Monday, June 23, 2014

Cabin Stories, part 1

On summer mornings at the cabin we were often jarred from our sleep by the sound of the screen door slamming. It was intentional. It was Papa letting us know he’d arrived from his house up the hill and if he was ready to start the day, we ought to be ready too.

From upstairs you could hear his feet shuffle across the wooden floor covered with beach sand from the activities the day before. He'd stop in front of the piano and with one finger, this World War I Vet would tap out a version of "Reveille" in no identifiable time signature; one he could never duplicate again if he tried. Then he’d shuffle back to the kitchen and take his seat in a chair at the head of the table, where’s he’d set down his coffee cup, bang it on the table a few times, laugh at himself and wait for one of the parents to wake up and begin the process of filling it.

First there was the squeak of the pump priming itself as the pressure on the pump handle tightened while the water gushed out of the mouth and filled a large tea kettle. This was in the 70's and since the wood stove was replaced by gas the process of heating the water in a large tin tea kettle became a little faster. Then, Papa would wait patiently for his oatmeal, or whatever was on the menu that day.

It all began with a sneeze. Dr. Albert C. Carlson was a dentist in Lombard, Illinois and nobody in town went without dental work, even if they could not afford it. In lieu of money people would bring him eggs, chickens or IOUs when they could not pay. Nobody was ever turned away.

His hay fever was so bad in the summer (imagine a time without air conditioning) that he traveled to the UP for relief at the advice of a friend. He immediately fell in love with it and bought some property on Muskallonge Lake in Luce County. Over two summers in the 1930’s some of the men who owed him money came and helped him build the cabin that has not changed much in the past eighty two years. Though I’m not a blood relative to Papa he always felt like a grandfather to my siblings and I in the same way our friends always felt like cousins.

Would I have discovered the Upper Peninsula with my family or on my own? Maybe, but after all this time I am still wide eyed, excited and anxious to arrive each summer, where I never know what memory awaits me inside the walls of this log cabin fortress in the north

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