Monday, June 23, 2014

Cabin stories, part 3

A summer vacation at the UP cabin would not be complete without a trip to Grand Marais, MI to see the dunes. It took about an hour to get there over dirt and gravel roads. My mother and Rae (her best friend since college) were the “activity planners” for the five kids while the fathers got the day off from the family to fish Grand Sable Lake nearby.

Tote bags of sandwiches, hot dogs and snacks were packed along with soda pop, OFF, suntan lotion, towels, bathing suits, books, chocolate and other things we insisted we needed for our day trip. When we arrived at the Sable Falls there was no parking lot like there is now; no blacktop, no concrete, no wooden staircase to guide you down the falls to Lake Superior and no signs. . .of anything or anyone. We’d take a primitive (and in some years treacherous) path down the scenic falls and when we arrived at Lake Superior at the mouth the whole place was ours. To the right was a pristine beach for as far as we could see and the same went for the dunes to our left. It’s hard to imagine having the place to yourself today since so many of the destinations now have such easy access.

One year my brother Steve and our Pal Norman, decided to walk across the river and climb the dunes ahead of us so they didn’t have to change into their bathing suits in front of everyone. The rest of us walked down the path and arrived at Lake Superior. While picking out the perfect spot on the beach one of us (perhaps the youngest) let a tote bag drag in the water just enough to wet the small box of Diamond White Tip matches, rendering them useless.

Diamond matches were made to strike anywhere. At the cabin we’d strike them on a stone to ignite the gas stove, on a dry log in the outhouse to light our mosquito coils or with the friction of our thumbnail just to be cool. But the most entertaining method was striking it on the zipper of our blue jeans.

When it came time for lunch my Mom and Rae tried to start the fire, but the matches were too wet. Then, one by one, I watched Steve and Norm strike the remaining matches against the black strip on the side of the box without success. They were too wet; some of them fizzled or broke apart and others just did nothing. Strike after strike on dry beach rocks brought nothing but grief and the wind didn’t help either.

We all knew what was going on and were gathered around Steve holding the lone remaining match stick in his hands; the same ones that earlier held the latest issue of Mad Magazine. This was it; there was no build up, no suggestions, no crossing of fingers, just my brother Steve, holding our afternoon in his hands as he took the last diamond match and reverted to the last resort; the zipper method.

The red part of the tip fizzled in smoke for what seemed like a minute though I’m sure was only seconds. Then, the tip flared and a small white bubble of a flame perched itself on the end of the match. We held our collective breaths as he moved it down to the crumpled piece of newspaper surrounded by a pile of brittle beach sticks we gathered from the shore. When those took, more driftwood was placed on top to make the fire complete. Hot dogs would be ours that day and the unusual treat of having smores as a dessert after lunch made the afternoon complete.

It seemed amazing at the time, but in hindsight, stuff like that happened all the time when we were there making it not so extraordinary to us. But as I look around today I don’t know any city kids who can lite matches off their zipper, split a log, gut a fish or know how to perfectly adjust the choke on a temperamental outboard motor as the bruised puff of smoke disappears and leaves behind the sweet aroma of a gas/oil mix.

It was only a trip to the cabin but it brought happiness; a kind of happiness that to this day, none of us have become ready to part with.

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