirates weekends, hours boating on the River, gathering around the end of day campfires, and a host of other occasions, all have made time together in the islands very special.
Our kids have always enjoyed spending time at the cottage. Now our son Myles and daughter-in-law Tessa have introduced another generation to the Islands. Our four year old granddaughter was able to visit for the first time this summer (2023) and had a ball. (COVID delayed her visit a bit.) We are looking forward to introducing her to the many beautiful experiences the Islands provide.
Sue and I have been married for thirty five years now. The Thousand Islands have played a big part in our lives. Sue and I still share a fondness for the islands in the Caribbean where it all began. We have visited many Islands over the years and have developed a particular fondness for Sint Maarten/Saint Martin.
Back on the River, we have turned the storage shed that housed all our junk into a four season tiny home. Sue calls it her “She Shed.” Winter is a time we have not experienced in the Islands until now. Methinks a whole new set of River experiences are waiting to be discovered!
By Paul Gauthier
Paul Gauthier resides in the small Ontario community of Brighton and enjoys spending time at the family cottage in Goose Bay, NY. Paul has worked in marine related fields for most of his career. He has owned a marina and managed marinas for others for over 40 years. Most recently he has failed at two retirement attempts. (But still hopeful of success one day) Time at the cottage and boating continue to be a strong attraction for Paul, Sue and the rest of their family. This summer saw the introduction of the fifth generation to the cottage and the Thousand Islands.
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