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FROM THE VALLEY: Its Not The Cost Its The Effort

By Tom Valley

“Have you got gas?” my wife asked. This time it was in a different context. She was wondering if our truck was filled to make the trip north, 250 miles away. We were headed to our modest camp on the St. Lawrence River for the first time this year. That meant the task of opening it up awaited as soon as we got there - lest, we have no water, toilet, etc. And yeah, that's always fun after a tiring four and a half hour trip.

Allow me to digress right out of the gate: Believe it or not, gas stations in the olden days would fight for your business. They'd actually offer gifts to lure you in for a fill-up; older folks probably remember that. They included everything from steak knives to glassware. I remember one time a local station was giving away a different jar of food-seasoning every time you pulled in.

Naturally, the quality of the items were so-so, but it was like the magnet of a carnival-atmoshere where people would spend a hundred dollars trying to win a fifty-cent key ring with a feather. Hard to explain the absent logic involved.

I remember one time, I'd drive around wasting gas just so I could get another fill-up to complete my set of plastic, insulated mugs with the name of a different beer company on each one. A must-have six-dollar collection, at most. And it only cost me about a hundred-eighty bucks to get them all. And of note, my wife had no use for them as she didn't drink beer.

I'm done digressing. One of the good things now, about going to the river, is that our dog, Maggie, has matured. She's not the energetic pup of years ago who would run off to who-knows-where and come back smelling like a skunk-fused pile of manure. Now she just stays on site and rolls in the dead fish that floats in. Good girl, Magpie. There's no place like home.

One would think that by the sounds of heading to the river, you'd pack beach towels, water skis and sun-tan lotion. Nope. Not for us. It's pipe wrenches, drills, plumbing tools and two-thirds of a Home Depot store.

The number one must-take thing with me is a half-dozen rolls of duct tape. I've learned that duct-tape is the most versatile piece of equipment in my arsenal of tools. It even replaces the supply of all the Band-Aids one needs for life on the river. If you've got paper towels and duct tape, you're a registered doctor on the St. Lawrence River. “Take two strips of tape and call me in the morning.”

It's inevitable that my wife will get a case of poison ivy while we're there. Kathie loves gardening and no matter how hard she tries to protect herself from that wretched weed, she always winds up with a case of irksome rashes. I'm convinced she can catch it from opening the latest issue of Home and Garden magazine. (I can say that as a qualified tape-duct doctor.)

Why do we go through all the hassle? Because we are from there; it's home to us. And because it's the St. Lawrence River. It's the most beautiful river on the planet. It's clear water is unbeatable – plain and simple. The sunsets over Canada can only be appreciated by witnessing them.

With the Ogdensburg-Prescott (Ontario) International Bridge sitting a couple miles to the east; and the splendor of its twinkling lights aglow as well-illuminated ships silently and majestically slip by at nighttime, leaves one in complete awe of the moment's visage and tranquility. That's why we go back. Glad you asked.

Over the years, we've celebrated family birthdays and other festive occasions while there. I will never forget the time many, many years ago – and as the Good Lord is my witness, this is a true story – when our August wedding anniversary rolled around the same day we arrived at the river. I won't forget now, but I did then.

As I was unloading the truck, my wife was inside putting stuff away. When I came through the door with another load, I noticed a card and gift-wrapped box on the kitchen table. “What's this?” I asked.

“It's our anniversary. Don't tell me you forgot,” she laughed. Telling her “Of course, I didn't forget,” I proceeded to open the card and act nonchalant as I beat down the flames consuming my pants. The card was awesome. Inside the box was an expensive 35 mm camera. I thanked her, gave her a hug and … panicked. I ran back out to the truck and thought “think, you idiot, think.”

I returned a few minutes later with a few things in a paper bag. Apologizing, I told her I didn't have time to wrap it and that I was going to buy her a card once we arrived. She just smiled and said she understood. She anxiously opened the bag and pulled out the contents, my anniversary gift.

It was six plastic, insulated beer mugs … with the names of different beer companies on each one. True as can be. Hey, they cost a hundred and eighty bucks.

And that's the way it looks from the Valley.

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