This summer, my family and I drove to the famous Thousand Islands region on the border of Ontario and New York State, where the highlight of the trip was a tiny patch of land called Heart Island.
The main draw was Boldt Castle, named after the hotel magnate who started building it in 1900 as a love letter to his wife. Construction was halted after her sudden death in 1904 and the building lay in disrepair for over 70 years before being restored by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority.
My sister and I worked our way up from the castle bowels, climbing the winding wooden staircase past bedrooms cordoned off with velvet ropes, to a balcony with a 180° view of the St. Lawrence River. Above us, the Boldt family symbol – a stag – stood guard. “I guess they’re House Baratheon,” quipped Nancie.
Throughout the visit, I had a strong sense of deja-vu; though my sister was too young to remember, we’d been to Boldt Castle before. I was 8 or 9 at the time and we were traveling in Ontario with our old family friends, the Zhangs.
For the past year, I’d been relying on Nancie to provide me with a steady diet of childhood pictures for these editor’s notes. The task required her to pull dozens of photo albums from the shelves and find pictures to match upcoming issue themes; she then digitized them using our crotchety old scanner and emailed them to me in neat batches.
It isn’t easy communicating with a 12-hour time difference at the best of times, let alone with our respective deadlines hanging over our heads. “I needed these like yesterday,” I whined. “Well you try tearing apart the study for them!” she retorted.
That’s why I seized the opportunity to sort through old albums while I was in Canada. My rampage extended to the Zhangs’ photo archives, which my sister and I gleefully broke out after dinner one night. We pored over pictures of road trips, holidays, outings, and get-togethers. My favorite was a picture of Le (the Zhangs’ son), Nancie, and I looking slightly sick in “The Sizzler,” the edges of the frame blurring with the speed of the fairground ride.
That’s when we spotted it: a picture of Le standing in a boat, with the distinctive outline of Boldt Castle in the distance. Nancie stared at the image for a second, her brows furrowing in concentration, then broke out in a laugh. “Woooah! That’s crazy!”
I continued to fill in the gaps as well as I could, pointing out people Nancie didn’t remember meeting and recounting inside jokes that went over her head at the time.
I imagined what a chore it must have been to go through all those albums on her own, labeling their spines with keywords like “Sisi teenage years” and “Nancie/Sisi childhood.”
As we hunched over albums in the Zhangs’ study, I once again got an overwhelming sense of deja-vu. It felt like a teenage Le might come barging into the room any minute, demanding to know why we were going through his stuff.
He didn’t, of course. He was 550km away in Toronto, newly-married and finishing up his PhD.
“Jiajia! Nancie! Time to go home!” called Mom from downstairs. As we pulled away in the car and waved goodbye to the Zhangs, I simultaneously felt like crying and laughing.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Sijia Chen